Trans-regional cooperation in the areas of eu-russia direct neighborhood: the changed roles of europe's margins (the kaliningrad case study)

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Andrey Makarychev1

Paper presented at 12th NISPAcee Annual Conference

«Central and Eastern European Countries Inside and Outside the European Union: Avoiding a New Divide», Vilnius, May 13-15 2004.


The principal objective of this paper is to analyze the issues of trans-border cooperation as seen from the perspectives of different and sometimes competing interpretations of the nature of EU – Russia «overlapping margins». The geographical scope of research is limited to Kaliningrad oblast. Author's approach is based on constructivist methodology which serves as a good conceptual background for introducing the identity-based notions of exclusion and inclusion in regard to varied spatial representations of E.U.'s neighborhood policy. The paper offers some ideas concerning the possible contours of Kaliningrad's «marginality strategy» based on taking advantage of its «in-between» location.


A demonstration ground, a contact territory, a vanguard of Russia’s rapprochement with Europe, an indicator and an interface of EU - Russia relations, a linking space, an experimental zone, a laboratory, Russia's gate to Europe, a window of opportunity, a sleeping beauty, an outpost of strategic partnership, Russia's business card, a nodal link, trading/transit agent - what unites these metaphors is that all of them are extensively applied to Russia’s Baltic exclave, the Kaliningrad oblast (KO). On the other side, we see a different bunch of metaphoric images with quite negative connotation, like a «stepson» of Europe-Russia cooperation, a «double periphery», Russia's Soviet hellhole, a small analogue of the USSR, a cleavage site, a trouble spot, an adapting outsider, a bone of contention, unresolved anomaly from the World War II, a besieged fortress, an imperial bastion, a reservation inside Europe, an island of decay, a remote appendix to Russia, or post-imperial detached region2. A number of rather neutral expressions are also in use, like a chain, a knot, a puzzle, an island in an enlarged Union, a discursive battlefield, a little Russia within the EU, and Russia's overseas territory.

Not so many regions of the Russian Federation may boast about having such an impressive collection of geo-cultural images. Some of them are clearly in conflict with each other, while others refer us to remote – in both spatial and temporal terms - semantic contexts that are reprocessed, transformed and saturated with a variety of new cultural, historical, and political meanings. The case of KO may corroborate the Russian scholar Dmitry Zamiatin's idea of semiotic dynamics being stronger and denser at the margins which tend not merely to reproduce more or less fixed meta-images, but also to fill them with their own «sensualization», emotions and symbolism3. In result, the regional space(s) born out of interaction between different cultural environments may be understood as «a networking surface of animated pictures», consisted of multiple fragments of interpretation that might intermesh, «meet» and «collide» with each other. It is also interesting that the Baltic region, with KO as its organic part, may fit into Zamiatin's conception of «a-centric» space, that one which does not seek to acquire stringent hierarchical features and/or take certain position(s) vis-a-vis the center(s)4. A similar idea may be detected in Lyndelle Fairlie's reference to the Baltic space as «a collection of regions without a center»5.

Being an «a-centric» unit, KO may also be called «a-geographic» one in a sense that, if we refer to another Russian scholar Andrey Dakhin, geo-cultural images «migrate» from one territory to another. Like clones, they might expand/proliferate and project their meanings onto a particular region6. KO is a good illustration of this interesting phenomenon as it is extensively compared with Gibraltar, Aland Islands, Alaska, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Hawaii, Western Berlin (during the Cold War), Jerusalem, Panama, Karabakh, and Guantanamo7. Perhaps these multiple «geographic wrappings» made Pertti Joenniemi and Jan Prawitz assume that KO may be «liberated from the constraints of territorial logic»8 and thus develop its own models of «a-geographic» proximity to the global world.

Yet the paradox is that, in a way, KO itself gained the reputation of, figuratively speaking, «a-national» region, in a sense that strong cultural identity of its own on the local level is missing9. In the literature, KO is known as «a region in search for a past and a future», a region «living in the Russian present with a German past», or a region that lacks «of a recognized past»10. From the very beginning, KO was an artificial territorial unit, a Soviet «trophy» of the Second World War that has to break away its historical and cultural affiliations due to Moscow's geopolitical and security considerations. KO’s initial purpose – the military outpost of the great power – has lost its former relevance, yet the search for new, non-military roles proves to be extremely uneasy. In a way, as many tend to deem, the piece of land detached from Germany has never become Russian by its spirit, showing stronger predisposition to lean to European identity markers11.

In the mean time, as Pertti Joenniemi and Christopher Browning argue, it is true that in the aftermath of the USSR dissolution most Kaliningraders were unable to differentiate themselves from the rest of Russia, yet nevertheless the new identity is being formed nowadays, which is not one of making a choice between Europe and Russia, but of KO carving out its own space as an «in-between» and overlapping margin that is in a possession of dual heritage – Prussian and Soviet/Russian12. Russian author Vadim Shtepa supposes that the future of KO lays in developing a «more Russian – and in this sense genuinely European - conscience that that one of Moscow with all its centralization»13.

The capital question, however, is how different is KO as a part of the «Baltic ensemble». In this paper I am going to focus on the role of geo-cultural factors in KO evolution, with special attention paid to identity dimension. I will start with presenting my understanding of two discursive strategies that may be singled out, namely that ones of exclusion and inclusion. Then I will dwell upon the region's «cross-roads» actorship, having in mind its location at the intersection of different interpretation of what is Europe and what are its borders. Finally, I will draw some conclusions that might be relevant in terms of cross-border cooperation.

1. Identity at work: discursive strategies of inclusion and exclusion

A useful methodological tool for the analysis of KO as a part of the Baltic Sea region is to be found in different constructivist interpretations that emphasize the importance of normative structures, and the role of identity in regional projects. Normative ideas and ideational structures are seen as shaping regional actors’ identities and interests. In this sense, constructivists deem that shared ideas, beliefs and values are meaningful structural characteristics of all regional arrangements.

Through identity discourse we create differences. Exclusion is an intrinsic part of any social identification, yet its scale is specifically large when the issues of insecurity are at stake14. This is even more so in border regions, where discourses construct particular understandings of who are in are who are out and why; they operate on the basis of self/other dichotomy, where the 'other' is the opposite conflict party, portrayed as an existential threat to the 'self'.15

In this chapter my intention is to take a closer look at two different ways in which the identity may be used as a discursive concept with clear political connotations. One of them is centered around exclusion, which stipulates strong accent on «othering», bordering, distancing, isolation and securitization. The second scenario is conducive to the logic of inclusion, with se-securitization aboard and concomitant strategy of engaging/integrating Russia.

Identity and exclusion

Identity may be used as a legitimizing force for cultural alienation and further distancing of one regional actor from the other(s). That kind of identity discourse is largely framed by (geo)politically loaded ideas like control over territorial integrity, security and sovereignty.

The EU seems to have a number of reasons to recourse to the verbal «othering» of Russia. In cultural terms, as Sergei Medvedev argues, «the historical lack of an institutional relationship with the Orthodox East shapes a specific exclusive mentality within the EU, a subconscious reluctance to open up the integration project»16. The EU frequently adheres to the argument of allegedly non-European pedigree of Russia: for example, having stated in 2000 that the intra-European split is over, the European Parliament has explicitly alluded to Russia's de-facto exclusion from what is considered to be an integrated Europe.

Politically speaking, the tendency in Brussels of treating the KO as an outsider may be explained by the EU's hesitance to accept the legitimacy of this region's key mission which may be formulated as «the Russian presence in Europe»17. Put it differently, the whole perspective of becoming a «host space» for «foreign body» within its future territory is taken in the EU rather cautiously if not skeptically. Being afraid of the «Trojan horse» effect, the EU tends to downplay the role of KO, which might also be a natural reaction to Russia's policy of elevating this issue at the very top of Moscow – Brussels agenda.

Another source for exclusion discourse may be found in discussing the technicalities. The main sources of tensions between Russia and the EU are believed to be found in the bad governance of KO, while the most typical arguments at this juncture are that local industries are inefficient, and the political class is corrupted.

The result is that the EU faces some difficulties in the extension of its peace policies to its nearby areas and has instead opted for fencing and measures of exclusion18. Moreover, «the Union as a whole was trying to evade responsibility, thus creating a 'process without a subject' effect»19.

In Russia, in her turn, the EU is widely depicted as a power preventing Russia from its sovereign rights over the Kaliningrad region. The main ideological concepts articulated by this type of discourse are “dignity”, “respect”, “pride”, «honor» and “principles”. Russia's securitization of identity problematique inevitably leads «to a never ending process of constructing a boundary between 'us' and 'them', good and evil, and an acute fear that if this boundary is damaged, identity of the community will be destroyed… Needless to say, such discursive setting is hardly conducive to openness and de-bordering»20.

Some of the concepts used by the EU in its neighborhood strategy, resonate in Russia with different connotations. Russia apparently doesn't buy the EU's claim to speak on behalf of the Europe as such. This brings us to the discursive distinction between “false” and “true” Europe that has some roots in Russian intellectual tradition and reportedly shapes the contours of KO spatial whereabouts. «False Europe», as understood by Russian intellectuals, includes countries with strong anti-Russian sentiments and those having lost the «genuine European values», while the «true Europe» is populated by friendly to Russia nations. As Viacheslav Morozov points out, this confrontational strategy «was hardly successful internationally, but worked almost perfectly on the domestic political stage»21.

«Othering» of Europe makes Russia to take a defensive position on a number of identity-driven issues. The fact that certain policy makers in the presidential administration were rather skeptical about the whole idea of celebrating the 750- anniversary of Kenigsberg/Kaliningrad, testifies that Moscow still has some problems with the historical heritage of this renamed city. The attempts of restoring the historical name of this city are baptized as «a betrayal»22 by many of patriotically-minded pundits. What came out of this discourse is an awkward and somehow ironic celebration of «750 years of the city of Kaliningrad» finally approved and rubberstamped by President Putin. Kremlin not only has obviously put itself in self-defeating position, but – what is more important – has lost a chance to offer - through recovering the historical name of the city – a new compromise-ridden mixture of different conceptualizations of Russia's relations with Europe in wider historical perspective. Indeed, the comeback of Kenigsberg might get certainly different yet quite compatible readings by both «Westernizers» (aspiring for a new impulse for Russian – EU relationship) and «Slavophiles» (who might eventually concede that having the city with German name as a part of Russia is a good remembrance of the old days of Russian/Soviet military glory).

Identity and inclusion

Identity, by the same token, may become a source of integrative drive, and thus trigger de-securitization through perceptional changes in the societal attitudes and relationships. Identity, therefore, may create new social relations and modify ideational constructs23.

De-securitization focuses on finding a compromise on specific problems that remain unsolved for quite a long time. With the increased amount of technical/”functional” issues in the policy agenda, there is a growing understanding that the military importance of KO is decreasing24.

De-securitization has unleashed what could have been called the «issue discourse», which comes in two versions. Within inward-oriented issue discourse, the perspectives of KO are closely connected with the oblast’s economic progress. In vice prime minister Viktor Khristenko's words, it is essential that in ten forthcoming years the living standards of Kaliningraders be tripled in order to equalize the incomes of KO residents with Lithuanians and Poles25. For this purpose, the federal government has drafted and adopted the Federal Targeted Program of Kaliningrad Regional Development, 2002-2010 which has identified a number of top priority areas such as development of transportation system, stabilization of energy supplies, improvement of telecommunication system, building tourist facilities, solving environmental problems, upgrading social sphere (education, health care, culture, etc.), fostering innovations in science and technology, raising attractiveness of investment climate and entrepreneurship. It is still unclear whether Russian government is intended “to level down” the exclave location of KO, or, on the contrary, to take as much advantages of its geographic location as possible. The first approach has always been more traditional – enough is to remind that the power-sharing Treaty between federal and regional authorities of 1996 has stipulated that Moscow has to “compensate additional losses incurring from KO exclave location”. The current Federal Targeted Program mentions both strategies in a row, yet between the lines one can discern the priority given to the strategy of taking advantage. President Putin himself has given some signs of de-securitized approach to KO – at his meeting in November 2003 with the governor Egorov the main issues were the state of transport infrastructure, ferry terminal construction, upgrading the airport, salary dynamics, and socio-demographic indicators of the quality of life26.

The second part of the de-securitized issue discourse is outward-oriented. It presents the KO case as an intrinsic part of EU-Russia negotiations, which has to be tackled technically.

Mikhail Kasianov, the former head of the Russian government, has argued that Baltic integration has positively affected North West territories of Russia. He called KO the “home of million of Europeans”27, yet rebuffed the illusions that its residents might be granted visa-free border crossing with EU accession countries. At the meantime, many of policy experts had recognized the right of Lithuania to switch to European energy networks, to cut off of the Russian energy system, and to establish its own tariffs28. The issue was presented as having to deal with bureaucratic complexities, and the best option to avoid conflicts is simplification of this procedure29.

Among the issues of major concern for Russian government were to keep visa-free regime at least until Polish and Lithuanian accession to the EU; to ensure that rail transit takes place without border checks, and that Russian planes be given permission to use the Lithuanian air corridor. In exchange, Russia was ready to consider introducing simplified rules of entry to the KO by citizens of Poland and Lithuania, and eventually for all EU travelers. All these measures necessitated special EU – Russia agreement favored by the bulk of expert community. However its core condition from the Russia’s side – freedom of transit to KO for all type of transportation - seemed to be very disputable. For a long time, Russian government was reluctant to acknowledge that it would be a violation of EU laws if Russia continues to transport military goods and personnel to KO through Lithuania after the EU enlargement. Other points of Moscow's agenda – like stimulating friendly atmosphere for trans-border exchanges, taking into account the interests of Kaliningrad fishery companies in redistributing fishing quotas after EU enlargement, stable energy supply and extending to KO new forms of EU-sponsored technical assistance – were less strictly formulated and much more acceptable for all parties.

There are other de-securitizing signals as well. For example, immediately after receiving the EU's negative answer to Kasianov’s memorandum on Kaliningrad, Moscow officials began putting the issue in a trans-regional context. Thus, in June 2002 president Putin called on the subjects of the federation of the North West Federal District to be more active in establishing horizontal links with Kaliningrad30. He then tabled this issue before a Council of Baltic Sea States meeting held in St. Petersburg31, while Kasianov, for the first time, has raised the Kaliningrad problem in a meeting with his Estonian counter-part32.

Starting from 2001 the federal government of Russia has recognized the importance of positive information coverage of the plethora of Kaliningrad-related matters. Frequent visits of high level members of the Russian government had manifested the first steps in what the journalists have called “advertising campaign” to promote positive image of Russia’s western exclave worldwide33.

Equally, the Center for Strategic Design “North – West” argues in its “Doctrine of Russia’s North West Development” for more inclusive intellectual processes. It is claimed, in this vein, that the KO’s neighborhood with Western Europe is an important source of inspiration for adjacent parts of Russia. Notably, the Doctrine gives priority to using mobile and flexible resources driven by the spirit of innovation in the sphere of ‘humanitarian communications’ (that is human-capital-based and knowledge-driven processes).34

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