The progress of the ‘star wars’ (AKA missile shield) affair, which Russia seemed willing to aggravate by talking about plans to station missiles in Kaliningrad, without any concerns whatsoever for the welfare of Kaliningraders and Europeans, should make the European Union reexamine its current policy under the Kaliningrad Strategy, of collaborating with Russia by facilitating the transit of goods and persons and helping its socio-economic development.
Instead of just hearing what Russians have to claim before the international community, the EU should ask the international community by which right keeps the Russian Federation hold on Königsberg territory, and should demand from Russia a date for devolution, no matter how hard Russian media propaganda tries to avoid the question:
Although disputes over the status of Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad have practically ceased, this should be regarded as a signal that all the parties concerned are aware of the serious repercussions that instability in that region could cause.
Geopolitical Stability has been by far the most repeated pro-Russian argument since the 90’s, also in official European Union forums (see Freedom to Kaliningrad thread); it is easily summed up into a “let’s maintain the statu quo to avoid destabilizing the region”. The murmuring of those plans to use Kaliningrad as missile base made by Russian military officials to the press, to escalate tensions in the missile shield affair, has shown how the Russian Federation respects the will of Europeans for stability in the region. Not to talk about Russia’s lack of respect for the lives of thousands of European citizens in this winter’s gas disputes, or its lack of respect for Estonian democratic decisions, or its support for the authoritarian Belarusian regime of Lukashenko…
Other great arguments made by pro-Russians include “Nazi Germany”, “World War II” and “Mother Russia”, and are easily read elsewhere in Russian media and blogs when the Kaliningrad question is mentioned. Nevertheless, most Kaliningraders – whether ethnic Russians or not – show often an open mind about the return options. And even official Russian media like Russia Today recognize still in 2009 (only in English texts for outsiders) the Lithuanian claims to the territory and its return; East German rights are still taboo in Russian ‘free’ media, while Polish claims are probably too weak to be worth mentioning:
The region became an administrative unit of Russia [sic] in 1946 after the Potsdam conference and the partition of Germany. Although it solidified as an administrative entity, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the issue of reassimilating the Kaliningrad region into its historic entity of Lithuania arose.
According to a thorough study on the question (The Kaliningrad Challenge, 2003) Russia has been always concerned about the risk of separatism in Kaliningrad, which might be greater than expected if the European Report The EU and Kaliningrad (2002) is correct in assessing that Kaliningrad’s level of development is closer to Lithuania and Latvia than previously thought. In that sense, ethnic Russian Kaliningraders see Kaliningrad in the future as another Baltic Republic, either still somehow federated to Russia with great autonomy or fully independent. Moreover,
There are opinion polls – now more frequently held within blogs and forums – which show that Kaliningraders occasionally imagine their future not so much as a fourth Baltic Republic, but as part of a return to Germany
In a similar way, the Soviets also refused to discuss the final peace settlement in Europe after the Second World War. It is important to emphasize that neither the United States nor Britain agreed at Potsdam or anywhere else to the transfer of East Prussia or part of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union. Thus, although the Kaliningrad Region is currently administered by Russia, it is not a legal part of Russia.
Stalin was seeking a deal on East Prussia at the Tehran conference in 1943, drawing a line in red pencil on the map “to illustrate the fact that, if part of eastern Prussia, including the ports of Könisberg and Tilsit, were given to the Soviet Union, he would be prepared to accept the Curzon line […] as the frontier between the Soviet Union and Poland.”
This line goes roughly along the current border between the Kaliningrad Region and Poland, but Stalin’s red line on the map went virtually through the cities of Königsberg and Insterburg (see the Map). Charles E. Bolen, the interpreter for the American delegation, says in his memoirs that during their discussion, Stalin and Churchill virtually agreed on the future borders of Poland, but the official American record of the conversation says that “although nothing was stated, it was apparent that the British were going to take this suggestion back to London to the Poles.”
On February 11, 1945, at the Crimea (Yalta) Conference, the Big Three agreed on the Curzon Line as the boundary between Poland and the USSR. However, the archival material clearly shows that there had not been any legally binding agreement made between the allies about the transfer of the Königsberg Region to the Soviet Union at any of the Second World War conferences. This is why Stalin attempted to secure his gains at the Potsdam conference in Berlin, which took place from July 17 to August 2, 1945.
After the end of the Second World War, the Kaliningrad question began by Stalin’s personal will of revenge against Germany:
Königsberg was neither appended outright to the Soviet Union nor was it to be considered part of the Soviet zone of occupation, which had been outlined earlier in the agreement.
[The Soviet Union] acted decisively to completely eradicate the German presence in Königsberg and replace it with Soviet presence. This began even before the end of hostilities with the Reich:
Königsberg was destroyed in the last weeks of the war when there was no real reason to assault it. When the soldiers of the Byelorussian front were dying in its streets in the first week of April, 1945, the rest of the Red Army was already besieging Berlin. Seven centuries of history went up in smoke in one week of shelling and bombing. By then, the decision to annihilate East Prussia and grant Königsberg to the Soviet Union had already been taken, so the reason for its destruction remains a mystery. Did Stalin take the decision in a fit of war revenge? Did he think that the setting of an ancient bourgeois city would hamper the development of the new Soviet city he wanted to build in its place? Or did he fear that, unless turned into a pile of ruins, Königsberg might not be conceded to him by the Allies after all? Pictures and models in the bunker-cum-museum where the capitulation of the city was signed are revealing. Most of the destruction was done after-wards, when the victors took to the task of building a new city on the ruins of the old…
While the destruction of the city’s infrastructure was underway, an equally brutal purge of its population through gang rapes and indiscriminate crimes was carried out:
The demography of that part of Lithuania Minor which is under direct Soviet administration, the “Oblast,” has changed in the most radical way in all its history. The original population of the area — German as well as Lithuanian — has disappeared completely. Many had fled before the Soviet armed forces invaded the area in 1945; those who remained — several hundred thousand — either perished from hunger or disease or were deported to Siberia; the others were expelled to Germany in 1949. They all — about 1,200,000 before World War II — were replaced by about 600,000 settlers from the northern and central parts of Russia. The administration and economy of the “Oblast” has been reorganized to conform with Soviet models and practices. It has been fortified to serve the strategic aims of the Soviet Union.
Modern Claims in Europe
After the fall of the Soviet Union, there were 4 main alternatives for the future of Kaliningrad, following Raymond A. Smith’s article The Status of The Kaliningrad Oblast Under International Law (1992), which argues in favour of the Lithuanian claim, but which also addresses some historical and political questions:
From the historical [point of view] sovereignty over the territory of the Kaliningrad Oblast passed over the course of centuries from the the indigenous Old Prussian population, to the Teutonic Order, to the Kingdom of Poland, to the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and finally, perhaps, to the USSR/RSFSR. It is not surprising, then, to find that each of these entities (with the exception, of course, of the Teutonic Order) has a conceivable claim to this territory. This section examines the legal basis, or lack thereof, of the actual or potential claim of each entity, as well as the potential claim of the indigenous population.
- The German Claim: Some Germans challenge the validity of both the Final Settlement and the original “dismemberment” of the German Reich.
Their arguments are complex but can be reduced in essence to two claims:
- the Allies had no power to allow German territory to be annexed by other countries
- the West Germany and even the modern Federal Republic of Germany are not coextensive with the German Reich and are therefore not competent to speak for it in its entirety
The first proposition is supported by numerous charges: that the guarantees of self-determination in the Atlantic Charter, the UN Charter, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties were ignored; that the Ancient Roman principle of ex injuria non oritur jus prohibits punishing Germany by unilateral confiscation of its territory; that the powers of the Allies as occupiers were strictly curtailed by the Hague Laws of War of 1907; that use of German lands as “compensation” to Poland for lands lost to the Soviet Union has no basis in international law; and many others.
- The Russian Claim: As the historical overview recounted, the working premise of the Potsdam Conference was that the Soviets would receive the Oblast at the final peace conference. The Allies specifically committed themselves to supporting the Soviet claim in the Final Settlement, but when that settlement was finally signed in 1990, specific title was not transferred. Why the Final Settlement did not include a specific statement of transfer is unclear. The seemingly most probable reason is that the transfer of Kaliningrad to the Soviet Union is considered a fait accompli and that the legal niceties of including a specific mention of transfer were outweighed by potential political embarassment such a mention might have caused the Kohl government. Such a position assumes that the tranfer has already taken place, an assertion which rests on shaky ground.
Similarly, the Act of Military Surrender specifically indicates that the occupation itself did not effect the annexation of Germany. Thus, although Germany surrendered unconditionally, none of its territories were automatically annexed to any other state. Such annexation would have to be made explicit in a legally binding document. Only “administration” was established by the Potsdam Agreement, however, and “administration” is definitely not the same as “annexation” under international law.
Rather than present arguments based on international law, Stalin advanced the law of revenge. ‘The Russians had suffered so much and lost so much blood, they were anxious to have some small satisfaction to [sic] tens of millions of their inhabitants who had suffered in the war,” Stalin said at Potsdam.
In the absence of ethnic and historical claims to shore up their questionable legal claim, then, the only argument which the Soviet Union can depend upon is the principle of prescriptive claim. This principle transfers title to land when a country has held it for a long period of time without protest by the land’s original owners or by the international community at large. No specific time frame is suggested for the acquisition of prescriptive claim. Grotius suggested 100 years, a figure which the Permanent Court of International Justice endorsed in 1933. The International Court of Justice, on the other hand, said that fifty years had been long enough for a boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana to have legal effect.
- The Polish Claim: Poland has no ethnic claim to the Oblast. Although the southern half of East Prussia was occupied mainly by Polish Masurians, they had almost no presence in the northern part.
Poland’s historic claim is only marginally stronger. For some two centuries, Prussia was a fief of the Polish King, but during that period the area remained firmly under German control. In any case, title was decisively transferred by the Treaty of Wehlau in 1657. During World War II many Poles operated under the belief that all of East Prussia would become theirs, but they were never legally promised the territory in its entirety.
- Lithuanian Claim: The claim of the Lithuanian state could rely upon both ethnic and historical grounds.
- The Lithuanians may argue that
the first peoples to hold sovereignty over the region were ethnic Lithuanians and closely related Old Prussians, and
- the pre-1945 population outside the cities of the Oblast was largely of Lithuanian origin. If the status of the Oblast were to be altered in the future, then, the Lithuanian state could have a strong argument for assimilating this remainder of Lithuania Minor.
The idea of unifying the Oblast with the rest of Lithuania has strong historical precedents. Lithuanian assemblies met in Chicago and New York in 1914, The Hague in 1916 and Berne in 1917 to demand an independent Lithuania including all of Lithuania Minor. An assembly in Vilnius in 1917 restated the problem to define the new Lithuania within its “ethnographic borders,” a concept endorsed by a later assembly in Voronezh the same year.
Finally, on November 30, 1918, the National Council of Prussian Lithuania issued the Declaration of Tilsit:
Taking into account that everything that exists has a right to continue existing and that we, Lithuanians who live here in Prussian Lithuania, are the majority of the population of this land, we demand, on the basis of Wilson’s right of national self-determination, that Lithuania Minor be joined to Lithuania Major
The clearest catch here is that any annexation of the Oblast by Lithuania might hinge upon the democratic decision of an indigenous Lithuanian majority to authorize such an annexation. And, as we have seen, virtually none of the indigenous Lithuanian population remains in the Oblast, having fled or been killed or exiled after World War II. This raises the final claim to be discussed — that of the indigenous population.
- The Lithuanians may argue that
- The Claim of the Native Population: The right to national self-determination is one of the main cornerstones of the contemporary international legal order. Eight of Wilson’s Fourteen Points refer to such concerns. The Atlantic Charter’s third and fourth principles call for self-determination in matters of both boundaries and choice of government. The Charter of the United Nations calls for colonial powers to foster self-determination in “non-self governing territories”. That right might be interpreted as concerning:
- The Oblast’s postwar ethnic Russian settlers – as opposed to central Soviet or Russian authorities.
- the traditional population which was decimated or expelled en masse after World War II, which is defended on the grounds that forcible deportations of native populations is clearly in violation of international law – native Königsbergers expelled after World War II, then, have a right under international law to choose to return to their native land.
On that question, there is the precedent of United Nations action regarding the settlement of Gibraltar:
As in the case of the Oblast, the key issue was whether the rightful native population of the Rock should be considered to be the contemporary residents or an earlier population who had been compelled to depart in 1704. The British argued that over the centuries since 1704 a permanent and authentic population had been developed on the Rock, which now had the right to determine their own fate. The Spanish countered that the post-1704 population were “pseudo-Gibraltarians” and that the rightful rulers of Gibraltar Rock were the descendants of Spaniards who had resettled, for the most part, in the nearby city of San Roque.
Under pressure from the United Nations to end its colonial occupation of Gibraltar and in an attempt to settle the status of the Rock once and for all, the British government conducted a plebiscite in 1967. The choices were stark — full political affiliation with either Great Britain or with Spain — and the result was unequivocal: 12,138 to 44 in favor of Great Britain. Nonetheless, the U.N. General Assembly once again condemned British occupation of Gibraltar, this time in the strongest language yet. It, in essence, declared the plebiscite null, accused the British of resisting decolonization, and called once again for immediate negotiations between Great Britain and Spain for a transfer of sovereignty.
Whatever the merits of the Gibraltar case, the precedent for the Oblast is clear. If the rights of native populations can stretch back to 1704, then surely the postwar expellees from the Oblast would have an unambiguous right to return to their homeland and choose its political fate — be that choice in-dependence or association with another state. The current population of the Oblast would presumably have no say in the territory’s political future.
The key difference between Gibraltar and the Oblast is that in the former case, there actually is a population in San Roque able and willing to resettle the Rock. No analagous “population-in-exile” exists in the case of the Oblast. Rather, much of the population of Königsberg was killed or died in exile. Those who were deported to Germany (and their descendants) in all likelihood now enjoy a standard of living which is, at least quantitatively, many times better than any which would be possible in the backward conditions of the Oblast. Further, most — although far from all — Germans seem to have accepted the loss of the prewar lands; the idea of reclaiming part of East Prussia would not necessarily resonate with much of the population. It seems extremely unlikely, then, that more than a handful of such native German Königsbergers would wish to uproot and resettle in the Oblast.
Even with German and Lithuanian strong claims about the Soviet colony of Königsberg opposing the legality of Stalin’s annexation, Russia did in the 90’s what it was used to in such cases when the Soviet Union was still a Great Power: they took the easy way, and annexed the territory to Russia, expecting the international community to accept it. Which is nice, because the EU as a Great Power will therefore be entitled to follow the same principle in the future…
In my personal opinion, the European Union faces today 3 alternatives, given Russia’s will to retain Stalin’s European exclave no matter how illegal or illegitimate it is from an international point of view:
- Support modern Kaliningraders in their demands of greater autonomy within the Russian Federation – and maybe a future separation from it -, which is the fairest position under modern international law, which demands non-belligerant positions (against Russia in this case) and respect for human rights – Russian settlers and their families. This is certainly the option of most Kaliningraders of Russian ethnicity, as well as most EU-politicians.
- Support Germany’s or Lithuania’s claims (or both), seeking to integrate Kaliningrad within the European Union, maybe as a sort of a Baltic territory co-administered by both Germany and Lithuania, financing the return of (families of) expellees to Königsberg, and the return of (willing) families of Russian settlers to Russia. This is the option preferred by many Germans and (I guess) most Lithuanians.
- Support the creation of a modern Baltic Prussian State (Prusa), which could help unite the Pro-Baltic (and Pro-European) attitude of Russian Kaliningraders, the will of native peoples and their families to return to East Prussia, as well as claims of EU member states to integrate Königsberg in Europe, by embracing Old Prussian history of the territory and its peoples. Modern organizations supporting the revival of the Old Prussian language would probably support its revitalization in Königsberg include the future Research Institute of Prussology and the Prussian language organization in Poland.
The third is my preferred option, not because I am some kind of language revival freak (what I possibly am, given that I also support Old Prussian language revival), but because what many (want to) regard simply as ethnic German and ethnic Lithuanian inhabitants of East Prussia in 1945 were in fact descendants of Old Prussians who had lost their language in favour of either German or Lithuanian languages, depending on the territories they dwelled when they ceased to speak Prussian. Given that historical, cultural and linguistic background of the Königsberg (or East Prussian) territory, the European Union should take action supporting the return of those expelled peoples and their families to their ancient territory, which they were forced to leave half a century ago.
There is therefore no need to support the adscription of East Prussia to modern countries or peoples, be it Russia, Germany, Poland or Lithuania. And the only alternative to modern peoples, cultures and states is to support a linguistic and cultural revival of a Prussian people and language that should have never disappeared.