2. Kaliningrad’s Dilemmas of Identity
2.1. Open City or Cold War Fortress ?
2.2. New Hong Kong or Shady Backwater ?
2.3. Undigested Past and Uncertain Future Perspectives
2.4. Kaliningrad – A(nother) Separatist Region in Russia ?
2.5. Kaliningrad – Black Hole in an Integrating Europe?
With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Baltic States the Russian oblast of Kaliningrad found itself in a paradoxical situation: While the erstwhile closed military zone was opened for foreign investment and tourism it was increasingly separated from mainland Russia, in particular through the fall-out of the ongoing process of EU accession by its neighbors. Regional separatism in Russia in the 1990s was accompanied by the surfacing of a long-suppressed debate about the German past of the territory undermining Russian state- and nation-buidling, and raising fears of tacit re-Germanization in case of a further integration into Europe. At the same time the time economic and social decay threatens stability in the region and beyond. Re-militarization and re-closure, international administration, independence, or EU-association were just a few among the proposals brought forward to solve Kaliningrad’s bunch of interrelated problems. These proposals stand for an ongoing debate about Kaliningrad’s identity as a Russian exclave and a future EU-enclave.
This paper is intended to outline and discuss the structural environment currently shaping Kaliningrad’s identity debate. Factors concerning political institutions, the economy, history and security on a blurring domestic-international level will be explored and their impact on debates for Kaliningrad’s future configuration be discussed. Considering the upcoming EU and NATO-enlargement into the Baltic region and the ongoing process of federal reforms under Putin the discussion of these issues is particularly topical. Since very basic questions about the shape of the region’s political and economic institutions, its relations to Russia, the EU and its neighbors as well as its historical self-image have to be answered the debates reflect discourses in an urgent search for identity. These discourses shall be traced and the concepts promoted by them assessed. Both the framing of debates about Kaliningrad’s future perspectives and the mutual compatibility of different concepts shall be investigated. Moreover, elite concepts will be contrasted to public opinion about these issues.
So far there are rather few scholarly studies on the Kaliningrad issue beyond some descriptive narratives. Thus, also this paper can only offer limited insights due to the limitations in available literature. Although some tentative conclusions will be made about likely developments it is not intended make concrete proposals for policy strategies. This task will be left to the vast amount of policy papers appearing in the recent years. In fact, as the dynamics of both domestic political and economic transformation in Kaliningrad and the process of regional integration are still in their decisive stages the paper will rather map the questions arising in this process than giving answers.
2. Kaliningrad’s Dilemmas of Identity
2.1. Open City or Cold War Fortress?
During the Cold War Kaliningrad had been the westernmost Soviet spearhead ready to fight NATO troops around the whole Baltic Sea from the only Soviet ice-free Baltic port. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the number of military personnel has been reduced from nearly 200000 to about 20000 people. This reflected both Russia’s disarmament commitment but also a general decay of the erstwhile military superpower. Kaliningrad was no longer off limits for tourists, also economic engagement was increasingly encouraged (see below). Yet, with the ongoing tensions in particular with the neighboring Baltic states and their drive to join NATO (with Poland being member since 1999 already) Russian leaders started re-emphasizing the strategic importance of the region and the need to sustain significant forces in the region, possibly even nuclear weapons. Both the Yeltsin and the Putin administration perceived the Baltics as a traditional sphere of influence and oppose the extension of NATO into the region. Hardliners in the Russian leadership still apply some kind of Cold War discourse and present Kaliningrad as a fortress or as a Russian bridgehead in a hostile environment. Yet, this view seems to be supported only by few people in the region, mainly the elderly and former military personnel.
Nevertheless, the vulnerability of the region is quite obvious. All transport from and to mainland Russia needs to cross at least two newly sovereign countries. Kaliningraders are crossing borders 14 times more often than an average Russian. This number not only reflects the opening up of a closed region but also the dependence of the population on shuttle-trade, goods and work in the neighboring countries. Kaliningrad also depends on imported commodities and electricity. Restrictions, fees and administrative hurdles imposed by the neigboring countries are seen by Russians as a humiliation and an infringement of the right of free movement from one part of the country to another. On the other hand, these neighbors are aware of Russia’s capabilities to support its demands for unhindered access to Kaliningrad or even a ‘corridor’ connecting it to Russia. This strongly reminded some neighbors of the German arguments brought forward against Poland concerning access to the same Königsberg region in the 1930s. This conflict was used as a pretext for war in 1939 when Germany attacked Poland. In the Kaliningrad case the mutual perception of each other’s blackmailing potential and a lack of trust has impeded better cooperation and coordination. It has prevented a further opening up of the region and supported Poland’s and the Baltic states’ drive to join NATO. For Kaliningrad this also meant forfeiting great economic opportunities due to existing limits for access to the region for foreigners and a continuous investment of scarce resources into military infrastructure. One striking example is the port of Baltijsk, the only deep-water port which is being occupied by the Russian navy and thus unusable for economic purposes or civilian transport. Therefore the claim by Russian politicians such as Prime Minister Kasyanov, that EU and NATO-enlargement might turn Kaliningrad into a European ‘dead-end zone’ is only partly due to external causes.
Nevertheless, there is a strong drive in particular by EU officials to prevent Kaliningrad’s socio-economic problems from spilling over into the region by just sealing the enclave with Schengen borders. In fact, during the last years, the security discourse surrounding Kaliningrad has shifted from hard to soft security threats. Kaliningrad has the highest rate of AIDS in Europe, which is spreading rapidly through transborder prostitution and the circulation of needles by drug users. Also rampant crime plagues the once closed region now struggling with the new freedoms. In addition to that ecological problems such as water pollution originating in Kaliningrad impacts on the whole Baltic region.
In a nutshell, the end of the Cold War has put into question Kaliningrad’s military character and opened it up for exchange with the environment. At the same time a growing awareness of mutual vulnerability in a (low-scale) security-dilemma type of scenario – both in terms of hard and soft security - has driven Russia and its neighbors into a confrontative stance which in turn is again aggravating mutual distrust. This realist discourse is still dominant and preventing a further opening up of Kaliningrad and its integration into the Baltic region.
2.2. New Hong Kong or Shady Backwater ?
Kaliningrad’s economy used to be predominantly focused on military needs. In fact, the region’s huge amber mines, which make up 90% of worldwide deposits, large fishing grounds besides some oil wells and a well-educated and highly skilled workforce seem to offer great opportunities for civil economic development. Yet, high transport costs and transit fees charged by the Baltic states and Poland make Kaliningrad’s industry largely uncompetitive in comparison within the region. A lack of civil infrastructure, outdated technology and the past orientation towards the East inhibit large-scale trade with world markets. In fact, Kaliningrad is gradually losing even its traditional markets in mainland Russia e.g. for its fish products against cheaper and more reliable competitors from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia or domestic Russian producers. Russian and Belarussian producers also increasingly avoid the expensive transport of goods through Kaliningrad and instead prefer reliable, cheaper and more modern deep-sea ports in the Baltic states for international trade. Kaliningrad is in danger of being by-passed by the new globalized economic exchanges and becoming a shady economic backwater controlled by an uneasy alliance of old bosses and the new mafia. The income gap between the region and the surrounding countries is dramatically widening.
A reference to another historic enclave in the region illustrates the dangerous potential of such a development: When Polish trade increasingly bypassed the German-dominated free city of Danzig into the newly erected Polish port of Gdynia in the early 1930s the dramatic rise of the Nazi party in the city began in connection with the induced economic downturn. This shows how economic decay in addition to the geographical isolation of an enclave could be abused by demagogic politicians promoting backward oriented imperial policies.
Some authors challenge the view that Kaliningrad’s separation from Russia proper is actually an economic disadvantage. Hanson et al. claim that cutting the links with unprofitable Russian enterprises might rather prove to be conducive to a successful economic transformation of the region. In this respect Kaliningrad enjoys much better opportunities than other peripheral regions such as Primorje in the Russian Far East. Nevertheless Kaliningrad is still highly dependent on economic exchange with its neighbours and deliveries from mainland Russia. The region also has a dramatic trade deficit. At the same time Kaliningraders are exposed to the much more rapid economic improvement in the neighboring countries and compare their own situation with them and not with the more equal Russian regions. Therefore, another dangerous development could be support for separatist tendencies if Russia is increasingly being perceived as hindering the regions economic recovery. Even the incumbent governor Yegorov warned of the danger of economic separatism of a Russian island of stagnation in a sea of growing prosperity.
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 S Huisman, ‘A new European Union Policy for Kaliningrad’, Centre for European Security Studies Occasional Papers, Groningen, 2002, p. 35.
 P Holtom, ‘Russia’s Integration into Regional Structures’, The Northern Dimension of Europe (BaltSeaNet), Riga, 2001, p. 17.
- Quote paper
- Maximilian Spinner (Author), 2003, Kaliningrad - An Russian Enclave in Central Europe in Search for an Identity, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/13299