Thursday, March 4, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Kaliningraders Want to Live Like Poles or Lithuanians, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 4 – The residents of Kaliningrad are protesting because they would like to live as well as their neighbors in Poland and Lithuania, a motivation many in Moscow find it difficult to fathom because many Russians view Eastern Europe as poor in comparison to themselves, according to a Moscow analyst.
In an interview posted on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal today, Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama Information and Research Center, says that the protest movement in that non-contiguous region reflects the awareness of everyone there that they live worse than residents of Poland and Lithuania (
While there have been demonstrations in various parts of Russia in recent months, those in Kaliningrad have attracted attention not only because of their size, continuity, and increasing organization but also because that region in the minds of most Russians is anything but the poorest part of the country.
But Kaliningrad residents compare their situation, the Moscow analyst says, not with the rest of Russia but rather with that of their two neighbors, Poland and Lithuania, where “people live better than they do,” where the economic crisis has not had the same impact on incomes, and where “there is no arbitrariness” by the authorities.
When Kaliningraders make such comparisons, which are seldom drawn by other Russians, they increasingly ask themselves why they cannot life as well as their neighbors. “And for them,” Pribylovsky says, “it is perfectly obvious why: the governor is bad and the Kremlin runs our affairs badly as well.”
In short, he says, “the Kaliningraders want to live just like the Poles do.” And to that end, they are prepared to demonstrate and to form alliances among various parties and groups to press their case, actions that challenge Moscow not only directly but also as a model for people in other parts of the Russian Federation.
The real test for the Kaliningraders is ahead, not so much concerning their ability to get people to come into the streets, Pribylovsky says, but rather whether the organizational unity they have declared will stand up. The prospects for that are less good. If things quiet down, the newly declared unity will probably break down.
But if the meetings continue, then, it is possible that “a temporary unity will be maintained in the ranks of the opposition forces.” That makes the course of events over the next several weeks critical. The powers that be will try everything, including threatening those who participate in protests, to end the wave of demonstrations.
In Pribylovsky’s opinion, however, “the demonstrations will continue and not only in Kaliningrad,” although “this does not mean that they will go without interruption.” Things will quiet down in the summer but they are likely to resume with new force in the fall. And they are likely to be centered on two cities at opposite ends of Russia, Kaliningrad and Vladivostok
As far as Governor Georgy Boos is concerned, Pribylovsky suggested that he is neither especially bad nor especially good. Instead, his administration is about average, including in terms of corruption, and that if he were in charge of any oblast “which was not located next to Europe, he would be coping with his responsibility in a completely calm way.”
Unfortunately for him, Pribylovsky continues, Kaliningrad is not one of those, but the problems Boos and Moscow are having now do not mean that he is going to be removed. He is Putin’s man and Putin as long as he has the power is not going to sack him, especially in the face of public pressure.
But the political system could change, the Panorama analyst says. The removal of 17 MVD generals is a hint. And when governors who have angered the population in the regions where they are posted begin to be fire, “this will be an indicator that something is changing at the top, in the first instance, in the relations of the power functions of Medvedev and Putin.”

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