Upon receiving the news of the report, Karl Hjalmar Branting, the prime minister of Sweden from 1920 through 1925, read the following declaration:
On behalf of the Swedish Government I have the honour to make the following statement: –
It is with a feeling of profound disappointment that the Swedish nation will learn of the Resolution of the Council of the League of Nations.”
In supporting the cause of the people of the Aaland Islands before Europe and the League of nations, Sweden was not influenced by the desire to increase her territory. She only wished to support noble and just aspirations and to defend the right of an absolutely homogenous island population to reunite itself to its mother-country, from which it had been detached by force, but to which it is still united by the ties of a common origin, a common history, and a common national spirit. This population has declared to the whole world its unanimous wish not to be bound to a country to which it had been joined by force of arms alone.
The Swedish Government had hoped that an institution, which was established to assist in the realisation of right in international relationships, would have favoured a solution of the Aaland question in conformity with the principle of self-determination, which, although not recognised as a part of international law, has received so wide an application in the formation of the New Europe. It had hoped that the Aalanders would not be refused the rights, which have been recognised in respect of their Slesvig brothers, who belong, as do the Aalanders, to the Scandinavian race. It had hoped that, in the very special case under consideration, in which right appears so evident, and in which the wishes of the population have been expressed with such unusual unanimity, the League of Nations would have filled, at least on this occasion the role of the champion and defender of right, and thus, by its first decision, would have proclaimed the dawn of a new international order.
To-day, when the decision of the Council has frustrated that hope, the Swedish Government is obliged to express the fear that the Council has grievously shaken the confidence that the peoples, particularly those who, like Sweden, have long been striving to accomplish international law, have had in the League of nations – an institution great task entrusted to it by the Covenant, it is absolute necessary that it should possess that confidence.
The Swedish Government is not of opinion that the settlement of the Aaland question which is suggested by the Council is likely to confer upon the Baltic area the peace that is desired. Nor yet is it of opinion that a population as homogenous as that of the Aaland Islands, of whose wishes so little account has been taken, can add to the strength of a country to which it is attached against its unanimous desire.
Sweden is ready loyally to recognise that the decision of the Council has the force given to it by the Covenant. But Sweden will not abandon the hope that the day will come when the idea of justice shall have so permeated the conscience of the peoples, that the claims inspired by such noble motives and a national feeling as deep as that of the population of the Aaland Isles will be triumphally vindicated. Thus it will make its voice heard, and will at last have justice done to it.
The view that power originates, proceeds from, and is vested in government over and above the wishes of the people, whether minority or majority, is deeply flawed. There would be no government without individuals who form compacts with others around them for common defense, for a means of establishing mechanisms and networks for producing and exchanging goods to better livelihood, and for maintaining peace and order. We are not bound to such social contracts by the will of the government we have created. The government serves at the pleasure of those who have created it. Only individuals make contracts, not groups. There is no legal entity called “we” or some collective consciousness that usurps my individual will to be taken over by the state or some private society. My Facebook friends have not committed me to any agenda simply by virtue of being in an association with them, nor has society.
Government has no mind of its own, no will of its own, no power of its own. It exists for me solely because I acknowledge it in my affairs and consent to its decrees. It has no intrinsic need for self-preservation over the wishes of the people it serves. It is we who preserve it. Does it make sense to build a computer that takes over our lives, or should the computer serve simply as a tool to be used for a narrow set of needs? As James Madison wrote, “the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived. Federalist No. 49(February 2, 1788).
Sweden’s handling of the matter and its decision to abide by the League Covenant left a sour taste in the mouths of the islanders, but to their good credit, Finland has cultivated excellent relations with them since. It exemplifies greatly the point that communal differences need not be barriers to good governance, and that different cultures can live in peace side by side when they are treated equally by the political and administrative processes, as Finland has shown to have done.
In South Asia, the conflict here too is primarily between Kashmir and its occupying power. There are three parties to the dispute – India and Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. But Kashmiris are the principal party to the dispute. While Pakistan has supported UN resolutions which call for a plebiscite to be held to determine the wishes of the people. India, of course, will have nothing to do with it. India takes the view that the state is something tangible to be defended for its own sake, which includes land as well as people. State boundaries are merely fictitious and imaginary lines drawn on a map. The real state boundaries include only a coalition of the willing.
The Aaland Islands and Kashmir share a common challenge drawn along similar lines, where a culture whose language and traditions differ from those of a particular group of people insists upon maintaining possession of their land and their politics and will not observe the wishes of the people or accede to the territory having a greater affinity for its traditions and which might propose to have a claim as well.
There are similarities as well as significant differences between the Aaland Islands and Kashmir dispute. Both issues were taken to the world body, Aaland Islands before the League of Nations and Kashmir dispute before the United Nations. When the League of Nations agreed to consider the Aaland Islands dispute, Finland immediately declared that the matter was outside the scope of the authority of the League since it was a matter to be resolved internally by the country itself. But when Kashmir dispute was brought before the United Nations, both India and Pakistan agreed to give the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir.
Second, the situation in Kashmir prevails in what is recognized – under international law and by the United States – as a disputed territory. According to the international agreements between India and Pakistan, negotiated by the United Nations and endorsed by the Security Council, Kashmir’s status is to be determined by the free vote of its people under U.N. supervision.
Third, Kashmir situation represents a Government’s repression not of a secessionist or separatist movement but of an uprising against foreign occupation, an occupation that was expected to end under determinations made by the United Nations. The Kashmiris are not and cannot be called separatists because they cannot secede from a country to which they have never acceded to in the first place.
Lastly, the most ideal government is that which was envisioned by Abraham Lincoln when he spoke of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, in his address at the Gettysburg battlefield. Anything else is tyranny.
Dr. Fai is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness Forum and can be reached at email@example.com