Ålands fredsinstitut
The Åland Islands Peace Institute

Hamngatan 4
AX-22100 Mariehamn, Åland, Finland
Tel. +358 18 15570
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the Åland Example


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The Åland Peace Blog

Since the very beginning (in 1992) the Åland Islands Peace Institute has
worked with questions of security, minorities and autonomy. The purpose is
to prevent and manage conflicts, always with a gender awareness. Throughout
the years we have gathered knowledge and strengthened expertise within these
areas, and a new phase was initiated in 2007 with the development of the
Peace Institute's research and investigation capacity. The Peace Institute
arranges seminars, conferences and courses within these areas and regularly
publishes reports and books. We believe that some of the knowledge and
the insights that we acquire should be disseminated to a wider public in a
shorter and quicker form. This is why we are creating the blog. It is
knowledge-oriented and analyzes or comments briefly - but quickly -
news, events and phenomena with the purpose of providing deeper
understanding. The staff and the board of the Peace Institute will
contribute to the blog.

Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark
Director of the Peace Institute, Associate Professor in International Law

Mariehamn, August 2012


Martha Hannus is finishing her M. Sc. in International Administration and Global Governance. The topic of her thesis is the effect of the EU accession process on the attitudes toward the Roma in Central- and Easten Europe. She is currently working for the anti-racist foundation Expo in Sweden. The last two summers, she has been an intern respectively employed at the Åland Islands Peace Institute.

As a part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Åland Islands Peace Institute, the Institute will publish a report on the history of the Åland Islands Peace Institute, with a focus on the work that preceded and eventually led to the establishment of the Peace Institute. The process is characterized by different visions of what civil society should do, on what peace actually is and could be, and on the specific relationship between Åland and mainland Finland. It is also an example of the successful civil society advocacy, and an example of how a minority’s perception of itself can change over time.

On October 25th 1992, the Åland Peace Association established the foundation Åland Islands Peace institute. But the process that led to the decision to establish a foundation started at least ten years before that. During the 1980’s, peace activists on Åland worked to create a peace institution on the Islands of Peace. The local government investigated the issue and created working groups, but in the end it was the civil society that took the initiative to actually create an institution for peace.

The report on the motives, arguments and ideas that preceded the establishment of the Peace Institute will be published on October 25th. The report builds on material from the archives of the peace institute: old newspaper clippings, letters and campaign material, but also on interviews with people who in different ways were involved in the peace movement, or worked with the issue of a peace institute on Åland during the 1980’s. In my work with the report, I have been lucky to meet people through the archive material as well as in person. Everyone has been of great help and shared their memories and thoughts on Åland and on why Åland could be a place for peace research and activism.

To understand why people wanted to work for peace, and why they wanted to do this on Åland, one needs to understand the international context in the beginning of the 1980’s: Europe’s division into east and west, and the arms race between the superpowers. The threat of nuclear war was in focus. Under these circumstances, Åland, a de facto nuclear free zone due to the demilitarization regime, became a symbol for the possibility to create safe spaces without weapons and arms race. In the beginning of the 1980’s a number of conferences on peace and international cooperation were organized on Åland, by young scholars, by the International Red Cross, and within the Nordic cooperation. Ålanders travelled the world and were inspired by peace marches, the Freeze-movement in the United States, and women’s cooperation for peace. The international interest for Åland as a meeting place, combined with new experiences and skilful persons, started the debate on Åland as a meeting place and as an example of conflict solution by diplomatic means. Among the questions debated were how peace could be realized in the everyday life of Ålanders, how the Åland solution could inspire others, and how to work against the international discourse on the threat of war.

The ideas and the opinions in the local press were many. Some argued for a peace museum at Bomarsund, where the remains of a fortress from the Russian era are still visible, others for a research institute or a peace center. Some took concrete action. The Åland Peace Association sent a proposal for a peace institution to the Åland legislative assembly. During an intensive campaign in 1987, “Peace in Full Sail” raised money for a House of Peace, and involved people around Åland in peace work, together with artists and musicians. The critics writing opinions in the local papers were worried about building too big and boasting, that Åland would lose it’s neutral status, and that the agenda of the peace movement was leaning too far to the left.

But the campaign was supported by people from all political fractions. When a proposal to establish a peace museum in connection with the Nordic Institute on Åland was rejected in the Nordic Council, the local authorities continued to work on the idea. While the civil society campaigned, they investigate the possibilities to create a peace center on Åland, and later the possibilities for research on minorities and autonomies at the Åland University of Applied Sciences. But the pace of the authorities was too slow for the impatient Ålanders. There could be several reasons for the reluctance to act on the part of the local authorities. Perhaps many politicians wanted to influence the plans in line with their own believes. Maybe they were afraid to exceed the powers of Åland in issues related to foreign policy and international affairs, an area under the competence of Finland. Maybe a peace institute was not perceived as the most important political question among Ålanders.

In 1992, the Peace Association run out of patience, and investigated and established a peace institute, which would rest on two pillars: research and activism. The situation in the world was different from ten years before: minority issues and cooperation with the former soviet states was in focus. Youth activities and exchanges that were initiated by the Peace Association, continued to be an important activity for the Peace institute. The basic funding necessary to establish an institute was raised by the campaign “Peace in Full Sail” and by donations from local artists. The Åland government contributed with financial help to the activities and has continued to support the institute – the ten years of advocacy had results.

The international interest for Åland increased, and the visits to Åland and the Peace Institute have been many. Through the international interest, Ålanders suddenly became aware of the Åland solution and its results. And perhaps the most important result of the discussion on Åland and peace was the new awareness of the actual content of the Åland regime, self-government, demilitarization and neutralization. This process continues at the Peace Institute with the current research on the Åland example.

Hopefully, this report is not only relevant for those who were working for a peace institution on Åland in the 1980’s. It is also an example of how civil society influences politics, and vice versa, and of different views on what civil society should do. It is a story of advocacy, and of the institutionalization of an idea. In this process, both the idea and society’s perception of itself can change. But above all it is an inspiring story of how voluntary work, the persistence of individuals, and separate visions that meet can create something permanent, with a life of its own. Today, the Åland Islands Peace Institute has a life of its own, but the process that preceded the establishment can be traced in the statutes, practices and values of the institute.

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Bloggen skrivs av Fredsinstitutets nuvarande eller tidigare personal, gästforskare och styrelseledamöter eller av inbjudna gästskribenter. Åsikterna är författarens egna.

The blog pieces are written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.