Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kaliningrad’s ‘Special Identity’ Requires Restoration Of Federalism In Russia

By Paul Goble
Kaliningrad’s status as a non-contiguous part of the Russian Federation and the rise and intensification of a regional identity combining both Russian and European elements, a local political analyst insists, “requires the restoration [in Russia] of one of the basic principles of federalism – unity in multiplicity.
”If Moscow fails to do that, Solomon Ginzburg argues in the current issue of “NG-Stsenarii,” the current antagonism between Kaliningraders and the governor there is likely to grow into antagonism between that region and Moscow, a development with potentially fateful consequences (
Ginzburg begins his analysis by pointing to the fundamental fact that “Kaliningrad oblast is a Russian region surrounded by countries which are members of the European Union.” As a result, its residents combine both a Russian identity and a European one, often in a “kaleidoscopic” fashion.
What Kaliningrad and being a Kaliningrader means has changed dramatically over the past 65 years, Ginzburg argues, even though many people outside the region do not understand that reality. When the Soviet Union established it, the region “encountered the traditions and style of foreign Europe.”
But the active in-migration of people from elsewhere in the USSR meant both that its people were both extremely mobile and forced to evolve in new circumstances, something that simultaneously promoted and retarded the development of a distinct regional identity because almost everyone living there was from somewhere else.
Such in-migration largely ceased with the end of the USSR, and since then, “certain features of Kaliningrad identity” have firmed up, Ginzburg writes. “Sixty years ago,” people there focused on being “the most Western” part of the Soviet Union, something that caused “the struggle with Nazi symbols to grow over into a struggle against the past of East Prussia.” Then, approximately 50 years ago, he continues, “Kaliningraders began to feel their regional distinctiveness,” and ten years after that, there arose among them “a fashion for the former, pre-Soviet, German past.” That past instead of being rejected came to be integrated into the Kaliningrad identity.
Then, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Kaliningrader’s sense of being “the most Western” began “to acquire yet another meaning,” one not limited to geography but including in itself “a desire to achieve a high level of life and to achieve a new model of development” as “a new Hong Kong” or “a Singapore on the Baltic.”
But because being “between” Russia and Europe did not mean that Kaliningrad was necessarily a bridge or connected with either and because “the sense of regionalism” annoyed Moscow but not Europe, Kaliningraders “ever more often asked themselves” just what they were part of.
And consequently, it is “senseless” to speak about “a hierarchy of identities” – Russian, regional and European – among Kaliningraders. Instead, in their identity – and Ginzburg makes it clear that he shares it – there are “pieces, segments and fragments of regional, European and Russian identity” which combine in changing ways.
For residents of Kaliningrad who have lived there “more than 20 years,” regional identity is more important than ethnic or confessional membership” and “the territorial factor is beginning to predominate over the national.” Those who have lived there for fewer years generally continue to identify with the Russian Federation.
Nonetheless, “the Kaliningrad identity is not a finally formed system of convictions, capabilities, requirements and personal histories of the residents of the western borderland of Russia.” It is still being affected by “a mass of factors,” including age, faith, language, ethnicity, ideology, political convictions, and so on.
And because that is so, “a particular feature of the Kaliningrad identity is in its kaleidoscopic and mosaic character, when a resident of the oblast at one and the same time calls himself a supporter of integration into Europe” and “a patriotic supporter of the Russian state and an opponent of NATO.”
It is thus entirely possible to say, Ginzburg says, that “the overwhelming majority of Kaliningraders consider themselves residents of a special territory, a different Russia in Europe,” although “an insignificant minority manifests xenophobia toward the neighboring countries in the European Union.”
The sense of distinctiveness has been intensified by the recent wave of demonstrations, Ginzburg says. Indeed, it is fair to speak of their “consolidating role” in that identity. Anger at the regional government and disappointment in Moscow’s policies “have helped to strengthen the desire to go into the European Union.”That is especially true among the young and middle aged, and it is “strengthening the European vector in Kaliningrad identity,” with “the anti-bureaucratic and anti-Boos attitudes being transformed into anti-Moscow and anti-federal ones,” a development that in turn is “strengthening protest identity.”
Moscow needs to recognize the special nature of Kaliningrad and of the identity of its residents and thus move quickly to restore “one of the basic principles of federalism – unity in multiplicity” lest it fail to satisfy the demands of the residents of that region and push them in more radical directions.