The Kaliningrad Question

Article excerpt

Richard J. Krickus. The Kaliningrad Question. New International Relations of Europe. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. x, 221 pp. Maps. Photographs. Index. $69.00, cloth. $24.95, paper.

This is perhaps the best one-volume study in English of the Kaliningrad Oblast (Russian region), formerly the northern third of East Prussia; the southern two thirds went to Poland after the Second World War. Renamed in 1946 after an ex-president of the USSR, Mikhail Kalinin, who never set foot in the area, it contains the earlier German city of Konigsberg, founded in 1255 as a fortress of the Teutonic Knights. In the first part of this book, Richard J. Krickus provides an historical survey of the region from the thirteenth century to the present. Konigsberg joined the Hanseatic League in 1340, and in 1457 it became the seat of the Teutonic Order's grand master, after the knights had lost Marienburg to Poland. From 1525 until the union of Brandenburg and Prussia in 1618, it was the residence of the dukes of Prussia, and in 1701 it became the coronation city of the Prussian kings. It was there that the philosophical giant, Immanuel Kant, lived and worked from 1724 to 1804.

In the Second World War, the region was the scene of determined German defence against the Red Army driving westward. The furious warfare, described by Krickus, left the city devastated, and the Soviet Union made no effort to rebuild Konigsberg in its former style. It demolished the ruins of the old castle and began to construct on its site a municipal and Communist Party administration building, the "House of Soviets," that was never completed. Its towering empty shell, which adorns the book's cover, stands as a symbol of this region's failed past and uncertain future. The city and surrounding countryside are sad testimony to the aesthetic and environmental degradation that Soviet communism brought to the lands it conquered.

Before the war, the city had been admired for its architecture, wealth and culture. East Prussia was a breadbasket for all of Germany. After the war, all 1.2 million German citizens were expelled, and the region became a Soviet garrison and deployment area for the Soviet naval, land, and missile forces. Some of its skilled labour force produced or serviced advanced weapons systems during the communist era. A fifth of its workforce is still paid by the military, although the number of soldiers has dramatically diminished to 24,000 (U.S. estimate) or 40,000 (Polish estimate), roughly a tenth of the 1991 strength.

The book places this troublesome exclave in its regional setting. It needs outside help to prevent it from exporting its many problems to its neighbours and to deal with economic decline worse than in the rest of Russia. Krickus explains how the worst economic problems are home grown: the persistence of Soviet-era practices, corruption, and the Russian Duma's failure to pass laws to meet the concerns of foreign investors about the security of their ventures. All of these helped foil attempts to create a free economic zone (FEZ) in the oblast and put an end to any talk of its becoming a "gateway." Both the European Union (EU) and the surrounding states fear that it could become the "black hole" of the Baltic Sea region, a subject to which Krickus devotes an entire chapter.

Located 500 kilometres from the border of the Russian Federation and 1,000 kilometres from Moscow, Kaliningrad must depend on its immediate neighbours, Lithuania and Poland, to provide many of the daily needs of its 950,000 residents. …