Saturday, March 27, 2010

Restlessness in Russia’s Western Outpost.

The New York Times

Published: March 25, 2010

KALININGRAD, Russia — Amid the sagging Soviet-era apartment blocks and hulking government buildings here, it can be difficult to imagine that this was once a German city graced with gingerbread-style facades and Teutonic spires.

About all that remains of the 700-year-old city once called Königsberg — which was bombed to oblivion in World War II, then taken over by the Soviet Union and renamed in 1946 after the death of a Bolshevik hero, Mikhail Kalinin — are some weathered houses and a few reconstructed cathedrals. But that does not mean residents of this island of Russian territory wedged between Poland and Lithuania do not entertain certain European expectations.
“I would like to bring Königsberg back to Europe,” Rustam Vasiliev, a local blogger and political activist, said, intentionally using the former German name of this city. “I’ve got no Kremlin in my head.”
People like Mr. Vasiliev have become a headache for the Kremlin, as some of the largest antigovernment protests in Russia in recent years have broken out here, in part because of the failure of officials to bring the region more in line with the standards of Western Europe.
The Kremlin has had similar problems in other far-flung regions, notably in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok, where the economy has been drawn into the orbit of local Asian powers.
Here in Russia’s western extreme, people take pride in their European cars but complain about their city’s pocked roads. Advertisements for concerts in Warsaw and Berlin hang on the crumbling facades of long-neglected apartment buildings. When local people talk of Russia, they often seem to mean not their own country, but some foreign land to the east.
“We are located outside of Russia’s borders and within the borders of the European Union,” said Vytautas V. Lopata, a cafe owner and local independent politician. “Here, people are freer. They see how people live in Europe; they have heightened demands.”
When it comes to politics, Kaliningrad is by no means a thriving democracy. People here have nevertheless come to enjoy a level of openness not found elsewhere in Russia. There are independent television stations and real opposition politicians in the local Parliament (though their influence is minimal). Small street protests are not uncommon and are generally tolerated by the authorities.
By contrast, even the tiniest antigovernment demonstrations in Moscow are quashed by riot troops, sometimes violently. And when protests broke out in Vladivostok last year, the authorities sent those same Moscow riot troops to suppress them.
But officials both here and in Moscow were clearly caught off guard in January when as many as 10,000 people poured into a central Kaliningrad square to demand the resignation of the regional governor and other officials from Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s political party, United Russia.
Since then, the authorities have been scrambling to contain the damage lest the dissatisfaction in Kaliningrad spread to the rest of the country. They were able to head off another protest scheduled for last weekend, in part by making serious promises to opposition leaders to resolve their major complaints.
Still, it is unclear how long the tentative peace will hold, especially given that there has been no shortage of unfulfilled promises here.
Though Kaliningrad remained under Moscow’s control after the Soviet collapse, its location outside contiguous Russia seemed to hold out the promise that the formerly sealed military zone would be opened to the prosperity of the West.
But membership in the European club has always been elusive, to the dismay of many here. The region remained relatively poor, even as its neighbors — until recently, at least — prospered. Like all Russians, Kaliningraders must submit to the lengthy process of applying for visas to visit cities a few hours’ drive away.
“Here we are like fish in an aquarium,” said Konstantin Doroshok, one of the leaders of the January protests. “And the water has not been changed in a while, and we are going extinct.”
Things did not always feel this constricted, Mr. Doroshok, 40, said. Just a few years ago, he and many others were doing good business importing European cars into Kaliningrad to resell to Russians farther east, one of many similar professions that thrived here because import tariffs from European countries into Kaliningrad were cheaper than those for the rest of Russia.
A year ago, however, the Kremlin sharply increased customs duties on imported cars, which Mr. Doroshok said effectively killed his business. He was also slapped with what he said were fabricated charges of failing to pay customs duties and fined about $600,000.
“One fine day it seems that one of the oligarchs calculated how much he failed to earn as a result of the fact that citizens of Russia were importing automobiles independently,” he said, “and decided to try to push us out of this business.”
It was then that Mr. Doroshok and others angry over Kremlin interference in their way of life decided to push back.
A series of demonstrations culminating in the large January protests compelled Kaliningrad’s Kremlin-appointed governor, Georgy V. Boos, for the first time to hold serious talks with opposition leaders, including Mr. Doroshok. Though protest leaders called off a planned demonstration last week, several hundred people gathered in central Kaliningrad, shouting “Down with Boos!”
“There was an underestimation by us and me personally of the need to devote more time to communicating with people,” Mr. Boos said of the protests at a news conference here last week.
To deflect some of the ill will directed at the governing authorities here, some local United Russia leaders have even floated the idea of relinquishing some of the party’s near monopoly on power — something that might be considered blasphemous elsewhere in the country.
“That would lower some of the political strain and allow for more democratic governance,” said Konstantin I. Poliakov, the deputy head of United Russia’s faction in the regional Parliament.
Many, like Mr. Lopata, the cafe owner, say that it makes little difference to the people of Kaliningrad who their leaders are as long as their region remains cut off from their real neighbors and under Moscow’s thumb.
“We live within the European Union,” Mr. Lopata said. “But it turns out that we live behind a fence.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A new kind of apartheid in Kaliningrad.

I was brought up in Soviet good times, by the good school education. With mother's milk we have taken such slogans as, "we are not slaves - slaves are mute". But I never imagined that in a few years, in the heart of Europe, in the 21 th century, I have personally come across with the meaning of this phrase.
A lot of similarities in Kaliningrad with the past and present of South Africa. Apartheid in South Africa ordered the black and mixed ancestry (so-called. Coloured) people to live in special reservations (Bantustans). Departure from the reservation could be made only by special permission or because of job availability. That is a direct analogy with the current visa regulations for Kaliningradians. During apartheid, blacks were deprived of almost all civil rights. As a result, people of not white race, even living in "white" parts of South Africa, had no right to vote nor the ability to influence political processes. Moscow government has deprived Kaliningradians right to elect and the right to be elected. Kaliningraders have no right to elect the local governor. Kaliningraders even denied the right to elect their own mayor
of Kaliningrad. As a result kremlin authorities do not permit us Kaliningraders to gather on political rally where we want. We want it in center of Kaliningrad).
The enclave situation of our region is similar to Lesotho. Political parties are remain banned by kremlin authorities, as they did with our Baltic Republican Party, exactly like in Swaziland. Moscow colonial authorities appointed in banana republic ( Kaliningrad) "white" Governors as they do not trust the "aborigines" ( Kaliningraders). Many of the methods used by black people in South Africa in defence of their rights, but the most effective that overthrew apartheid was a boycott of consumption. They did not buy from the whites even matches. I'm afraid we are Kalinigraders to far from that kind of unity. The Rome Statute defines apartheid as one of 11 crimes against humanity. Citizens of most countries (including South Africa) may be brought against the International Criminal Court for committing such crime or even fostering that. Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute ( opposed in that to 108 countries) and not under International Criminal Court. Replaced Soviet slogans of my childhood came to the realities of today's slogans - "A slave who is not seeking to gain freedom, deserves double slavery" - Dzhokhar Dudayev.
The colonists in South Africa (Boers) at the end realized that they do not need imperial authorities such as Great Britain, because they have more rights, it is their land. I am glad that I am mostly surrounded by free citizens of Konigsberg, the citizens of the Baltic Republic.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thousands Rally In Kaliningrad.

Thousands of people have rallied in Koenigsberg despite a decision by "opposition leaders" to cancel the protest. People gathered to denounce the government's economic policy and demand more freedom in a new challenge to the Kremlin reflecting increasing disillusionment and a growing potential for protests.

Me with my kremlin friends.

Cries of "freedom" and "Putin resign" filled the main square in Koenigsberg, where up to 5,000 people gathered in pouring rain.

Activists have insisted the Russian constitution guarantees the right of assembly.

Some protesters criticized Putin's Cabinet for failing to compensate for a rise in utility tariffs that has affected living standards. Many others blamed the government for red tape and rampant corruption that have stifled business.
Instead prohibited demonstration there was a “Tangerine flashmob” - members were holding tangerines. Tangerine ("mandarin" in russian and bureaucrat in imperial China) is one of the nicknames of governor Georgy Boos. Many participants have covered their faces with medical masks. It symbolizes the lack of freedom of speech in the country. Opposition supporters had badges with crossed bear and words “Stop United Russia “.
In anticipation of the impending action police and department "E" ( extremism) came home to known activists and bloggers. In “preventive talks” police recommended “sit at home on Saturday". But who cares, we have done it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

To be or not to be?

Kaliningrad opposition coalition had refused to conduct a protest rally on March 20. This announcement was made today, the leader of the NGO “Justice” Konstantin Doroshok.
According Doroshok, Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos promised that “the demands of the opposition formed a single list, which will be submitted to the government the next few days, will be resolved within a specific timeframe.” The leader of “Justice” explained that it concerns the issues of excessive utility tariffs, public health, land administration, the situation with the elections and some others. “Today we get a , which appeared on previous protests. We heard, we are addressing specific issues. But if the promises will remain empty words, we will again hold a mass protest “, – emphasized Doroshok.
He added that the authorities did everything to disrupt the rally. For example, Kaliningrad is not allowed to hold a rally in the city center, and offered to organize it in remote areas of the city. “The options endanger the life, health, and, most importantly, the safety of all its members” – said Doroshok.
He noted that holding a meeting “for the city” could become a “public flogging”. At the same time, the leader of the Communist Party offices Igor Revin stated that ” on behalf of the parties to refrain from the idea to abandon the rally. He added: “If we knew that the” Justice “can so easily believe the authorities and to succumb to its pressure, we would have applied themselves to hold a meeting on March 20″.
The region’s reviled governor, the Kremlin-appointed Georgy Boos met with the local opposition leaders in his office for four and half hours, and at the same time, in the city’s stadium four hundred yards away, two battalions of riot police were practicing how to bust heads and arrest people. The opposition got the message. They called off their demonstration.
“There are suspicions … that the government is preparing to make an example out of us, to beat the protesting mood out of the people,” said an opposition member of the city council, Solomon Ginzburg. “We can’t subject our citizens to fire houses and rubber bullets.”
What they got in exchange for quiet were ridiculous promises. Boos said he would break the political monopoly of Putin’s party in Kaliningrad, he would lower utility prices and taxes, he would create jobs and housing and better health care. He might as well have promised to turn the region into Switzerland. But the people believed him, or are at least pretending to. The point is they still aren’t ready for a fight, and having seen the way OMON riot cops break up protests in Moscow, I don’t really blame them. But it’s sad. I thought it may have been the start of something.
But me personally, I`m going with my friends and members of Baltic Republican Party on 20th of March to support rally and we do not care about Kremlin`s riot police. Freedom has it`s price.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kaliningrad Rally Organizers Form New Coalition

Organizers of a massive anti-government protest in Kaliningrad have come together in a political coalition that they hope will provide a viable alternative to the ruling United Russia party.

Rally organizer and coalition co-founder Konstantin Doroshok said that a founding assembly was held on Wednesday, but leaders have yet to settle on a name for the new union.

The January 30 protest in Kaliningrad, in which 12 thousand people participated, was notable both for its massive size and for the diversity of political forces represented. The new coalition features similar diversity, including the Kaliningrad branches of the parties Solidarity, Justice, A Just Russia, Patriots of Russia, Yabloko, and the Communist Party.

 Coalition leaders invited the local branch of the Right Cause party to join the union, but leader Mikhail Tsikel declined the proposal. The ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party is also not included in the coalition.

Doroshok said that the union’s main goal is “to break the political monopoly of United Russia,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling party, which has dominated the country’s elections at every level since its inception in 2001.

Kaliningrad residents have been threatened with losing their jobs or having their wages slashed if they take part in the coalition’s upcoming rally on March 20. Likewise, students have been promised that they will be expelled.

Meanwhile, the Kaliningrad Public Chamber was set to meet on Thursday with the Public Chamber of Russia to discuss the situation in the region, which has been a media spotlight since January’s massive rally. A relatively new institution, the Public Chamber is an oversight body intended to monitor government activities.

Protesters in the January 30 rally gathered in Kaliningrad to collectively demand that high vehicle tariffs be annulled and that Kaliningrad Governor Georgy Boos and Prime Minister Putin both resign. Boos immediately cancelled his vacation plans and promised to meet with opposition leaders, although he cancelled multiple times before finally meeting with Doroshok on February 26.

Another rally of more than a thousand Kaliningrad residents was held in the city of Yernyakhovsk on February 28, and a demonstration of comparable size to the one on January 30 is scheduled for March 20.