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    Catalonian Referendum Sparks Separatist Hopes on Finnish Archipelago

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    Catalonia's Independence Referendum (118)

    The Catalonians' overwhelming "yes" vote for independence from Spain has triggered dreams of sovereignty across Europe. On the Finnish archipelago of Åland, the controversial referendum has evoked hopes of widening the autonomy the islanders currently enjoy, with more ambitious goals to follow.

    While debates about separatism in Europe usually focus on Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Basque Country, Finland's own secessionist movement has been galvanized by the Catalonian referendum.

    Next year, the EU is expected to make a final decision on what happens to Britain's seats in the EU Parliament after Brexit, and Åland is looking forward to snatch an extra seat that may go to Finland. Among others, Nils Torvalds, member of the European Parliament and the presidential candidate from the Swedish People's Party of Finland (SFP) is lobbying for the extra seat to go to Åland, the local newspaper Nya Åland reported.

    Åland's Brussels representative Julia Lindholm, however, stressed that the wording must be chosen extremely carefully.

    "Right now, because of Catalonia, it is not particularly fruitful to talk [about] autonomy in Brussels," Julia Lindholm told Nya Åland.

    Overtly pro-independence Future of Åland party leader Axel Jonsson argued that the current relationship between Åland and Finland would be much better if they were "good neighbors, rather than a quarrelling couple," stressing the rising discrepancies over language issues and money.

    At present, though, Axel Johansson admitted that he saw no need for a referendum until a majority of the Åland parliament supported the "leave" side. According to Johansson's estimation to the newspaper Uusi Suomi, up to 30 of the current MPs would support independence, which is obviously insufficient.

    To add insult to injury, however, Social Democrat secretary and former Finnish national broadcaster Yle managing director Mikael Junger has stunned his fellow Finns by supporting Åland's future claim for independency. In an inflammatory Facebook post, Junger admitted that he had difficulty understanding Spain's aversion for Catalonia's independence efforts.

    "If a majority of, say, Lapland's residents would like to achieve independence, nobody should have any objections," Mikael Jungner wrote.

    Furthermore, Jungner argued that there was no self-purpose in trying to keep together a state, which, he argued, was merely a tool for facilitating people's lives.

    "Should any group seek separation from a state, the only real reaction should be thanking them for the time shared, wish them good luck and work for the separation process to cause as little harm as possible," Jungner wrote.

    Meanwhile, Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg argued in her opinion piece that now is the worst possible timing for the minorities to seek independence, calling the chances of establishing a new country "very small" in an opinion piece published by the daily Svenska Dagbladet.

    The Åland Islands are an autonomous and demilitarized region of Finland, situated halfway to Sweden at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. The archipelago of roughly 30,000 has traditionally had strong ties with Sweden and is Finland's only region to have Swedish as the only official language.

    ​Åland enjoys a broad autonomy, maintaining its own flag, police force, airline and web domain (.ax). The archipelago also has its own postage stamps and can issue its own passports, in addition to being a separate member of the Nordic Council. Incidentally, Nordic Council President Britt Lundberg of Åland recently voted alongside her Swedish colleagues against the Finnish delegation's initiative to make Finnish an official working language in the Nordic Council, adding more fuel to the perennial language debate in Finland.

    This unparalleled level of autonomy was obtained after Finland declared its independence in 1917. At the time, the Swedish-speaking islanders voted overwhelmingly to leave and join Sweden. Finland refused to give up sovereignty, and the League of Nations allowed Helsinki to keep the islands as long as they were granted significant rights and protections.

    The subsequent compromise has lasted for a century, despite some islanders bickering about the increased pressure from Helsinki. Ålanders' most far-reaching separatist desires are currently represented by the independence-seeking party Future of Åland, which currently enjoys a respectable 10 percent of the vote in the Åland parliament.

    Catalonia's Independence Referendum (118)


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