Saturday, December 15, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Koenigsbergers Say ‘We Shall Overcome’ and Restore Historic Name of Kaliningrad

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Residents of Kaliningrad have been collecting petitions and organizing demonstrations calling for the restoration of that city’s historic name, Koenigsberg.  And they see the willingness of the regional government to create a working group on that issue as an important breakthrough.

            Rustam Vasiliyev, one of the organizers of the mission says that deputies in the regional parliament “intend to create, together with officials of the regional government, a working group which will seek an answer to how the problem of renaming can be resolved.” Unlike an earlier effort a decade ago, this time Koenigsbergers hope to prevail (

            And consequently, even though regional head Nikolay Tsukanov has said that the issue is “not real,” its backers say “We shall overcome!” noting that Russian law provides for renaming geographic locations but does not specify a minimum number of petitioners (

            Supporters of renaming the city and the enclave prepared a 1200-word appeal at the end of November setting out the legal basis for what they want to do and providing political arguments for restoring the name of Koenigsberg as well. Significantly, they are combining demonstrations, snail mails and various forms of social media to garner support (

            As the appeal notes, Koenigsberg was renamed by the Soviet government on July 4, 1946, in honor of Mikhail Kalinin, a Soviet official who “did not have any direct relationship to this city” and who was deeply involved in the mass repressions under Stalin, repressions “which have been condemned not only by society but at a high official level.”

            The city should not bear his name not only because of these crimes but also because Koenigsberg throughout its history has linked Russia and Europe because “by it spirit, it is both a Russian and a European city” and continuing to call it Kaliningrad is certain to prove an embarrassment to Moscow.

            In 2018, the appeal notes, the World Football Championship will take place there, and conducting such a competition in a city “the name of which memorializes Mikhail Kalinin” would be the equivalent of holding a competition in a German city called “’Himmlergrad,” something no one would tolerate.

            Regional officials remain overwhelmingly opposed to this initiative, but there are indications that they are at least taking the petition drive seriously. On Friday, Konstantin Suslov, the vice governor of the oblast, posted an article on what he described as the “Kaliningrad nation” impulse (

            According to Suslov, “one frequently has heard from [residents of the region] that in our oblast has appeared their own nation consisting of people who are the most friendly, organized and accustomed to difficulties.” Those who have this view are part of pattern “characteristic of people who live on islands and in enclaves cut off from the main part of their country.”
            “This is not separatism,” he continued, but a feeling of independence and solidarity and a preparation and willingness to survive under any situation.” There is no ethnic basis for clashes, and so one needs to ask what is behind the movement.  According to Suslov, the answer is “money,” because any change could lead to a re-division of property.

            If society begins to divide in this way, he concluded, “there will arise a requirement for privileges on an ethnic basis. And that in turn will [almost certainly] mean that like mushrooms after a rain, there will arise all sorts of ethnc unions, associations, congresses, jamaats and the like.”

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