There are some disputes in modern history that one might take lessons from in understanding the wisest course to take in resolving the Kashmiri dispute.
The Aaland Islands is a case in point, as are South Tyrol, Trieste, Andorra, and Northern Ireland, each of which was contested by neighboring countries. Finland and Sweden both coveted The Aaland Islands; South Tyrol was in dispute between Austria and Italy; Trieste was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia; Andorra is a small principality. Virtually all of these cases, the country in question was seized or split in two in the course of war between neighboring countries.
Understanding the Aaland Islands means seeing its problems in the larger context of Finland, Sweden and their political and social milieu. Finland had been an integral part of the Kingdom of Sweden for six centuries. They had shared a common culture together, Finns spoke Swedish and Swedes spoke Finnish. But the Finns and the Swedes were different. The Swedes were of Germanic origin, of Viking stock, as were the Norwegians and Danes, imposing as they did one of the earliest empires in history on Northern Europe, and dominating other cultures in the region. They were agrarian, settled and lived from what they grew, not from what they found or captured. But despite having a common monarch, Sweden was Sweden and Finland was Finland.
Finnish people are often called the white Eskimos. They have a nomadic oriental heritage (by some historians regarded as “the lost tribe of the Mongols). They shared common heritage with other people who had settled around the Baltic Sea, including Estonia and Hungary, known as the Finn-Urgics, whose origins were rooted in the Ural Mountains of Russia in a marriage, literally, by Ghengis Khan, leader of the Mongols, to a young teenage Hun bride. The Ural Mountains had been settled by the Mongols during the reign of Ghengis Khan, occupied then by the Huns, a people who had migrated north from the Middle East, a people said to have originated in one of the Abrahamic tribes.
The languages of Sweden, Norway and Denmark are of Indo-European origin. However, they have virtually nothing in common etiologically with the language of the Finns. The Finns were mystical, pantheistic, with shamanistic practices. The Swedes followed the Pope.
In 1808, things changed. After six centuries of Swedish rule, Finland was invaded by Russia in a war against Sweden, seeking greater access to the Baltic for greater military and economic strength. Finland’s eastern border is shared by Russia. Its western border was primarily the Gulf of Bothnia, gateway by way of the Aaland Islands to the Baltic Sea.
A little more than a year later, Russia forced Sweden to secede Finland on September 2, 1809 in the Treaty of Fredrikshamn. Under the Russians, Finland became the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, allowing them a certain amount of political power in return for the advantages of access to the sea. The Aaland Islands, occupied by Swedish people, was severed from its ties to family and relatives, and made a part of the duchy.
However, such a deal could not have anticipated the overthrow of the Russian monarchy and the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, when Finland declared independence. Under the Swedes, Finland had also enjoyed some autonomy, so her independence with the downfall of the Tsar and major upheaval going on in Russia was a default instinct.
That declaration created then a new power struggle and civil war in Finland to fill the vacuum between conservative pro-Finnish “Whites” and a communist faction in the labor movement that was pro-Bolshevik and pro-Russian who were known as “Reds.” Aside from such political differences, independence had also been spurred by Russian Tsar Nicolas II’s plan for the “Russification” of Finland, which imposed serious cultural, language and religious restrictions on Finnish traditions from 1905 on. Russia’s attitude toward the Finns was identical to current Indian attitudes toward Kashmir. The tsar intended to abrogate their autonomous status and incorporated them fully into the Russian state.
Finland’s resistance led finally to full independence from Russia. But it was not through war. With the Tsar overthrown, the new government already had its hands full, and the Bolsheviks had already announced that any ethnic groups that were not Russian were free to choose their own course through self-determination. Finland chose to do just that.
n The writer is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness Forum.