#11 - JRL 7010
January 8, 2003
Kaliningrad - Russia in Europe?
What will the European Union's expansion bring the Kaliningrad Region: a moral and economic slump, as Kaliningrad's residents fear, or a wonderful opportunity to outstrip the rest of Russia in economic development and the building of a civic democratic society? And what factors will determine which way the Russian exclave turns?
Political analyst Solomon Ginzburg gives his thoughts on these questions in an interview for Rosbalt.
- Almost three years have passed since the concept of a 'pilot' region - a region of cooperation between the West and the East - was first mentioned by Vladimir Putin, then still Russian Prime Minister, at the EU-Russia summit in Helsinki. However, this concept has not been included in a single official document, has not been elaborated further, and, needless to say, has not been put into action. Why do you think that is?
- There's no question that a special Kaliningrad project, which would not only allow the Kaliningrad Region to be worked into the new economic, political and social context, but would also enable 'Mother' Russia to move closer to Europe in practical terms, would have excellent prospects. But for this the Kremlin's policies must in practice be concerned first and foremost with the details of Russia's economic modernisation, and not with outdated and clearly unattainable hopes based on its status as a great power.
Russia can be cured of this 'superpower' disease, which places it in confrontation with other countries, by developed democracy and a flourishing economy. This is what enabled Germany to forget its obsession with a 'special path' after World War Two. We can also learn from Japan's experience. The country's decision to reject isolationism and xenophobia, to forgo military might, and to turn towards the West while still preserving its own national and cultural traditions has proved to be highly fruitful. The Japanese have learnt not to sacrifice freedom and individual rights in the name of 'order'. This is why, as I see it, we should speak not about Russia's 'special' path, but about its special responsibility to itself and its citizens.
In this context the results of the recent summit in Brussels, which was devoted to the Kaliningrad problem, are highly pertinent. The summit showed that the two sides are still only pretending to resolve the problem. The EU pretends that it has made a concession to Russia, and Russia pretends that it has stood up for its national interests. The results of the Brussels summit should more correctly be called not a 'strategic success', but a deferred compromise. And yet, to my mind, the idea of a 'pilot' region is a sensible step towards a satisfactory denouement of our relations.
- It seems that some politicians are terrified by the thought that the Kaliningrad Region might become closer to Europe. They reap political dividends from the persisting 'cold war' mentality of the region's population:
- In the interest of fairness, we should acknowledge that the EU has contributed to this. On the eve of the summit in Brussels, the EU's stubborn refusal to make any form of compromise regarding the question of a visa-free regime for residents of the Kaliningrad Region very nearly led to a violation of the constitutional right of Russians to freedom of movement, which is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, I believe that attempts by a few politicians, particularly State Duma deputies, to stoke a mood of revenge under the cover of defending the interests of Kaliningrad's residents, and to accuse the EU of secret attempts to tear Kaliningrad away from Russia are unacceptable. Such a position threatens the whole architecture of our relations with Europe.
It is irresponsible to exploit so-called territorial problems, and to use such spectres of the past as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to further these aims. This page in European history has been turned down forever and should not even hypothetically influence the development of foreign policy. Russia's sovereignty over the Kaliningrad Region is unquestionable and should not be a matter for public debate of any kind. However, the Kaliningrad problem needs to be resolved before Poland and Lithuania are admitted into the EU. That said, both the EU and Russia must show not only a readiness to make compromises, but also the political will to do so.
In this light, I think that in the first half of 2003 both the regional and federal authorities would be wise to concentrate - as a minimum - on five tasks, the completion of which would help to find a solution to the Kaliningrad conundrum. Firstly, we should strive to ensure that all residents of the Kaliningrad Region are given free Russian external passports. The costs of this should be born by the federal government and the EU. Secondly, we should propose to the EU that all residents of the Kaliningrad Region are given the right to receive multiple-entry, long-term Schengen visas according to a simplified process. The right to use visa-free trains should be extended to relatives of residents of the Kaliningrad Region living in Russia's main territory. It would be worthwhile recommending that the EU issues visas to Kaliningrad residents at their own expense and completes this process by the time Poland and Lithuania join the union.
As a gesture in return, Russia could introduce a less strict visa regime for countries signed up to the Schengen Agreement. I think it is also essential that Russia presents the 'G8' and the EU with a draft agreement 'On the Development of the Kaliningrad Region in the New Geo-economic and Geopolitical Conditions'. As well as the visa issue, the agreement should include more important social and economic aspects (standards, freight transit, the environment, fishing, customs and border procedures etc.). Russia and the EU should together establish a Russian-European fund for the development of the Kaliningrad Region, above all the small and medium-sized business sector. The regional authorities must insist on this.
- As I understand it, your 'prescriptions' are aimed at breaking down the wall separating Russia from Europe, are they not?
- You're right. In 2002 Kaliningrad firmly established itself on the political map. However, it is necessary to go further, to take the next steps. Our European future should be recognised both by the political elite and society as a whole. Sensible people can be united on the pragmatic basis of returning to Europe and raising the standard of living. The results of 2003's parliamentary elections will make clear which direction the region and Russia are headed in - towards genuine European-style freedom, or Asian-style managed democracy.
As far as Kaliningrad is concerned, the federal bureaucracy must rid itself of the illusion that Kaliningrad's residents are its servants, ready to jump up at a whistle and do its bidding. The community can be consolidated and given direction by developing the region in a pilot regime, ensuring a decent standard of living, and promoting an ideology of healthy regional egoism. This will also serve to oppose negative phenomena such as separatism. The political will of our leaders will play an important role in solving these problems.
- The region's image will play a major role in its closer ties with Europe. Over the last few years this image has been considerably tarnished by regional squabbles, and rumours of extremely high levels of crime and AIDS. In your opinion, can it be repaired?
- The region's former leadership did not stand up to any criticism of its image. However today, the region has a new face, which is met with more good will. This factor should be put to as good use as possible. It takes a long time to form an image. It is a lengthy process. You need to develop each resident's sense of civic responsibility for the way the region is seen. Any sensible Kaliningrad resident should understand that people's attitudes towards an individual person are to a large extent defined by their attitudes towards the land where that person lives. This is why we need a carefully thought-out national policy aimed at developing out image - a policy extending from the mass media to personal contacts.
The slogan 'Russia in Europe' could be an effective brand, a trademark for the Kaliningrad Region. I believe that realizing the idea of 'a European life in Russia' would be a powerful consolidating start.
The interview was conducted by Roman Svetlov, Kaliningrad Translated by Robin Jones