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“Bring Karaliaučius back!”: Why does Lithuania need Russian Kaliningrad?

Stance of aggressive nationalism has been strengthening recently among Lithuania’s ruling elites, while such a system of views cannot exist without enemies, who are usually described as representatives of neighbor nations living in the neighborhood. If we have a particular look at Lithuania, enemies are Poles and Russians. And while the confrontation of Lithuania and Poland is to some extent limited by membership of the two nations in the EU and NATO, in case with Russia, Lithuania has no such ‘brakes’.

Lithuanian nationalists are eager to remember offences from the Russians, be them true or assumptive, and are cherishing plans of revenge and even taking away some territories from Russia.

The Lithuania Minor Theory

Due to the historic fate and fortunes of the region, the Kaliningrad Region in the beginning of 1990s found itself as an isolated enclave separated from the rest of Russia by two countries. No wonder, those countries are inclined to see this territory as a titbit that can be taken as opportunity offers. Lithuanian radical nationalists are showing extreme activity in it: they proclaimed Kaliningrad and nearby territory as their undoubtable belonging.

They in Lithuania call Kaliningrad called Karaliaučius (the King Mountain) - it is called so even on road signs. Local ideologists insist that in the Middle Ages Lithuanians for many centuries were the prevailing ethnic element in the region.

Truly, in the 15th century, Lithuanians settled here with consent of the Teutonic Order that then owned the vacant territory. Later, in the 16th century, many Lithuanian Protestants fled their Catholic homeland. There were a lot of well-bred and educated people among them: it was Koenigsberg where the first book in Lithuanian and the first translation of the Bible in Lithuanian were published. However, old Prussians who used to live there are often attributed to Lithuanians, while the Prussians were a separate ethnic group, although a kindred nation to Lithuanians.

It was as early as in the end of the Gorbachev time, in then-Lithuanian SSR, when a map was published with all settlements in Kaliningrad Region named in Lithuanian. Though, it would be nonsense to look for those names in historical documents, as most of them were generated by adding a Lithuanian ending to Prussian and German place names. Just the same way, they are trying now to find Lithuanian origins of famous residents of East Prussia. According to those “studies”, even the prominent thinker Immanuel Kant had Lithuanian blood! As for Russians and Germans, they were allegedly involved in genocide of the so-called “Lithuania Minor” (despite the fact that the Soviet Union gave significant part of it to the Lithuanian SSR).

Symbolically, there is a sculpture in the center of the town of Pagegiai located near Kaliningrad Region. The sculpture portrays a mother cuddling her daughter. The daughter symbolizes the “Lithuania Minor” whom the authors would like to see coming back to her “parent”.

Even Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite is not aloof to the theory of the “Lithuania Minor”. Anyway, in an interview last summer, Grybauskaite said a notable phrase when commenting on growing Russian forces in the region: “Kaliningrad Region is home of the Lithuanian literature and art, however, we can hear sabre-rattling from it now.”

Well, long before that some less unambiguous statements could be heard. For instance, in 1993, then-ambassador of the Lithuanian Republic to the United States said that Kaliningrad was his country’s territory. In 1995, founder of the current Lithuanian state Vytautas Landsbergis used to say that the status of Kaliningrad Region as a Russian territory was not given enough proof after World War II. About four years ago, ideologist of the Lithuanian nationalism Romualdas Ozolas (by the way, former deputy speaker of the parliament, which means he was not a marginal figure) published an article in Lietuvos žinios newspaper running: “The legal status of Karaliaučius given for administration to the Soviet Union expired long ago. The Helsinki Resolutions on unchangeable boundaries are being problematic for the simple reason that there is no longer the USSR that was entrusted to fulfill them.”

Ozolas called to establish a new independent “Baltic Republic”: “By abandoning the Munich tradition of political correctness, using a completely legal international language, Lithuania can start representing aspirations of the Karaliaučius territory to become an independent republic.”

In the beginning of last fall, Vilnius state broadcasting company LRT published an article. Its authors examined a possibility of implementing the claims for the neighbor territory. In particular, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, analyst at the state-run Eastern Europe Studies Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania, stated in a categorical way that under a decision of the Potsdam Conference in 1945 Koenigsberg was given to the Soviet Union for 50 years only, and now, if having political will, the UK and the USA can secure revision of this article in the treaty. Such a step could allegedly be a fitting response to Russia “for the aggression in Crimea and Donbass.” Meanwhile, Laurynas Kasčiūnas proposed to use as supporters residents of Kaliningrad among whom, he says, separatist ideas are quite strong because they visit EU member countries more often than the inland Russia.

“If residents of Karaliaučius are offered a prospect of economic development that would open the European market to them, the territory would comprehend that it was its evident and natural need. If Russia fails to respond to the need, we can think of a referendum on the status of Karaliaučius. However, it is important that the referendum is initiated by the residents,” Kasčiūnas stressed.

Other experts questioned by LRT cast doubts that ideas sounded by Kasčiūnas could be implemented. However, the fact that such opportunities are discussed by major state-run media in Lithuania speaks for itself.

From theory to practice

For 25 years already, there is a public institution called “Council for Lithuania Minor” that is funded from the state budget. Since the time of establishment in 1985, the council issues printed materials on historical belonging of Kaliningrad to the Lithuanian state. All those maps, books, brochures, leaflets and posters are distributed in the territory of “Karaliaučius”, even at schools, according to some reports.

In 1992, activists of the organization tried to stage an unsanctioned march in the memory of “killed compatriots” (strange as it may seem, citizens of the Nazis’ Reich who were killed in Koenigsberg in 1944-45 were also enlisted). In 1994, members of the council and the Lithuanian community in the United States posted an unauthorized monument “Cleaved Grass Snake” in the village of Mezhdurechye. The monument was dedicated to Heinrich Monte who led an uprising of Old Prussians against the Teutonic Order in the 13th century. In Lithuania, they call this historic figure by a fictious name of Herkus Mantas trying to assign the Lithuanian origin to him.

Demolition of the sculpture that had been erected without authorization caused a hysteric reaction in the Lithuania Minor community and rise of provocations. In the same 1994, the council organized delivery to Kaliningrad of posters “Fifty Years of Genocide of Lithuania Minor”. They were showing a map of the region covered with blood and pierced by a sword and a bayonet. At the same time a so-called Memorandum was made public. It urged to prepare for demilitarization of the “Karaliaučius territory” and bring it as “the historic land of the Balts” back to the Lithuanian Republic.

In October 2001, a conference called “Unsettled problems of Karaliaučius territory” was organized with the leading role of the head of Council for Lithuania Minor Vytautas Šilas. The conference discussed following questions: “The Soviet genocide of Karaliaučius civil aboriginals”, “Is Karaliaučius territory dangerous for Europe?”, “Colonization of Koenigsberg as an attempt to deny the past”, “Is the future of the Karaliaučius territory a matter of this only region?”, “Legal assessment of Russia’s presence in Karaliaučius territory”, “Karaliaučius territory as a relic of the World War”, “Is it possible to ignore opinions of aboriginals on the future of the territory?”. Ironically, just several days after the conference ended, Days of the Lithuanian Culture started in Kaliningrad Region.

It is worth mentioning that external players are showing interest in the situation with Karaliaučius too. Thus, the Roman Catholic Church is reportedly trying to play an active role in solving the “Kaliningrad problem”. Georgs Bagatis of the Baltic Unity organization (Latvia) proposed that the presidents of the Baltic states made a joint statement on “Russia’s occupation of the Koenigsberg territory”.

Does Lithuania really need Kaliningrad so much? Of course, not. The country should better deal its current problems instead of annexing new territories. Modern Lithuania has faced drastic decrease of the population. Lithuanians are moving away from the “prosperous country”. In 1993, 3,798,000 people lived there, and now only 2,963,103 left. However, the expansionist rhetoric of Lithuania may be useful for the United States pretending for an arbiter role in the region. A conflict situation fraught with aggravating confrontation is very advantageous for external players as they can use it for their own goals.

Vyacheslav Samoylov, EADaily Baltic observer

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