Saturday, March 26, 2005

Did You Know About Kaliningrad? I Didn't

Did you know that there is still one part of Germany that Russia (and the former U.S.S.R.) has never relinquished since World War II? Even after all of Eastern Europe has become free and independent and aligned with the EU, NATO and the West, a poor little patch of land, surrounded by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, remains in Russian hands.
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The central city of this isolated "chip off the old bloc" is Kaliningrad. Before the Soviets took it over after the defeat of Hitler, the city was known as Koenigsberg. It was the birthplace of Emmanuel Kant (who everyone considers to have been German..not Russian, by the way). The Soviets systematically purged as many native German people from the area as they could, replacing them with Russians.

Today, Kaliningrad and the territory it administrates, is going through an identity crisis. Everyone around them is prospering under Western-style politics and economics. They, however, for all practical purposes have been abandoned by their Russian "homeland." Russia, for its part, does not want to lose the territory due to its "warm water port" access to the Baltic Sea. On the other hand, there is little or no political reason to invest any money to clean up the pollution, rebuild the infrastructure or stimulate the economy there.

It is said that one beach area is unfrequented by locals because the skeletons of WW II soldiers have never been removed from where they fell in battle nearly 60 years ago. More of they younger members of the population have traveled to Western countries than have ever been to Russia itself.

Someday I expect that the people will get fed up with their situation and either demand either independence, self-rule or to become part of Poland or Lithuania. Mr. Putin, or his successor, will not be pleased. Watch this spot for future developments. I know I will!

(You can read more about Kaliningrad in this BBC article here)