Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More on the Aland Islands paradigm

I've gotten some queries about the Aland Islands precedents that I cited in the previous post on Kosovo.

Some interesting and relevant points:

--the Aland Island settlement was imposed and did not initially accord with the "will of the people";
--the settlement kept Finland's territorial integrity intact but gave the islanders effective self-determination, including the creation of a mono-lingual Swedish entity--but the Alanders are also represented in the Finnish parliament;
--while Swedish, the Alanders make no claim to represent, speak for or incorporate ethnic Swedes living elsewhere in Finland;
--the islands are demilitarized and "neutral" with no forces beyond the island's police force;
--regulations prohibit outsiders from Finland (and since Finland's accession to the EU, other EU nationals) from automatically being able to buy property or reside there; to become a permanent Alander you must be a Finnish national fluent in Swedish who has had 5 years temporary residence--this has prevented a demographic influx that could dilute the islanders.

Is there relevance also for the frozen conflicts of the greater Black Sea region in this model? On paper, it would appear so.

Mr. Gvosdev: (May I call you Nikolas?)

I won't go into what I've heard of the very different history of the Balkan region, which makes many things, not least the imposition of an accord not in accord with the "will of the people" difficult. (And we are no longer in an era when sovereign nations sold, swapped, or wrested land amongst each other with little regard for the desires of the inhabitants.) Instead, I'll address one specific point you raised, i.e. the right to buy property or reside there.

The religious (and therefore) historical significance of the territory in question would be a problem for a deal that says no to Serbs - Serbia citizens or otherwise - who are/were not Kosovo residents at the time of partition, or during a reasonable period bofore it. At a minimum, it would be hard to deny residence to non-Kosovo clerics. (You also have to figure out what happens to intra-religious, cross-border marriages and their offspring, but that is a derivative issue.) Actually, I assume the Serbs in the rest of Serbia will demand the right to reside and buy property there. That will be even more difficult for the ethnic Albanians to swallow. And applying an Aland solution to the other parts of the Balkan magnifies the problem exponentially.

The rest of conditions don't seem unreasonable, once you can get the parties to swallow the idea in the first place. But will the rest of Europe come up with a deal sweet enough to make both sides agree?

Is an exchange of territory an option? I know that's a much larger piece of land than the Alands....

Sorry, Nikolas. You said "Black Sea". I'm even less familiar with that region.
"on paper" eveything is possible. However, as Katherine the Great observed: "philosophes write on pages of paper, I have to write on the ticklish skin of humans."

Political settlement based on Scandinavia are always proposed and have always failed.

Had US & EU not intervened, we would not have to discuss this topic here and now.

You have to give War (Civil War) a chance. You cannot go and essentially try to convert people to a new Religion cooked-up in the minds of US & EU politicians.

Do you seriously think that the current situation in the former Yugoslavia is stable and that it won't change (in the sense of borders) in 30 years?
I agree Scandinavia is "different" than the rest of the world and even from other parts of Europe but let's not fall into the trap of saying that Finns and Swedes are so different from everyone else (or what's usually implied, that south Slavs and Albanians and Turks and Armenians and all that riffraff are so primitive and backwards that Scandinavian solutions can't work. The Aland Islands solution that Nick is talking about worked in part because major powers in Europe including Britain and Germany were prepared to make it work to enforce it and not to allow disruptions of the peace of the Baltic Sea.
Jun, please feel free, call me Nikolas (or Nick), let's not stand on formalities here.

Thanks for all the comments so far. As you all keep reminding me, and as an historian I am well aware, there are limits to the usefulness of analogies. I know that a settlement for a Scandinavian region may not always apply elsewhere. But what I find about the Aland Islands model is something akin to a "Third Way" approach that might help break the logjams elsewhere.

Anonymous 6:54, your point is well taken. I would only point out, however, that we have a tendency to review the relative stability of Scandinavia and the Eastern Batlic region retroactively. In 1917-1922 borders were undefined, the Russian Empire had collapsed, you had military forces on the loose, no logic as to why one region of the former empire should become an independent state while others should not; so my point would be that, as some here in DC have told me privately, that an area needs to be "as stable as Scandinavia" as a PRECONDITION for even considering these kinds of solutions is off-base.
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