THE ÅLANDIC WILLFULNESS: A TRAIT TO BE PROUD OF
Living on an island leaves its mark. Just like the crooked dwarf pines, lashed by the rough seas north of Åland, we islanders have had to adapt to our environment. Those durable little trees belong to the same family as the tallest pine in the forest; they have just adapted to different conditions.
Those of us who live surrounded by the sea have a deep-rooted will to forge our own path and do things in our own way. To proudly shoulder the role of being grand in word, though small in the world; a gnarly, hardy, free and somewhat wild willfulness.
Willfulness to us, means raising a voice for peace in a world filled with conflict. To see the sea as a pathway instead of a border. Willfulness to us, is turning a classic hunting tower into a sculpture, breeding our own species of sheep and having our own flag. Willfulness to us, means all of this and much more. What does willfulness mean to you?
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF WILLFULNESS
Åland’s special status as an autonomous, demilitarized and neutral island state is, in and of itself, a sort of willful solution – a peaceful compromise from 1921, when the newly-formed League of Nations solved a difficult three-party conflict by giving something to all parties. Sweden had guarantees that Åland would not become a military threat. Finland was able to keep its sovereignty over Åland. And we Ålanders got our autonomy, with added guarantees that we could retain our Swedish language and our way of life.
A good enough solution … is what we might have thought on Åland. But instead we took upon ourselves the work of extending and expanding the Act on Autonomy of Åland, which was relatively restrictive at the time. To make it more comfortable for us willful Ålanders to live with – an endeavour that continues to this day.
Today, the Åland Islands stand as an inspirational example for peaceful conflict resolution on the international stage and our way of willfulness is an inheritance which dwells within every Ålander. We depend on each other and trust in our roots if a storm comes our way. We forge our own path and build our own future.
And we have many centennials left to celebrate.
The Ålandic willfulness has been our lifeblood for much longer than a hundred years; we had just never celebrated it properly before. Now we are going to do just that for an entire year, beginning on 9 June, 2021.
Julius Sundblom 1865-1945
Julius Sundblom was an Åland fighter, leading the Åland movement, a journalist, culture lover and politician.
All his life he fought for Åland to remain Swedish-speaking and the work he did strengthened the Swedish language position. As the first Speaker, he was involved in building Åland’s autonomy from the ground up.
Fanny Sundström 1883-1944
Åland’s Queen Fanny Sundström was a driven teacher, farmer and politician.
She was the first woman to be elected to the Åland Parliament (then the County Council) in 1922 and for a long time was the only woman in the Parliament. Fanny was a true trailblazer who paved the way for many other women.
Carl Björkman 1873-1948
Björkman was a leading figure in the Åland movement who wanted Åland to be reunited with Sweden.
He was elected to Åland’s first County Council, was re-elected twice and remained in post until 1938. The work that today’s civil servants carry out is largely based on the foundation laid by the architect of autonomy Carl Björkman.
If you want to survive on an island, you need to have a certain amount of perseverance. Berit Sjöberg thinks this is what best describes the uncompromising determination that runs like a common thread among the 30,000 Ålanders who live in the autonomous region today. She and the farm she owns are excellent examples of long-term perspective, curiosity and a great deal of sustainability.
Berit Sjöberg came to Åland from Sweden as a four-year-old; her parents had gone west to work but returned to take over part of Berit’s grandfather’s farm in Jomala, one of sixteen municipalities in Åland. Since then, a lot has happened, especially in the rural economy.
“I don’t really like the trend towards ever larger units, for example in animal husbandry. In Åland, small or at most medium-sized units are a much better fit, especially considering the animals’ own well-being.”
How would you describe the concept of willfulness?“Perseverance – the Ålanders persevere, which is probably what is required for developing a community and being able to live on an island.”
Berit Sjöberg is living proof of this uncompromising determination. RiabackaSkogens Får was created around the idea of breeding and preserving primarily the Ålandsfår and Finnish landrace breeds. In addition to these, the farm’s inhabitants also consist of Hedemora hens, domestic short-haired cats and herding dogs (border collies); all contribute something to the concept as a whole and are important in different ways. On this farm, everything is done with an eye for the organic; the result can be food in the form of lamb meat and lamb sausages, skins, yarn, non-woven fabrics, annual calendars and so on.
“The sausage is my own recipe and is made from Marskogen lamb,” says Berit Sjöberg.
RiabackaSkogens Får constitutes its own little system in a big world, not unlike Åland’s autonomous status. Everything that is grown on the farm is organic and most of it is food for the sheep: hay, oats, buckwheat and fodder peas. There are about 70 ewes, so spring is an extremely intense time when there is a steady stream of new lambs coming into the world. That is good news, of course – especially when it comes to the Ålandsfår breed, of which Berit Sjöberg is particularly fond.
“It is an original breed that comes in a range of shades of grey, brown, black and white. They are different in many ways, and the type of wool also varies. Some of them have horns, both ewes and rams,” Berit explains.
The Ålandsfår breed’s ancestors date back to long before the Viking Age but were close to disappearing in the 1980s when Berit Sjöberg and others managed to save the breed and help it recover.
“Sven-Olof Eriksson from Godby was the person who started and fought most for the conservation of the Ålandsfår breed.”
The Ålandsfår breed of sheep is perhaps a kind of favourite of Berit Sjöberg’s at RiabackaSkogens Får, but the things she cares about and her insights do not stop there – they can be explored in depth for as long as you like. We could talk a lot more about the Finnish landrace, for example, which is bred as a pure breed in the colours white, black and brown – even a few shades of grey are starting to appear now. Or the gentle and affectionate Hedemora hens in their endless ranges of colour. They have excellent laying and incubating properties and are kind to both their chicks and one another.
We could also highlight man’s best friend, who justifies that description every single day at RiabackaSkogens Får. These herding dogs originate from Sweden, Scotland and Norway and do an invaluable job with the farm’s various animals. Yes, the dogs live indoors with the rest of the family, of course.
“I bought my first Border collie in 1995 and bred my first litter of puppies in 2015. I wouldn’t be able to do without these working dogs today, for example when we have to move the sheep from one pasture to another, or when we have to herd them all into pens or find sheep in larger areas.”
In Berit Sjöberg’s own words, she describes herself as a “typical Ålander” with a husband who worked at sea and two grown-up children – a son who has moved to Helsinki and a daughter who lives in Åland.
The family’s base is Jomala and Jomalaby, where the ecological farm Jans/RiabackaSkogens Får has been painstakingly built up since 2004. In Åland, municipal everyday life is not just a matter of administration and bureaucracy; it is about a sort of definition of oneself as well, which is not always easy to explain.
“Am I more of a Jomala person or an Ålander? Hmm … I probably identify first and foremost with Åland, but almost as much with Jomala. We have a strong village identity.”
Derrick Nilsson was born in Lappvik in mainland Finland and lost an arm in the war against the Soviet Union. His job took him to Åland, and he stayed – all for love. Nilsson turns 100 this year and has his willfulness and good spirits to thank for a long life, which he is currently spending in Eckerö.
In 1921, things were happening all around the world … we start with ice hockey! In the first ice hockey match in Sweden, IFK Uppsala hosted German Berliner SC at Stockholm’s stadium and won 4–1 in front of 2,022 spectators. The first helicopter flew, and Lenin tried to stop an inflating economic crisis in the newly formed Soviet Union by partially bringing the country back to a market economy; it did not really work …
However, this was not a concern for Derrick Nilsson, who was born in 1921 when Åland’s autonomous status was to be formulated in Geneva. He grew up in Ekenäs and Lappvik and describes his childhood as both idyllic and happy with freedom ruled by a sense of one’s own responsibility.
As an 18-year-old in Helsinki in 1939, Derrick Nilsson experienced how schools throughout the country were closed as a result of the Soviet Union’s and the Russians’ increasingly aggressive tone towards Finland, a small and quiet country, and the demilitarised region of Åland. Nilsson signed up for the protection corps because “I was furious at the Russians – no one should be allowed to take Finland” and was placed in a weapons depot. His first duties included repairing field telephones that would later be sent to the front. He saw with his own eyes what would become known as the Winter War begin on 30 November 1939.
“I was at a railway station in Helsinki when the planes thundered overhead and dropped the bombs just a few hundred metres from us. The target was the station, and we took shelter under some carriages,” says Derrick Nilsson.
He describes the feeling of going from child to adult there and then as: “it took about a second”.
The Winter War lasted only one hundred days, but it would turn into the Continuation War in the summer of 1941 and continue until the autumn of 1944. It was in the latter phase that Derrick Nilsson lost his left forearm. As a member of what was known as a Shock Platoon, Derrick and his brothers in arms laid out telephone lines behind the Russian front at Hangö. The same day that the Russians began to evacuate Hangö, the order came that would change Nilsson’s life.
“Our mission was to search through the abandoned bunkers at the front. I was the first in our group to go in – I kicked open a door that was booby-trapped and exploded.”
Corporal Nilsson returned as a disabled soldier with one less arm than before and facing a harsh financial reality. Compensation for injured veterans from a battered Finland would not go very far.
“Barely a packet of cigarettes a week.”
But Derrick Nilsson never gave up – quite the opposite. One of the many things he did was to resume taking part in competitive canoeing as a disabled soldier. He paddled across the Gulf of Finland and won against healthy and able-bodied people, fighting against his own body and the prejudices of others. It would prove difficult for a partially disabled young man to find a job, for instance.
The answer was life as a self-employed person and entrepreneur, which would lead to his move to Åland in 1972. He was 51 years old then and made a living doing such things as supplying herring from a Danish manufacturer to Viking Line’s ferries. The fish were popular, and Viking Line needed someone to deliver the goods every day from Mariehamn.
“But when I had moved, the agency folded, though it turned out not to matter that much. I found new ones!”
That was the reason why Derrick Nilsson left mainland Finland and signed up for Åland, and then everything would get even better. In 1980, his future wife Gunnel came into his life, which they both later describe as like going from the Old Testament to the New. There is no doubt about which is best.
Gun-Britt Lyngander is the businesswoman who runs Getaboden, the local grocery store that is small in size but has enormous self-confidence and a warm heart. Lyngander has some really challenging years behind her but refuses to feel sorry for herself. If you want to call it willfulness, then go ahead!
“I’m probably, maybe, a person with a do-or-die spirit who likes to get stuck in and sort things out.”
Today, Gun-Britt Lyngander lives just a few metres from Getaboden, which is her workplace and life’s work. A stone’s throw away is the church where she is active at all sorts of different levels.
The childhood home where she grew up with her two brothers is two kilometres away. It is impossible to describe Gun-Britt Lyngander as anything other than cheerful, strong and humble – and as someone who is happy to take things in her stride without falling for any nonsense. Her house is a vibrant orange colour, the same shade as the Chevy her husband Janne gave her, which she cherishes and reverentially trundles around in, especially in the first warm days of spring like this.
Gun-Britt’s mother started Getaboden in 1954 and was a trailblazer in many ways as both an entrepreneur and a woman. The years rolled on by, and around 1990 the Åland cooperative Samgång tried to run the business but ended up with a threat of closure. That was when the call went out to Gun-Britt, who had moved to Stockholm with the intention of staying there. Her husband, Stockholmer Janne Lyngander, was significantly more enthusiastic at the thought than she was.
“No, I said, never! I don’t intend to spend any more dark winter evenings back in Geta – I do not want that.”
But there is no point battling against higher powers – and things moved along rapidly after that. Gun-Britt and Janne moved back to Geta, took over the store and moved it to the same premises it occupies to this day. The removals van from Stockholm included their daughter Sofie, who joined the store-keeping family last year and spends her working days in Getaboden.
“It is fantastic, of course, that she is involved and works in the family business. Unfortunately, we are going through bad times now as a result of the pandemic, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that things will work out going forward.”
Before Gun-Britt Lyngander became a store manager, she got a lot of other things done. For example, on board the Princess she started out as a cleaner, then moved on to be a cold buffet manager, to work in the ship’s supermarket and finally in the perfume department. It was somewhere there that Janne Lyngander set eyes on his future wife before they met properly at Arkipelag and put on a big wedding in Geta church followed by a party in Furulund – that, of course, in Geta too!
What does Åland mean to you?
“Everything! I really would not want to move away from here. There is so much that is good about Åland … the people, the countryside and so on. I am very family-loving, too, and like to have people around me that I both know and trust.”
But Åland is no different from any other paradise – suddenly, life changes fundamentally and you are back to square one. Last year was a year Gun-Britt Lyngander will never forget. First her mother passed away and then, only six months later, her life partner and husband Janne. With the loss of her mother, an almost daily conversation partner disappeared and, with the loss of her husband, half of her own life – possibly more.
Those were extremely hard blows against the reasonably secure life she had taken for granted up till then. She was fortunate to be able to seek comfort when she needed it most in a rich social life, something that characterises many Ålanders, and in everyday life.
“I am a member of the municipal council, the church council and the Maria Sisters, and these are areas where I feel strongly engaged to give support. My best friend lives in Mariehamn, and I work in the church every other Sunday and in the store all other days from Monday to Saturday. I don’t have to be on my own if I don’t want to.”
In Åland, we often talk about that vital sense of hospitality that should turn everyone who visits us into our guests and friends rather than just customers. Gun-Britt Lyngander is a living example of this self-evident attitude towards visitors.
“We have had a lot of fun here, for instance when people have come from hotel Havsvidden on their bikes and then it’s started to rain, and I have slung bikes and everything into the car and driven them home. Or people who have needed electricity to charge their motorhomes, and I have fetched firewood and all sorts of things. It’s all about providing a service – that’s what’s fun and goes the extra mile, both for me and for them.”
It has not been very long since Gun-Britt Lyngander suffered her great losses. And yet she is determined to hang in there and enjoy life, preferably in the orange Chevrolet Nova ’67 that Janne and she bought in the summer of 2019. And definitely not to become bitter at what life delivered.
“I learned gratitude from my mother and realise that I have an awful lot to be grateful for. I highlight my hair, keep myself young, and things will work out fine somehow. There is a lot to live for, even though you may have the odd breakdown now and then, and it is important to bounce back quickly!”
If there is one thing Gun-Britt has been forced to realise after all that has happened, it is that she is a strong person, in every way. The Yle programme “Everyday Heroes” realised this as well when she was nominated last year, and so did the readers of the Nya Åland newspaper who nominated her for the competition The Ålander of the Century.
“It was amazing that so many people had taken the trouble to nominate me. I can’t get my head around it – I’m nothing special.”
The latter is a thought that not many people share, though. It is easy to take to Gun-Britt Lyngander. She is one of those Ålanders who are both generous and open-hearted and also try to ensure the well-being of those around them – and then it all feeds back. For example, in the long walks that are among her newer and more cherished interests:
“My neighbour moved here a year ago. He had got divorced, and soon after that I was widowed. He told me to get out and about in order not to get depressed! So now we go out and walk together a lot. He is a motorcyclist, as was Janne, and they used to know each other. It is so good that we go out and walk together because I don’t tend to get out on my own. Now it’s just a case of ringing up, and then you get to go out together. It’s really nice.”
Ismo och Hjalmar
Ismo and Hjalmar are cousins and both live in Mariehamn with their families. Growing up in Åland is a gift in many ways. The best pancakes with whipped cream in the whole world are to be had here, there are decent football opportunities and just the right degree of annoying (but mostly nice) siblings!
Ismo is eighteen months old and was born in Mariehamn. His elder brother Eino is nearly five, and his mother’s name is Sofie, and his father is called Paul-Henry. At home, the family speaks French, as they have done since the time the family lived in Paris, and Eino was born before their journey to Åland. Ismo’s favourites – in addition to his nearest and dearest – also include “tontons” and “tatys”, as uncles and aunts are called in French, and of course granny and grandad. Ismo’s mother is from Åland and that was the reason for the move to Mariehamn three years ago. There were plenty of new things that awaited Ismo in everyday life in Åland, which is full of activities and adventure.
Ismo’s inner circle also includes buddy and cousin Hjalmar who turned one in November. Hjalmar is the little brother in the family, which consists of mum Elin, dad Mathias (brother of Ismo’s mother Sofie) and big sister Signe, who is three years old. Like his friend, Hjalmar is not afraid of coming up with whims and antics that can even take parents who are used to such things by surprise.
Our two little friends know each other the way only real friends do. They live in the same town and spend a lot of time together regularly and have good reasons to expect to lead a busy and exciting life. Åland schools are world-class and with a degree to their name, when that day comes, these cousins will literally have the whole world at their feet.
With children’s undisguised enthusiasm for everything new to explore, every day becomes a day full of treasure and pleasure. Ismo and Hjalmar get a kick out of cheering people up and raising a smile in both each other and other people. Although sometimes small misunderstandings can occur – parents’ grasp of the possibilities provided by all the tools in a kitchen is quite limited, for example …
Ismo’s special interests currently include cars and balls, and playing with water, especially in the sink. His willingness to take his obligatory evening bath is not always as genuine, though, to put it mildly; there are limits to what a young man has to put up with. The sauna, on the other hand, is one of his favourite places, especially the part about climbing into it.
We leave cousins Ismo and Hjalmar, who are already starting to focus on something to chase – there are plenty of adventures to be experienced before you suddenly find you are an adult faced with a lot of responsibility and other boring stuff. In Åland and in Mariehamn, there are also lots of options when you are a child – or an adult, for that matter. The playgrounds are full of swings, there is not much traffic, and dog owners clean up after their beloved pooches.
Now it may sound as though everyday life is just fun and games for cousins Ismo and Hjalmar. That is just one part of the whole picture. Because, at the end of the day, there is nothing better than
collapsing on to the sofa, armchair or bed together, content and warm, wrapping your arms around someone close and offering them a warm hug and a slightly wet kiss followed by demanding a cuddle. That is when life is at its best, and that is what cousins Ismo and Hjalmar have every day in the autonomous region that has developed over almost a hundred years into possibly the safest place in the world for brave children who will ensure that Åland continues to develop in the future.
Jan-Mikael "Keegan" Mattsson
His name is Jan-Mikael Mattsson, but not many people know that. In everyday life he is called Keegan, and then everyone knows who we mean – the man who sees the opportunities many miss and has a feel for repartee that most people lack. Keegan turns 59 this year and will be celebrating together with the whole of Åland.
We start on a hot summer’s day in 2017 and a flight from Arlanda to Warsaw. Keegan is on board together with his friend Jenki Rask. The two are on their way to Warsaw to watch IFK Mariehamn play their Champions League qualifier against top club Legia Warsaw.
When the seat belt sign goes out after take-off, Keegan’s restlessness gets the better of him, and he goes for a short walk in the plane, greeting people politely and chatting with most of them, as you do when your name is Keegan and you like people. But on this packed flight, there are very few who share his passion for IFK and football.
After a while, Keegan returned to his friend but was a little more down in the mouth than when he left.
“Do you know, Jenki,” he said, “people don’t seem to know that IFK are playing in the Champions League in Warsaw tomorrow.”
“Well,” Jenki replied, “you have to remember that not everyone follows IFK the way we do. These are sewing circles, tourists and everyone else who is going to Poland to do something completely different. Poland is a big country …”
“Yes, I guess so,” Keegan replied, “but how often does IFK get to play in the Champions League, for goodness’ sake?!”
Jan “Keegan” Mattsson is one of the city’s real and most famous profiles. For 59 years he has tirelessly, and with never-ending curiosity, walked along the streets and talked to people – and supported his beloved IFK Mariehamn. In times gone by, Keegan used to take care of the scoreboard at Idrottsparken. Today, he is a regular guest at the Wiklöf Holding Arena, both when there are home matches to enjoy and otherwise.
Keegan personifies the camaraderie that should exist in both sports clubs and communities. The feeling of togetherness that comes from a nod of the head in the town, a conversation in the snow, or an encouraging word along the way. Keegan is genuine and for real.
“Keegan” Mattsson was born and raised in Mariehamn and he knows football and other sports better than almost anyone, as can be seen from his apartment. Scarves and match posters hang on the walls, and you can hear the commentary from yet another match on the TV. IFK comes first in Keegan’s world, but on the scarf front we also find traces of teams such as Jomala IK, Degerfors and Aston Villa. These days he devotes most of his time to watching football from the sidelines, but in the past he had great success getting his own DUV team to go from strength to strength. As team captain in the annual matches against IFK Mariehamn’s league team, he ensured that so far DUV has never suffered a defeat in those prestigious clashes.
Keegan is someone who appreciates quality even when it is outside his own sphere, which is why the football player Zlatan is one of his great idols. So it was quite obvious that Keegan should have been on the spot when, on a magical night at the new Friends Arena in 2012, Sweden under Zlatan’s lead beat England 4–2.
Nowadays, Keegan is retired, but he has previously worked at Butik Unik and has an extensive background as a drummer in “Husbandet” behind him. He is also a reliable entertainer and never misses a chance to cheer up IFK parties with a song and a joke. Keegan’s family consists first and foremost of mother Irje and brother Tom and his wife Gun-Britt.
“What am I looking forward to now? Celebrating my 60th birthday next year as well as the fact that Åland turns 100 in the same year. There’ll be Princess cake then! And – of course – seeing IFK win the league next time!”
Incidentally, it is not so strange that Jan-Mikael became Keegan. In England in the 1970s, there was a goal machine and football icon called Kevin Keegan, and there were plenty of close similarities as regards the production of goals.
“I scored 15 goals once, playing football. The others said, ‘We’re going to call you Keegan now’.”
That is how it turned out, and today Keegan is the epitome of togetherness, enthusiasm and a tireless ability to look to the future. When everyone else looks at everyday life with the realism that puts a stop to so much, Keegan chooses to see the possibilities. What we learn from him is that absolutely nothing is impossible – ever. Life is about turning what is challenging into an asset, and that is exactly what shaped the willfulness that created so much of what we feel about our Åland.
Say yes when you get the chance. Don’t think too much and try to have some fun along the way. That is the attitude with which Johanna Backholm, 43, currently manages 1,100 employees worldwide from her office in Mariehamn.
“Willfulness … it can mean to persevere, to hang in there.”
When Johanna Backholm was at secondary school in Åland, what she wanted most of all was to get away from Åland. And that was what she did at first; but after studying to be a human resources specialist in Örebro, she came back – and she has never regretted it. Her work as Vice President of HR & IT at ViskoTeepak involves responsibility for 1,100 employees who manufacture sausage skins in seven different countries. This means that, under normal circumstances, Johanna travels extensively and therefore gets to enjoy Åland many times over.
“Every time I fly in over the archipelago, the sea, the islets and Mariehamn, I feel the same thing – it’s as though you can finally breathe again!”
With her international perspective, Johanna Backholm sometimes thinks that the people of Åland are, to put it simply, a bit blasé.
“I get a bit cross sometimes because there are so many people who don’t appreciate everything that Åland actually has to offer. Distances are short, and we have access to incredibly varied and fun leisure time and collective activities that are beyond compare.”
Johanna Backholm grew up in Lemland and now lives in Mariehamn with her husband Johan, who is an osteopath, and their children Albin and Wilhelmina, who are both teenagers. After Johanna studied in Örebro, the couple settled in Åland. Her first job was in the provincial government, then for a shipping company, and after that she spent fifteen years at Paf with more responsibility and a bigger remit, finally taking up the position of vice president, which she left for ViskoTeepak three years ago.
In Åland, there is time for more than just a job and a career. Despite packed days, at the same time as she started her new job, the Backholm family decided to buy a horse.
“As a youngster, I spent a lot of time in the stables and went to Sleipner riding school, getting to do lots of fun things. I stopped riding when I was in high school but, when the children were born, I took it up again on a retired harness racing horse in Sund.”
Now that the children are a bit older, there is finally room for her to have her own horse, Bamse (Bachelor), who is now a dear member of the Backholm family. A horse means more responsibility and lots of fun!
“Every morning we go out to Hammarland, one of the sixteen municipalities in Åland, to take care of Bamse at the stables. It’s a perfect way to hang out with teenagers during the drive there and back.”
When she is riding a horse, Johanna gathers inspiration and strength while, at the same time, everything that has happened during the day is set aside.
“It’s a time you have to be constantly present. I can’t come to the stables or ride a horse and think about a meeting because then the horse won’t want to be with me. Horses are very clever animals and are incredibly happy to work with people who are responsive and determined.”
For Johanna Backholm, willfulness is something that boils down to perseverance. It can be about seeing things you want to create or change – something that often takes time.
“I am very impatient and want to get going quickly, but at the same time I am also very persistent and straightforward. Did I learn that from riding horses? Maybe I did.”
As a senior manager in an international group, Johanna Backholm is used to seeing differences as assets rather than obstacles. When it comes to giving advice based on her own career, she is clear:
“Say YES when you get the chance and don’t think too much. It is important to believe in yourself and to be patient. It is good to plan and be ready to roll, but also to be prepared for the fact that everything can change. If anyone had told me twenty years ago what I would be doing today, I would never have believed it.”
And then Johanna reminds us of two tricks to keep family and career together:
“Remember to have fun on the way. You spend a lot of time at work and have to make sure you have a good time. Maybe not too much, because if there is too much fooling around every day, that won’t be fun in the end either. I also think you should give yourself time to lie on the sofa and do nothing – your home doesn’t have to be perfect. Nor do you have to have a dinner party every weekend or exercise seven days a week. It is important to give yourself “you-time” – you can do that in Åland.”
A modern and democratic society is made up of many different institutions. In Åland there is a provincial government, a parliament, many municipalities, public authorities and the Rökka hot dog kiosk!
One thing should probably be stated right away. Rökka-Börje Mattsson and his wife Carina are among the most famous of all Ålanders. From the beginning of the 1980s and in the 21 years that followed, the couple ran the Rökka kiosk next to the roundabout which goes by the name Bläckfisken. Rökka alludes to the old fish smokehouse that used to exist in the area and the reason it is spelled with two ks is a story in itself.
In order not to have a name like every other place, an advertiser came up with the idea that it would be more cool to write Rökka than Röcka. There was some local political opposition to this as kk usually belongs in the Finnish language.
“But we had red Coca-Cola barrels at the kiosk at that time and they had ‘Drikk Cola!’ written on them, as in the Norwegian for ‘Drink Cola’, which meant that we could say that Rökka was Norwegian, not Finnish!”
If there is one thing you learn from reality as a hot dog man and woman, it is never to be stumped for an answer. The queue to Rökka has nearly always been long and customers come from all over. Here, directors jostle against police officers, nurses, football players, economists and common ruffians. We are all equal at Rökka, and Börje and Carina have some kind of relationship with just about everyone.
Today, Rökka-Börje Mattsson is 76 years old but is still curious, diligent and uncompromisingly determined. For example, he finds it difficult to see himself as a pensioner now in the sense that he should slow down. The Rökka kiosk itself is run by other people these days, and Börje focuses on his mobile hot dog kiosk while Carina looks after the ice cream kiosk in the Maritime Quarter. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle for the Mattssons who in addition, in their old age, started listening to customers!
“In the past, we used to say, ‘This is our range’ and that was that. Today we are more adaptable. For example, we have introduced a completely new product called a hot dog burger that contains brioche bread, a slice of hot dog, pickled red onion and mustard and ketchup as well as chili sauce and cucumber mayonnaise.”
What is the secret to your success?
“Börje’s inexhaustible energy in everything he does. Satisfaction from improving things. Plenty of do-or-die attitude!” says Carina.
“If I’m doing something, I really want to finish it – I’m not just talking about it. I can be happy with having got something done but then I have to start with something new. It’s boring not to have something to work on,” says Börje.
At home in Önningeby, it is usually Börje who is responsible for the cooking – in his youth he spent twelve intensive years in Sweden learning the culinary profession. From there he returned to Åland to run Restaurant Cikada together with his mother, something to which he devoted three years. After that, he was involved in a partnership with the restaurateur Harry Grunér in Piccolo and Kompass-Baren, and since the beginning of the 1980s, he was completely focused on Rökka and, for a while, the kiosk at Bussplan in Mariehamn.
“The best thing about running a kiosk … Definitely all the young people we got to know. You learn a lot from young people if you want to. We even got along with those who were perceived to be a bit difficult. If there was a problem, I would say to them: ‘If you are out of line with me, you’ll get the same back with interest.’ Then everyone understood the rules of the game,” says Carina.
Over the years, Rökka-Börje Mattsson has listened to both sides and has participated in plenty of problem-solving between hot dog pot and customer. Sometimes there were big worldly challenges and sometimes people who had no food came over and diffidently asked whether there were any split hot dogs they could have.
“It was heartbreaking sometimes, and quite often I would break a hot dog or two just to be able to give them away for free,” recalls Börje.
The Rökka kiosk has stood in roughly the same place since 1961 so it celebrates its sixtieth anniversary this year, the same year as the start of the Åland centenary celebrations. So it is all about hundreds of thousands of Ålanders who have stopped by Rökka over the years and bought hot dogs, talked about everything and anything, and chosen between mild and strong mustard. Börje does not regret a single second of his life running Rökka.
“What is the best thing about Åland and the Ålanders? The proximity to everything, the sea, the countryside – Åland is simply great, nothing more nothing less. Quite simply, where can you find a better place?”
Master mariner Henrik Karlsson is one of those lucky souls who feel as much at home in Möckelö as 17,000 kilometres away in the Antarctic. His work has taken him all over the place, both geographically and intellectually.
“I like variety and for things to be simple, ideally without bureaucracy,” he says.
Today, Henrik Karlsson’s main activity is to captain cruise ships taking international visitors between Argentina and the Antarctic. But … the pandemic has hit that aspect of shipping hard – passengers are stuck in their respective countries without the opportunity to travel.
Captain Karlsson does shorter stints on Swedish cruise ships instead, and if there are none of those available, then he operates the little Åland restaurant boat Sunnan.
“If you can’t get to the high seas, you have to be content with smaller settings,” he points out.
Henrik Karlsson is an Ålander by birth and force of habit, as they say. He was born in the middle of the town and later moved to Jungmansgatan where his parents live to this day. He has two siblings, a sister and a brother. Karlsson is married to Tanja, and they will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Åland’s anniversary year 2022. The couple met on board a Sea Cloud ship where they were both working, and the chemistry between them turned out to be strong. Although celebrating wedding anniversaries is not among Captain Karlsson’s strong suits …
“I forget our wedding anniversary every time, so my wife gives me a cactus plant – I’ve started to have a pretty large collection of cacti …”
A seafaring life is the basis of most of what Henrik Karlsson is involved in. If it is not to do with work, he will use his own boat or – for a change – occasionally and weather permitting, he will go out on his motorbike. If it is really icy in the winter, then it will be the iceboat that comes into its own!
Henrik Karlsson has shipping in his blood from his paternal grandfather, who was a master mariner and enjoyed taking his grandson on outings to the Maritime Museum. This was appreciated by the members of Åland’s old International Association of Cape Horners and possibly both sowed the seed of the seaman in the young Karlsson and saw it grow.
“It was probably Grandad who got me on the road to becoming a master mariner. I went to school in both Åland and Gothenburg and worked on cargo ships first before I became more and more interested in cargo ship sailing on replicas of the Albanus and Linden as a hobby.”
So it was no great surprise that a few decades later Henrik Karlsson stepped into that same museum as its new boss. He stayed there for nine years, in charge of preserving history, and then spent five years as vice-rector at the Åland University of Applied Sciences with responsibility for maritime studies to prepare students for the future. Nowadays he lives in the present and can look back on thirty years as an active seaman.
“What is the best part of being a master mariner? That you have an incredibly varied existence that is never boring. Sometimes it can be a bit hectic and stressful, but you have to be prepared for that.”
For Henrik Karlsson, uncompromising determination means doing what he wants to do without being too much under anyone else’s control. That was why he opted to sail on board the Sea Cloud sailing ship after his time at the museum, and why he started at the university after that.
“What’s important for me is always to have the opportunity to do what you enjoy. If you are not doing that, you should change jobs.”
As regards Åland, Henrik Karlsson gets a faraway look in his eye and hesitates for a moment before coming up with the absolute best thing about it:
“It’s the archipelago, of course – it’s fabulous, whatever you compare it with.”
You cannot come up with a closer quality stamp than that – Captain Karlsson has seen more archipelagos than almost anyone else … in the whole world. That is why he does not make light of the coming anniversary, and why he is getting ready to stay at home this summer, which for him is exceptional. Apart from all the usual things, he notes that the Tall Ships Races is coming to Mariehamn this summer. Henrik Karlsson knows what it is all about – he is among the veterans in this illustrious sailing ships’ regatta as well.
“I have some wonderful memories of Tall Ships Races generally, but most of all of Mariehamn in 1988. That was when I sailed on the three-masted schooner Marite, which was an extraordinary experience. But the most phenomenal of all was the launching of the Albanus, which took place in front of 5,000 spectators in the Maritime Quarter on 24 July,” says Karlsson.
As a seaman, Henrik Karlsson is very conscious of the fact that the journey itself is the point, not the destination. When it has been more difficult to get to the sea due to the pandemic, Karlsson has made sure he had other things to do. The outcome has been a seat on the board of the Maritime Quarter but also lending a helping hand to the Sundberg brothers in completing the book their father Göte started writing about the legendary shipping councillor Gustaf Eriksson, once the biggest sailing shipowner in the world.
“Gustaf Erikson is the Ålander of the century. Wherever you come to in the world where there is any kind of sailing ship history, you’re greeted with open arms when you say you’re from Åland. Ålanders generally have no idea how great and famous he was due to the sailing ships he owned.”
On weekdays, Ida Zetterström, 26, builds websites and does digital marketing work. In her leisure time, Ida unleashes 750 hp of motorcycle speed, making her the fastest woman in the world. Åland is slow and yet like greased lightning – at the same time.
It is impressive beyond belief to imagine how anyone would choose to sit on a finely tuned motorcycle with the aim of riding it faster than anyone else over 402.33 metres. That is what Ida Zetterström has done all her life, resulting in numerous trophies and triumphs and the title “fastest woman in the world” after she recorded 346.9 kilometres per hour in the Super Street Bike/Pro Street Bike category!
It is hard to know whether it is about uncompromising determination or something else … For Ida Zetterström, racing comes as naturally as walking and breathing. She was born in Järfälla in Sweden and has lived in Åland since she turned twelve. Her home is in Jomala, and she has a holiday cottage in Hammarland.
Her first racing experience came early in life: Ida was just three weeks old the first time she took part in a competition … Zetterström Dad runs his own racing car business, specialising in American cars, and while Ida was growing up, he was what was known as Crew Chief for several teams and drivers including the Ålander Pelle Hägglund, who was a successful drag racer in the early 2000s.
“I started competing when I was eight years old – you weren’t allowed to before then. At first, I competed with cars but now motorcycles are my thing,” says Ida Zetterström.
She is not alone with this passion. Her father is on board as Crew Chief and her partner builds all kinds of engines and keeps an eye on the technical side. Ida looks after the marketing, administration and so on, and is among Finland’s most popular sporting heroes. There is great interest in elite sports and her Instagram account has plenty of followers, which requires effort and constant updating. Racing is like other things: you have to be visible in order to exist and develop.
“Many people think I’m crazy to put so much time, energy and money into this sport, but for me it’s not strange at all. I’ve grown up in this environment, and now my partner is involved in it as well, which makes it even more fun. In fact, he was the person who inspired me to start riding a motorbike.”
Drag racing of the kind that Ida Zetterström does is all about extremely small margins. There are thousands of aspects, which leave no room for error or mistakes. And yet, they happen, and it is worth being ready for them. If you are going to be the fastest in the world, you have to be able to manage the odd setback.
“I’m probably pretty stubborn, and it’s something I see as positive. When I go in for something, I give it my all – and that’s how it is with racing. You mustn’t ever let adversity or failure stop you. If it doesn’t work out, then you have to find something else – and that’s where creativity comes in.”
What Ida Zetterström says is significant for all of us, maybe especially so in these times when the pandemic and the coronavirus challenge our everyday life and future.
“It’s important to keep your spirits up and never get despondent. If you do get depressed, it’s hard to find new solutions, and then things just get worse. You always have to look for the bright side.”
As far as Ida is concerned, Åland equals everyday luxury, security and tranquillity – all at the same time. If you leave your keys in the car, it’ll still be there, and it takes about four minutes to get from home to work. Add to that schools, healthcare and elderly care that are all world-class. Thinking back to her time in Sweden and the Stockholm area, Ida appreciates the difference between the big city and Åland.
“Here you’re close to everything, and things that are luxuries in other places are run-of-the-mill here. Quality of life is considerably better in Åland that in other places, I think.”
From her base in Åland, the possibilities are endless. The pandemic has to some extent put a stop to the furthest competition travel – last year there were three competitions, but the future is still promising – and secret.
“We have plans that I can’t say much about at the moment. They’re about fun things within drag racing, which I’ve worked with for many years, more than anything I’d done before and a dream in many ways. Coronavirus times have meant that we’ve worked in different ways and found other solutions; we’ve sought out new ways to create a basis for bigger projects. Now it feels as though everything is starting to fall into place – I hope we’ll be able to present some bigger things soon!”
The future will also encompass a new company with which Ida hopes to help others to work their way onwards and upwards.
“I’ve set up a company where I design and build websites and do digital marketing work. I hope to be able to do more of that in the future … as well as racing!”
Lawyer Josephine Thörnroos studied in Turku, Oslo and Helsinki. She lives in Eckerö and works in Mariehamn, often on international issues. So, the question is legitimate: Where do you feel you belong?
“Simple. Lappo on Brändö. That’s where I was born and grew up, and that’s where my home is, even though I’m not there that much.”
Today, if it were practically possible, Josephine Thörnroos would prefer to live in Lappo with her husband André and their daughter Martha, who will soon be four. They have their permanent residence in Eckerö but would love to move out to the archipelago.
“My husband is also willing to move to Lappo and possibly raise sheep, grow stuff and drive a taxi, as so many people who live in the archipelago do, but for the moment maritime insurance is the order of the day for him. We have thought about it, but for the time being I feel that it would involve rather a lot of sacrifice in terms of career and social life,” says Thörnroos.
It is a dilemma for the whole of Åland that urbanisation means the population decreases in the archipelago while it increases closer to urban centres. And yet more and more people are thinking longingly about a future in a more sparsely populated area, and Josephine is one of them:
“The plan for the future is to spend more and more time in Lappo. We bought some land last autumn and are planning to build a second home there. We’re not in a rush as to when that should happen – maybe next year,” she says.
The advantage of Lappo compared to the city is that life is really different – Josephine knows all about that as she has tried both:
“People take care of one another in a completely different way in the archipelago and socialise across age groups. It’s also much easier to socialise with and get to know people you wouldn’t otherwise meet in a city. In a city it’s easy to just hang out with people who share your interests or are colleagues, which is a bit dreary in the long run.”
In smaller places, and particularly in Lappo, the notion of “talkoanda” co-operative joint effort remains strong.
“I think it’s great when people just volunteer and create something together. In Lappo, we have a really active youth organisation. Even though there are not that many people who live there during the week, we manage to keep it going and people come and help out at weekends. There’s always something happening in the youth organisation and the community, which creates a strong feeling of solidarity.”
Josephine and André met at work and were a perfect match. The wedding took place in Lappo with 150 guests, which was a high-wire challenge in logistical terms. The actual marriage ceremony was held in Brändö church and was followed by countless boat trips before the party started in Lappo youth centre.
“We wanted to have a big wedding and invite all our friends, and that’s the sort of thing you mostly have to sort out yourself – the whole family was involved.”
The wedding lasted for three days and included archipelago traditions together with a “help-out” mindset as characterises the whole of the community. It has already had an effect – even daughter Martha has learned to feel all right about the situation.
“She loves Lappo, but I don’t know whether it’s about the place itself or the people – maternal grandma and grandpa. Although Martha is growing up on the Åland mainland, I intend to make sure that she becomes a proper archipelago girl – one who has a thick skin and isn’t afraid of new challenges and adventures.”
Josephine Thörnroos is single-minded and driven. She is not afraid of hard work and finds tough training and the triathlon appealing. That means an impressive number of hours spent training at the gym, on the bike and in the pool. That aspect was one thing she was more active with in the past, before Martha was born.
Professionally, Josephine Thörnroos is heavily involved in shipping. It is a passion that has persisted since the first boat trips she took as a nine-year-old. Her studies started in Turku where she did economics focusing on maritime law.
“Shipping had always fascinated me, and I thought that one day I’d become a master mariner, but it didn’t turn out that way.”
After Turku, she continued her maritime law studies in Oslo before completing her law degree at the University of Helsinki. Josephine spent six years away from Åland studying and working for a Norwegian maritime insurance company before she came back to Åland and took up a position working in maritime insurance at Alandia. After that she went on to work at Åland Post and then this spring she started working for the law firm Widman & Co.
“It’ll be fun to work with pure law again – and, with a bit of luck, a few shipping issues as well!”
In what way are you uncompromisingly determined?
“I am really single-minded with everything I do and everything I get stuck into – I give everything my all.”
Finally … You have seen and done so much. What is the best thing about Åland?
“It’s all the people who live here – family and friends, and the fact that it’s a safe and secure place, and that it’s my home. I’ve lived away from Åland for several spells, but I always felt homesick. In a city, you’re anonymous in a totally different way. Some people think it’s annoying if everybody knows you, but I like it that when you meet new Ålanders you find you have acquaintances in common. You have a sense of belonging.”
The population of Åland has been increasing steadily throughout the 2000s. The main reason for this is people moving into the area as a consequence of a strong labour market and a welcoming community.
Lijo Joy is an excellent example of this and shows that Åland is a place where families are safe and secure, and there is an economic environment where companies grow.
Joy was born in Kerala, a state in southern India with close to 40 million inhabitants. That is where his wife Minu was born as well, and the two of them met via a marriage website where people carefully seek out a suitable partner. This is a very common way for people to meet in India – nearly 90 per cent of marriages start with careful planning.
“Though we had already met as well – our families lived just one kilometre away from each other,” says Lijo Joy.
Before the marriage, Lijo Joy went to Åland to work at Crosskey as a programmer in the card department and with the Mastercard team. Crosskey is a highly developed IT company with international clients and connections all over the world.
A few years later, Minu joined him, and then the two of them were married in Kerala according to traditional Indian custom. They became a married couple after first having held an engagement party hosted by the bride’s parents and then having the wedding itself the following day, hosted by the bridegroom’s parents. After that came the move to Åland where the couple had two daughters, Tia, aged four, and Teza, soon to turn three.
“We love it here. The plan is to stay in Åland as it is a perfect place for children. There is tranquillity for the family, comfort and security, a clean environment and a beautiful natural landscape. It’s about time we bought a house!” says Lijo Joy.
Your own family always comes first, of course, but it is also important to have a job that challenges you and gets you to develop as a person. In Åland it is possible to combine a rich private life with a professional career. The one must never exclude the other. Distances are short and there are plenty of opportunities for a variety of leisure activities.
“Crosskey is a perfect place to work because you have the opportunity to work remotely. We like travelling and have been to India several times together with Tia and Teza,” says Lijo Joy.
Lijo and Minu speak the local variant of the Indian language called Malayalam. That is what the girls speak as well, together with Swedish at nursery and English from the TV. Being trilingual comes naturally to them and becomes a part of the everyday, as much a matter of course as drawing, which is one of the girls’ greatest areas of interest.
The family is the focal point of a happy everyday life. Not just the little family that lives in Åland but also the relatives who still live in India. Before the pandemic, the Joy family made several trips in both directions. When Minu was pregnant, her mum came to Åland and helped out over several months. This is what is being missed most at the moment.
“Fortunately, the digital world works, and we can stay in touch with the help of things like WhatsApp, but obviously it’s not the same.”
Moving into a completely new community is not always an easy thing to do. Traditions and culture in India and Åland are different. And yet the Joy family feels that mostly things have gone smoothly without any major problems or misunderstandings.
“I moved here first and got to know how things worked, and after a few years Minu came over as well, which made a huge difference. We socialise a lot with three other families who are also from the same area and speak the same language, Malayalam,” says Lijo.
The Joy family is Christian and celebrates the same special occasions as most people in Åland, even “little Christmas”! In the family’s leisure time, a lot of energy is dedicated to the two daughters and their antics. If there is time, long walks are a favourite pastime, and Lijo plays badminton as well, to stay fit.
It was 1958 when Mirjam Öberg arrived in Åland for the first time. Her destination was Kumlinge, and the time was the middle of a November night. There was no electricity, and nobody came to meet her. It could have ended badly, but the opposite happened. Öberg chose to see the glass half full.
Mirjam Öberg is a living definition of a life reflecting the importance of always adapting to new situations. It is about an awful lot of uncompromising determination and the ability to “just get on with things”. For hundreds of years people have expressed the notion: “All beginnings are difficult – things get better year after year.” It could have been coined by Mirjam herself since her beginning was certainly no picnic. She was born in Finnish Karelia in 1932, was forced to flee from the Russians when war broke out and then grew up as a war child in Sweden where she became fluent in Swedish.
After the war years, Mirjam Öberg headed for the School of Nursing in Helsinki where the President, Ulla Wegelius, spread many words of wisdom around her.
“She thought we should train as nursing sisters and apply for jobs in the Åland archipelago where there was a shortage.”
Mirjam Öberg completed her training, and those words had stayed with her. She was also curious about Åland and wanted to keep up the Swedish she had learnt in Sweden. She rang the legendary Maj-Lis “The Flower” Blom, who was a pioneer in Åland’s healthcare system. The Flower was all fired up: “You will be so welcome – come as soon as you can! There is a vacancy in Kumlinge!”
And so it went – Mirjam Öberg made for a place she had never heard of. It turned out to be a difficult start to something that developed into pure love. She would never forget the first night. First, nobody in Kumlinge knew that they needed a nursing sister, or that she was on her way, so nobody came to meet her. Second, it was November, it was pitch dark, it was three in the morning and the electricity had failed.
“The postman took pity on me and showed me where the school was where I would be living on the second floor. I found the bed by the light of a torch I had with me,” recalls Öberg.
For the newly arrived Kumlinge resident, it was full steam ahead from day one. It did not take long for the young Mirjam to win the trust of the residents of Kumlinge. There were plenty of tasks for a healthcare professional. Sometimes she was a midwife who took care of births; sometimes she was dispensing polio vaccinations; and gradually she became more and more involved in the work being done to understand the mysterious Kumlinge disease that would later be renamed tick-borne encephalitis, TBE.
In the midst of all this, love emerged in the form of her neighbour Brage, and eventually a move to Mariehamn followed, although a part of her always remained in Kumlinge.
“I had the opportunity to become the town midwife, which came with much better accommodation in the town, so the decision was a bit easier to take in the end.”
Mirjam Öberg is known to the wider public in many different guises. Especially as a colourful politician in the Åland Parliament. That was a career she started in 1975, the year that was defined as international women’s year, and she became an advocate of many issues, particularly those relating to children and women as well as culture.
Mirjam Öberg has been a widow since 2006. She has a rich social life with her children Kristian and Viktoria, their families and plenty of friends. Her phone keeps ringing, and straight after this interview she will be off to do some water aerobics.
When asked about the uncompromising determination aspect of Ålanders, Mirjam Öberg suggests curiosity, with a brilliant example:
“It’s positive when you meet someone for the first time and straight away you want to find out more about their family background. It’s rather exciting! I’m exactly like the Ålanders – when I meet someone, I have to check out their extended family.”
So, this question has to be asked. Mirjam has lived in Åland since 1958. Is it not time for her to feel like an Ålander?
“In some ways the people here are like Karelians – it’s not the language people speak that distinguishes them from one another, it’s something else. It’s their way of being and relating to one another that is important. I find it easy to relate to Ålanders, and I do feel like an Ålander as well. Now that I’ve lived here for over sixty years, I must surely count myself as an Ålander, but deep inside I’m the person I always was – I haven’t changed at all.”
There are plenty of special places in Åland. But some obviously stick out more than others.
“Kumlinge is really special to me, even though they didn’t exactly receive me with open arms that night when I arrived!”
What do Åland and life here mean to you and your family?
“It’s quite simply my life. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. There are enough people here who know one another, everything is more familiar, and nothing is rigid or controlled and that sort of thing.”
When Åland had its 90th anniversary, Olivia Larsson could barely walk. Ten years later, Olivia is nearly eleven years old, and her days are chock-full of activities. In many ways Åland is a society constructed with the aim of creating courageous adults out of confident children.
Olivia Larsson moved to Åland from Huskvarna in Jönköping where she was born. Her mother, Petra, is originally from Åland whereas her father, David, is from Sweden. Today Olivia is in Year 4 at Övernäs school, to which she cycles every day along well-tended cycle paths.
But when you read this, it is the summer holidays, and, in the autumn, Year 5 awaits. There are two and a half months of free time between now and the autumn, with late nights and morning lie-ins, wild strawberries on straws, ice cream, intimate conversations, swims, games, laughter, antics and everything else an eleven-year-old spends time on in the summer. It may be obvious, but still needs emphasising: summer in Åland is probably the best in the whole world!
“I love Åland because of the beautiful natural landscape and the fact that it is so small. You know so many people, and it’s safe and clean everywhere,” says Olivia.
It is not easy to give an exact description of an eleven-year-old – it tends to depend on the day and the mood. After comprehensive research and conversation, we nonetheless give it a try. Like all other children, Olivia is obviously unique. She is also a happy child and often really funny. She is calm by nature and tends to think before she acts, rather than afterwards. When she concentrates, you get a picture of a precise and responsible person.
Olivia is also bubbly, energetic and has a feeling for rhythm, qualities that are particularly in evidence on the many evenings she spends on DunderDans dance activities.
“Dancing is one of my favourite things! I like “slow”, which is quite a new competitive dance. “Slow” is a mixture of ballet and modern dance, with even disco thrown in, and I really like the combination,” explains Olivia.
The result of “slow” is like life itself. Sometimes it is graceful and careful, and other times it is dramatic and passionate.
Apart from dancing, Olivia Larsson likes to spend time doing yoga and being with her friends, reading books and trying to raise her rabbits. Her home, which she shares with mum and dad and little sister Elin, is in Klinten in Mariehamn.
The pandemic, which started in 2020 and continued during the first half of 2021, caused a lot of problems in Åland generally, and in particular for pupils forced into home-schooling and a change for which nobody was prepared. It is something that Olivia Larsson accepted with equanimity, continuing to persevere towards her goal of one day, maybe, becoming a hair stylist.
“It sounds like fun, but I may change my mind,” she says.
In the coming year, when Åland celebrates its 100th anniversary, the event will obviously be marked in all sorts of ways. Olivia Larsson intends to focus on celebrating by dancing – not just any old dance, but the specially put together Åland 100 dance!
What about uncompromising determination, then? What does that mean for you?
“Hmm … it’s a difficult question. I don’t really understand the expression. But if it means that you’re headstrong and you persevere, then maybe I do have it, at least compared to my sister. I’m definitely more headstrong than she is!”
HISTORY CHARACTERISED BY THE SEA
The first inhabitants populated Åland about 7,000 years ago when people came to Åland to hunt seals and fish. Ever since then, Åland has been a strategic place for seafarers, and Åland’s history is strongly characterised by the sea and shipping. An important period in Åland’s history was the shipping era about 100 years ago. At that time, Mariehamn was the home port for large sailing ships, such as the Pommern, which is the only four-masted merchant sailing ship of its kind still in its original state today.
ÅLAND BECOMES A PART OF FINLAND
There is another reason why the period 100 years ago is important in Åland’s history. Finland declared its independence as a state in 1917. In Åland, an idea emerged of reuniting with Sweden; this request was relayed to the Swedish government in 1917 and to the Swedish king the following year as well. Finland, on the other hand, did not want to give up Åland, and eventually offered Ålanders some form of autonomy instead. On 24 June 1921, the Council of the League of Nations decided on a compromise. Åland would belong to Finland, but Finland must guarantee the Ålanders’ Swedish language, culture, local customs and the system of autonomy that had been offered to Åland in 1920.
Åland has been an autonomous island realm within the republic of Finland since 1921. Åland’s autonomous assembly first met on 9 June 1922, and 9 June became Åland’s Autonomy Day. Ålanders have their own government and parliament, their own budget and the right to legislate in areas such as education, healthcare, trade and industry, municipal administration and traffic. Having its own flag, its own stamps and its own registration plates, as well as the top-level domain “ax”, are also important signs for autonomous Åland.
A MODERN SOCIETY
Today Åland is a modern society with just over 30,000 inhabitants and good connections both to the east and the west. The Åland heritage is deeply rooted in shipping and Åland is still a base for many shipping companies today. The business world in Åland is active and remains at the cutting edge. The work climate is perfect for creative multitaskers, and there is a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Today several Åland companies in various industries such as banking, IT and insurance offer the opportunity of jobs in an international arena. Åland is served by modern ferries and has more than one ferry departure per hour. The city of Mariehamn has about 11,700 inhabitants, and in addition there are 15 rural and archipelago municipalities. Åland has its own university and successful companies as well as its own local newspapers and radio.
ÅLAND’S RIGHT OF DOMICILE
Åland has a seat in the Finnish Parliament and its own representation in Nordic cooperation. According to the constitution, Åland is monolingually Swedish and the inhabitants are granted the right of domicile from birth or after five years of residence. The right of domicile is a prerequisite for being allowed to own land and property and to be allowed to engage in business activities in Åland.
In 2022, it will be 100 years since Åland became autonomous. The Åland 100 anniversary year will be celebrated for an entire year, from 9 June 2021 until 9 June 2022. A number of interesting cultural events and festivities will be organised around Åland during the anniversary year. Once you have submitted an application, the provincial government may also grant you an exemption if you have recently moved to Åland.
UNIQUE NATURAL LANDSCAPE AND A CULTURE OF ITS OWN
The most hours of sunshine in the Nordic countries, a mild sea climate and the thousands of little islands have given Åland a species-rich and varied natural landscape. The sea and the environment are important for Ålanders, and outdoor life, country cottage life and boating feature among the leisure interests of many Ålanders.
Ålanders are proud of their history, archipelago and cultural heritage. The spirit of Talko (work done by a community) and the sense of belonging are alive and well among Ålanders – on an island in the middle of the ocean, people need one another and in stormy times everyone needs to pull together in the same direction.
Project: “Åland Dances”
Take up the challenge and spread joy with dance and music! The Nordic Institute in Åland (NIPÅ) has the pleasure of presenting a completely new song and dance, which we hope as many people as possible will want to learn during the Åland 100 year.
Project: “I am part of Åland”
Åland's identity is created by all the people who still shape our small archipelago into a fantastic place. It is the people who make Åland flourish. What we would like YOU to do during the anniversary year is to send in short films showcasing the diversity of willful Ålanders.
So now we are inviting YOU to explain in a short film why you love Åland, what your favourite places or interests are, or in what way you feel willful. Ålanders of all kinds are welcome to apply, with different interests, backgrounds, ages and history.
Interested? Go to regeringen.ax/aland100, and send in your registration of interest today.