Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fewer than Half of Kaliningraders Now Identify as Residents of Russia, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 27 – A poll conducted by the Baltic Federal University finds htat only 41.4 percent of residents of Kaliningrad identify themselves as “residents of Russia.” The remainder consider themselves to be residents of the region or the city or even “residents of Europe” or “citizens of the world” as native son Immanuel Kant would have them be.

            The reason for that, regionalist Oleg Savvin argues, is that Vladimir Putin has destroyed federalism in Russia and is pursuing an anti-European policy at odds with the interests and needs of the people of the exclave who are surrounded by European countries and want to live as well as people do in them (rufabula.com/articles/2015/10/27/the-right-to-nullification).

            “Current Russian realities,” he writes, “are a hybrid surrogate of Soviet reality which has absorbed and accumulated into itself the most offensive parts.” Indeed, “the very name ‘Russian Federation’ has already been a phantom for a long time” because “there has not been any real federalism in the country” under Putin.

            “Present-day Russian Federation by its essence and content is centralized and uitary and Moscow acts toward the territorial units as a metropolitan center … an imperial unification of the subjects under the single command of Moscow has taken place and they have for a long time already mimicked” what the center wants, Savvin aruges.

            Moscow’s representatives in the regions “blindly subordinate themselves to the decisions of the federal authorities … putting their own ambitions above any economic and reputation considerations” and ignoring the fact that many in the regions do not support Moscow’s expensive imperial designs in Ukraine or in Syria.

            These agents of the center, he continues, like their bosses “consider Kaliningrad oblast mostly as ‘a strategic object,’ a military base on the Baltic” and as a source of natural resources they can extract for their own wealth. They have no interest in its development as a peaceful part of that neighborhood.

            The situation has become so bad that many think it is hopeless, Savvin says; but there are some positive signs, including the increasing tendency of people in Kaliningrad to identify with their region or with Europe rather than with Moscow. And that should become the basis for change not only in Kaliningrad but in the Russian Federation as a whole.

            “If a region is geographically in Europe, then it would be just to assert that its residents deserve a European level of life and also a corresponding level of rights and freedoms.  That is, they deserve to live no worse than their neighbors, living in friendship with them, eliminating protectionist barriers and becoming more open one to the other,” Savvin says.

            Under Putin, however, the trend has been in the opposite direction and increasingly “anti-European” and imperialist with the Kremlin leader talking ever more about restorationist ideas and Russia’s separate rather than European future. But those very comments are leading more Kaliningraders to think what might be done to save the situation.

            According to Savvin, “it would not be useless to recall several historical terms.”  Among them, “the right of nullification” as practiced at one time in the United States when a state refused to recognize on its territory laws adopted by the federal Congress. It would be “completely logical” for Kaliningraders to “seek for themselves an analogous right or even better the status of a republic with its own constitution and with this right.”

            Were that to happen, Savvin argues, “Moscow couldn’t so easily impose its will without taking into consider the opinion and interests” of the residents of the exclave. Insisting on the right of nullification would also stimulate other regions to reject Moscow’s unitary approach which “contradicts the interests” of their residents.

            Kaliningrad can show the way, the regionalist suggests, because it has its own very special history, including widespread ideas about a Freistadt as Danzig once was.  Thus, it should seek a referendum to elevate Kaliningrad to the status of a republic with the right of nullification. “Not everything and not always must things be decided in Moscow.”


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