A visit to the Parliament is a must for all who are interested in history or social issues. But it can be interesting for others as well. Many want to know how Åland has managed to have such an extended period of autonomy when it only has a population of 28,000. At the same time, a visit to the Åland Parliament building in Mariehamn gives a clear picture of Nordic parliamentary government that is easy to grasp.
"School groups, pensioner groups and people with a general interest book to go on our guided tours," explains assistant parliamentary director Marine Holm-Johansen.
The tour, which takes about an hour and a half, starts with a film. It was Kaj Grundström of TV Åland who directed the film Åland - in brief, an autonomous island state. The film covers Åland culture, history and politics in turn so as to give the visitor a good basic knowledge.
First stop: the plenary hall
Then the tour starts and the first stop is the plenary hall. Visitors get to learn how Åland is governed and about the parliament, the Åland Parliament, which is empowered to enact its own legislation in many areas of competence but comes under the jurisdiction of Finland in other contexts. Many visitors have questions concerning the political system and the party groupings that are particular to Åland.
"Sometimes we get research groups that want to study autonomy and demilitarisation. Then usually either I myself, or someone else from the chancellery department, will guide the tour since they are looking for more detailed knowledge. If the group wants to discuss political issues, then I often take a politician with me," explains Marine. Such guided tours must be booked via the Parliament's chancellery department in good time in advance of when they are due to take place. Contact details are available on the Parliament's website, www.lagtinget.ax.
A great assortment
The tour continues through the parliament building and the guide describes Åland's special language provisions, the right of domicile and Åland's position in the EU. A question that visitors frequently ask is how a demilitarised zone works. The guide can then explain that no military personnel may be stationed in Åland and no fortifications may be built. Something many young people are relieved about is that they get out of doing military service.
The tour is concluded on the roof of the parliament building, from which you get a fabulous view over the centre of Mariehamn and Österhamnen.
"The atmosphere on our guided tours is often pleasant and informal. The guests ask a lot of questions and want to talk about their impressions so there are interesting discussions and conversations to be had. They are impressed by our "open" and easily accessible parliament building and well-functioning autonomy, something we are extremely proud of here in Åland," says Riitta-Lea Värelä, one of the guides.
You can book guided tours round the Parliament all year round. The multilingual guides adapt the tours according to the group's level of knowledge. The guided tours are completely free.
To book a guided tour, ring:
Ålands guider, tel: +358(0)457 3425333
Read more about Åland's history and autonomy.