|International Conference on the Åland Example|
On Tuesday 1 November 2011 over a hundred participants from different parts of the world gathered in Mariehamn Åland for the international conference with the title "The Åland Example and its components - Relevance for International Conflict Resolution". The conference was organised by the Åland Islands Peace Institute, as a closing conference of the research project ”The Åland Example: Still of Global Interest and Relevance?” Simoultaneously a publication including the results of the research was launched.
Pictures taken at the conference by photographer Lukrecija Bielskyte
Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, Director of the Åland Islands Peace Institute, lead researchers and editor, opened the conference by quoting the late Harri Holkeri, former Prime Minister of Finland and diplomat, who once described the Åland Example as a way of thinking rather than a ready-made model. True to Holkeri’s spirit the Peace Institute invited its guests to think out loud, about the Åland Example, how it is perceived on the domestic plane, in Nordic contexts and internationally.
The Åland Islands Peace Institute had the great privilege to welcome the President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen to open the conference. President Halonen praised the mutual efforts behind the positive experience which the Åland Example represents but at the same time uttered a word of warning that political developments affecting the status of the Swedish language in Finland as well as Baltic security might have adverse effects on the relationship between Åland and Finland.
After President Halonen’s opening speech the distinguished panel of conference speakers had opportunity to discuss three main questions: What has led to the robustness and longevity of the Åland Example? How useful is autonomy today as a conflict resolution tool? And what are the preconditions for a constructive use of the Åland Example and its components in conflict resolution?
Anu Laamanen, Deputy Director General of the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, addressed the role of the contact group in facilitating the distribution of information on the Autonomy to a diverse range of national actors, including civil servants and diplomats.
Ilze Brands Kehris, Director of the Office of the High Commissioner for National Minorities of theOSCE, talked about the experiences of “quiet diplomacy” of the High Commissioner in Crimea/Ukraine and the decisiveness of the particular context for the role potentially played by autonomy in the resolution of conflict.
Elisabeth Rehn, Minister of State and Chair of the Board of the Trust Fund for Victims at the ICC, based on her experience i.a. on the Balkans, emphasized the importance of the impartiality of third party mediators and of external actors concerned by the conflict.
Jan Eliasson, Ambassador and former Foreign Minister of Sweden, described Åland as a” natural bridge” in the unique triangular relationship between Sweden, Finland and Åland. Eliasson expressed a desire to apply more often chapter 6 of the UN Charter, which deals with peaceful dispute settlement, rather than chapter 7 on the use of force. He emphasized however, that his experience has shown that autonomy is a less promising solution after human rights have been violated and claims for ethnic nations have been voiced and even more so after violence has erupted in ethnic conflicts. Autonomy needs to be presented as a solution to a conflict early on. It is of course a dilemma between interference or failure to act which makes timing so sensitive. The development of Responsibility to Protect doctrine might be a possibility for an early involvement of international peace mediators. Following Eliasson, majorities are enriched by minorities and one state solutions are possible, his motto as a Foreign Minister in Sweden having been “you have to have the whole world inside your own society”.
Yash Ghai, Prof. Emer. of Constitutional Law at Hong Kong University, reflected upon the various forms of autonomy to be found across the globe today. Ghai has observed the ghettoization of ethnic communities through autonomy arrangements and noted that individual and group rights can collide. Ghai consideres that the quality of a particular autonomy arrangement is highly depended on its justification.
Tove Malloy, Director of the European Centre for Minority Issues, focused on processes of European integration and their effects on minority and autonomy arrangements in Europe. Whereas sovereignty is often perceived as something absolute, in reality sovereignty is highly fragmented. Malloy uses the term “multidirectional management” to describe the two way power exchange from which regions profit in the European Union if their institutional set-up allows for it. A re-definition of the European polity, including regions and regional groupings appears to be necessary.
Markku Suksi, Prof. of Public Law at Åbo Akademi University, emphasized the difference between federal and autonomy arrangements, the latter being characterized by exclusive law-making powers. Suksi has identified eight forms of entrenchment, four of which apply to the Åland Islands. The autonomy of the Åland Islands is entrenched in the Finnish Constitution, regionally as a separate reaction is needed from the Åland Parliament for legislation concerning the islands, moreover special rules apply to the amendment of the Act on Autonomy and finally the Autonomy of Åland is entrenched internationally. Suksi emphasized that not all special arrangements for Åland originate in the historic settlement but have been brought about by Ålanders themselves..
Stefan Wolff, Prof. of International Security at the University of Birmingham, considers that autonomy solutions need to be both feasible and viable in order to be successful. Feasibility depends on the justification of the autonomy regime as well as on timing and viability refers to the sustainability of the regime. To keep a regime viable, external actors need to address all issues potentially spoiling the arrangement, its institutional design should provide for regular review periods and most importantly the arrangement should be supported by strong leaders who can keep support for compromise in their own community.
Elisabeth Nauclér, Member of the Finnish Parliament, made concrete proposals as to how the Åland Example could be promoted, not as a package but as a set of ideas, for example by creating a roster of experts and by highlighting the historic facts, namely that Finland was not a democratic and stable state when the Autonomy was created but a newly born republic in times that were difficult economically. It is important for peace mediators to know whom they are talking to in order to be able to highlight the most relevant aspects of the Åland Example. Nauclér also pointed out that the integration of the self-governed territories in the Nordic Council is exemplary.
Pär Stenbäck, Minister of State and Member of the Board of the Åland Islands Peace Institute, warned that the Åland Example, as it is discussed in what he called a “Nordic bubble”, might be too sophisticated. Stenbäck wonders that if it is a mindset than how to get people to change their way of thinking? Autonomy very often hurts the feeling of national pride in the majority population and even in Finland the Åland Example is not part of the national identity also it is considered an important tool by Finnish diplomats.
Fuijo Ohnishi, Research Fellow at the Ocean Policy Research Foundation Japan, discussed the benefits and difficulties of applying the Åland Example with regard to Okinawa and the Northern Territories in Japan.
Terhi Hakala, Ambassador of Finland to India, thinks that the Åland example lends credibility to Finnish efforts in peace mediation and functions as a bridge between Finland’s own story and the conflict in question. Status talks very often begin first at a late stage of a conflict, after ceasefire agreements, security guarantees and capacity building measures have been implemented. Models such as the Åland Example can ease the burden to enter status talks. However, Hakala is concerned that after Kosovo’s declaration of independence autonomy solutions have become more difficult.
The audience raised a number of additional questions such as on ways to promote Åland , not only abroad but also in Finland and the Nordic countries where albeit all efforts little is known in the general public about the autonomy and even more so about the demilitarization and neutralization.
Spiliopoulou Åkermark, concluded that the conference had set out not to give answers but to raise questions. Questions have been raised, inspired by the experiences of diplomats, scholars who themselves work with and in conflict contexts as well as former politicians who have been faced with solving conflict. The conference was coined by the desire of a range of persons with various backgrounds to promote the Åland Example as a tool to resolve conflict. Many speakers cautioned that one should not consider the Åland Example as a one-size-fits all solution but value it for what it is - a way of thinking and a set of tools that might open up discussions on autonomy, demilitarisation and minority protection.
The Peace Institute would like to extent its thanks to all those who have made the conference possible, its board, the contributors, researchers involved, staff members as well as all participants who have made this into a living event which will have a lasting impact.