Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Geography and Class behind Latest Rebirth of Koenigsberg Identity, Altfuyev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 3 – “The strong ‘kulak’ or entrepreneur whom the Bolsheviks did not like and whom their spiritual heirs now hate has greater influence in the Koenigsberg oblast than in other regions of the Russian Federation and its interests are the ones that the federal authorities and their local representatives neglect in the first instance,” according to Koenigsberg activists.

            As a result, they say, this middle class is increasingly opposing the oblast authorities and “basing itself on the ideas of regionalism,” leading to the rebirth of the kind of regionalist or even secessionist thought that was widespread in that Russian exclave in the early 1990s but that had receded almost to the vanishing point after the coming to power of Vladimir Putin.

            On the website of Koenigsberg activists, “The Baltic Avant Garde of the Russian Resistance,” Astrakhan-based commentator Dmitry Altufyev describes how this has come about in an article entitled “The Russo-Balts: On the Question of the Formation of a Regional Baltic Identity in Koenigsberg Oblast” (

            According to Altufyev, the people of the oblast are ready to form a new ethnos, the Russo-Balts, because they lost their ties to the ethnic groups of which they were a part when they were moved into the exclave and are subject to entirely different influences from the adjoining foreign countries, especially if they are in business or among the younger age groups.

            The Astrakhan writer says that “the borders of this regional subculture are in no way connected with the borders of Koenigsberg oblast as a subject of the Russian Federation. If there were two or three oblasts on the territory of the exclave, they would most likely represent themselves as the regional subculture named here.”

            “In that cultural landscape, the vertical brick Gothic is dominant” and there is “no basis for the development of the poetics of Orthodox churches, peasant izbas or Russian birch treets. They are something alien to the majority of local young people,” he continues. All this makes the region “an extremely favorable place for the construction of a new identity.”

            There is clear evidence that is already happening.  “The residents of the most western Russian region significantly more often view themselves as residents of a corresponding territory than as representatives of their ethnic groups,” a reflection of their economic activity, the impact of outside propaganda, and their distancing of themselves from “’the Russian world.’”

            Despite that, Altufyev says, there has not been on offer a clever definition of this regional or new ethnic identity, although he says that “it is possible that the time has come to openly declare” it.  That must begin with the recognition that “Russian state identity is a completely empty thing.”

            “It has no real content” for Koenigsbergers who do not feel any links to a land “from Chechnya to Chukotka.”  Many older people hold on to a misty Soviet identity, but their grandchildren increasingly feel that they have the right to define their own identity and they are defining it according to their geographic and socio-economic position.

            Their “growing alienation from Russia is obvious” to anyone who pays close attention. They speak of having visited “Russia” as if it were a separate place while they talks about being in this or that European city or country.  And they rarely include themselves in the expression “with us in Russia it is like this or that.”

            Thus, already at “an unconscious level,” they see themselves apart from Russia and apart from Russia’s ethnic definitions.  Indeed, “the de-ethnicized population consists of more than 85 percent of the total number of residents of the oblast.” Such people are ready for a new identity, not based on Soviet patterns but by necessity reflecting some of the past.
            But any such identity, Altufyev will inevitably lead them away from Russia and toward integration with Europe where regional identities and ethnic identities sometimes correspond and sometimes don’t.

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