Sunday, January 31, 2010

Power to the People!

"Bring back governors' elections"

   Twelve thousand people have attended a rally in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.   

Exasperation over the rising cost of living coupled with unemployment led to the rare public show of anger according to protest organizers.

   Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition Solidarity movement addressed the cheering crowd. ( Me on 1m29s :))   

   “How strong must the feelings of Kaliningrad be that here today, together, are the flags of the Communist Party, Yabloko, the Patriots of Russia Party, Solidarity and LDPR. We are all united,” he said.

   Despite signs of economic improvement, Russia remains mired in financial crisis. Unemployment reached 8.9 per cent in December.

   Organised by local rights group Spravedlivost ("Justice", leader Konstantin Doroshok), and attended by supporters of Solidarity, the Communist and the Liberal Democrat parties, participants held up banners denouncing both local governor Georgy Boos and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for increasing utility prices at a time of economic crisis. They also booed the refusal of the government to reinstate the direct popular election of regional governors, abolished by Putin in 2004. The 83 governors are currently chosen directly by the president.   

   What was particularly unusual about the mass protest in Kaliningrad, is that unlike most public demonstrations in Russia, this one was left untouched by riot police. The explanation presented by many is quite simple - protests are usually dispersed by riot police squads from other regions, but it's not easy to bring external forces into Kaliningrad, due to the fact that it's geographically separated from the rest of the country, with Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus in-between. The region is very close-knit, so getting the local police to arrest what could be their relatives or close friends is a rather complicated task.  

   People chanted "Partiya YedRo - Pomoinoye Vedro" ("United Russia is a bucket of filth") and "Putin is responsible for Boos" (Georgy Boos is the Kaliningrad governor who was appointed by Putin in 2005).  "  "Stop increasing the tariffs. We're against the government's antisocial policies and United Russia. It's Putin who's responsible" 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guess Who Was The Last Person To Visit Kaliningrad Easily?

   Back in the 1930s, Hitler would catch a train from Berlin to Konigsberg. It took him 8 hours.

   Today, it takes all of 8 hours just to get from Gdansk in Poland, just 125 kilometers away. The miserably slow border isn’t the only problem. In December, Poland cancelled the overnight sleeper to Berlin. It will now take you 20 hours travel time and four trains minimum to repeat Hitler’s journey.

   Last time I looked, a regular daytime journey to Berlin took 35 hours. Er, no, I didn’t book a ticket.
   So far, Moscow hasn’t cancelled its own Kaliningrad special, the ‘Amber Train‘, but lack of interest might do it. Here’s the schedule:
   The Amber train to Kaliningrad departs from Moscow at 2 p.m with a hard day’s night ahead of every passenger.
At 2 a.m. conductors wake everyone up for a forty minute halt at Gudogai, and a papers and baggage check at the Belarussian border.
   At 3 a.m. the train arrives in Kena, Lithuania, and the same procedure is repeated at the Lithuanian border. At 4.15 a.m. the train is due at Vilnius, and there is a twenty-minute halt with random checks. At 6.30 a.m. there is a Lithuanian state border again with another round of formalities, so you won’t be able to sleep even in the morning.
   At 7.45 a.m. there is one more border, this time a Russian one (Nesterov), and you undergo another forty-minute check. Finally the train arrives in Kaliningrad at 10.45 a.m.
The progressive isolation of Kaliningrad is why residents call their unfortunate region, ‘The European Prison‘. It’s becoming as closed a closed town as it was in Soviet times. But this time, the EU is the jailer and Poland’s action amounts to throwing away the key.
  If you’re looking for someone to name and shame, it is:

Gunnar Wiegand

Acting Director Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, Central Asian Republics, Head of Unit for Relations with Russia, Northern Dimension Policy, European Commission

Kaliningrad’s ghettoisation falls under the EU’s ‘Northern Dimension Policy’. Could Hitler have thought up a more sinister sounding name?