11 August 2006

In Message to 150th Anniversary of Demilitarization of Åland, Secretary-General Says Settlement over Disputed Islands a Model for Averting Violence

NEW YORK, 10 August (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message on the 150th anniversary of the demilitarization of the Åland Islands, to be held in Bomarsund, Åland, 12-13 August:

Humankind's quest for the peaceful resolution of conflict is as timeless as the skerries of the Åland Islands and the waters that surround them.  Over the past decade, we have seen all too many conflicts with ethnic or regional roots erupt around the world, accompanied by moves toward identity politics in multi-ethnic States.  The United Nations has been engaged in the search for solutions, and will no doubt continue to be so.

In this search, we naturally look around the globe for examples of disputes which have been settled successfully without resort to violence, population transfer or the break-up of States.  The case of the Åland Islands readily comes to mind.  The settlement reached under the auspices of the League of Nations, predecessor of the United Nations, has now lasted more than 80 years and is not seriously questioned by any party.  It averted a potential armed conflict between Finland and Sweden by preserving the territorial integrity of both countries, while allowing the islanders to preserve their autonomy and the specific character of their community.  And it confirmed the 1856 demilitarization of the Islands, which we commemorate today.

The Åland Islands model is a highly sophisticated and imaginative one, which promoted the coexistence of different linguistic communities within a larger, internationally viable state.  It demonstrated that political conflicts do not have to lead to war, and that another way can always be found when leaders and peoples on both sides understand -- as those of Finland and Sweden did -- how disastrous war would be.  Elements of the settlement can be used elsewhere, even if the model as a whole cannot automatically be transposed.  Perhaps the most important lesson it teaches us is that flexibility and imagination are always needed in applying general principles to particular situations.  Certainly, any zone of conflict could benefit from a dose of what I might call the Åland spirit -- a spirit of pragmatism, compromise and, above all, commitment to peace.

It is in that spirit that I wish you all a most successful celebration.  May the peace and prosperity of the Åland Islands serve as an inspiration to peoples around the world.  Leve Åland! Eläköön Ahvenanmaa!

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