Russian Economy and Regional Policies
“KALININGRAD’S ECONOMIC TRANSITION AND THE POSSIBILITY OF AN EUROPEAN INTEGRATION”
The Kaliningrad region is a small and unique part of Russia in the West. This Russian exclave with a turbulent past surrounded by EU members states in the Baltic area has become a sensitive issue in the last two decades. Because of its peculiar character of ‘piece of Russia’ in central Europe and its special economic status it entered the international and political agenda of Russia and have been in the past years a top priority in the EU relations with the Russian Federation.
What I would like to achieve with this paper is an overview on what has been defined as the ‘Kaliningrad puzzle’, trying to point out which have been the main economic and political aspects that led to the situation as it is today, going through the period of economic transition the region passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the current debates on its role as a ‘bridge’ or between Russia and Europe. I am starting with a brief introduction on the history of the region, then I will dedicate a second part to the economic transition of the region from FEZ to SEZ and its implication, then I will move to deal with the prospects of Kaliningrad in Europe and the role it holds in the discourses on EU-Russia cooperation as Russian exclave in central Europe, to end finally with some conclusions explaining the point of view of the inhabitants of the region and what has been raised as possible solution for the issue.
2. HISTORY AND BASIC REGIONAL INFORMATION
Kaliningrad became part of Russia in 1945 when European borders were redefined at the Potsdam peace conference. The region’s administrative center is the city of Kaliningrad, before the II World War known as Königsberg, the capital of Eastern Prussia. It is one of the oldest cities in Russia, founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1255. Since the beginning of its history, Königsberg actively participated in trade activities and the city was a cultural center, for the region and which as well as to neighbors from the Baltic region. On July 4, 1946, Köningsberg was renamed Kaliningrad, after the recently deceased Soviet President Mikhail Ivanovic Kalinin, and so the territory surrounding the city, which became Kaliningrad Oblast. Then in 1949-50 the survivors were deported to West Germany and the city was completely repopulated with Soviet citizens from all over the USSR, many of them from the parts devastated during German occupation, Russian soldiers and military personnel. By 1962-63 a massive rebuilding of the city began. After the British bombings and the prosecution of fighting Königsberg was 90% destroyed, so “when Soviet authorities took control of the region they decided not to reconstruct the city but to build a totally new one, Soviet-style” (Oldberg, 2000:272). But not only they reconstructed the physical aspect of the region, the territorial integration of Kaliningrad was followed by historical revisions by the Soviet state. In Kaliningrad’s schools, little or no mention was made of the areas in the German past except in discussions regarding its role in the “Great Patriotic War”, and the Soviet Union’s successful campaign against Hitler’s forces in the area. During Soviet times, until 1991, the whole region was a closed military zone, serving as headquarters for the Russian Navy, and entry restriction were imposed, first for unauthorized Soviet citizens and foreigners, and later for foreigners only. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kaliningrad Region became isolated from Russia’s mainland, and now borders Lithuania, Poland, and the Baltic Sea. The peculiar geographical position of Russian exclave in the EU created problematic issues such as illegal border crossing. From the centre of Kaliningrad it takes no more than one hour by car to reach the Lithuanian and Polish border....