By Justin Burke, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
HISTORY is taking an ironic twist here as authorities strive to revive the collapsed economy.
This Baltic Sea city's destiny first took a sharp turn April 9, 1945, when the Red Army "liberated" it following a fierce fight against Nazi troops, a battle that destroyed about 90 percent of the center. Under the Potsdam Treaty on postwar Europe, the Soviet Union annexed the city and surrounding territory, formerly known as East Prussia - and the destruction continued.
To facilitate Sovietization, the new authorities obliterated centuries of Germanic influence. In 1946, the city changed names from Konigsberg to Kaliningrad, honoring the former Soviet chief of state Mikhail Kalinin. Then, between 1947-48 virtually all German civilians - more than 100,000 - were deported to what became East Germany.
But now regional officials are trying to restore what little remains of the area's Germanic heritage, hoping to make it more attractive for Western investment. Some landmarks that have lain in ruins for years - such as a 13th Century cathedral where the philosopher Immanuel Kant is buried - are undergoing restoration. Authorities here profess loyalty to Russia, but they are focusing on the West, especially Germany, to power the local recovery.
For its part, Moscow is not eager to help Kaliningrad lay the groundwork for semi-integration with the West. Although Moscow declared Kaliningrad a Free Economic Zone, it has done little else to enhance the region's attractiveness to investors. Such action, some Moscow officials say, could contribute to the breakup of the Russian Federation.
Officials here argue that Kaliningrad's geographical position makes it a natural bridge for trade with the West. The territory is completely cut off from Russia proper, bordered by Lithuania, Poland, and the Baltic Sea.
"We'd like to reintroduce this city into the ring of old Hanseatic League cities," says Vladimir Toropov, deputy chief of the Kaliningrad Region Administration, referring to the economic alliance of Baltic Sea centers that thrived between the 13th and 15th centuries. But integration efforts have run into roadblocks. Currently, Kaliningrad is wrangling with Moscow over a proposed law that would grant the region special status. Kaliningrad officials envision the draft law - now being discussed in parliamentary committees - as giving the region economic autonomy, while preserving political ties with Moscow.
But with Moscow struggling to contain several restless autonomous republics - nominal ethnic homelands that are agitating for greater sovereignty - many in Parliament are unreceptive to Kaliningrad's bid to gain increased decisionmaking powers. …