Kaliningrad’s Mayor Re-writes his City’s History
by Paul Cordy
(original to La Russophobe)
Paul Goble’s recent blog post in the Moscow Times quoted the mayor of Kaliningrad on the history of his city. It offers an excellent proof of how deluded some Russians are about historical truth (click LR’s “history” category in the sidebar to read more on this topic), and especially about how creative they are with their own history.
Being creative with history is an old Russian tradition, but during the Soviet Union, rewriting history became a real way of life. Small allied intervention forces at the end of World War I were creatively rewritten into huge invasion armies deliberately pushing Russia in a civil war. Bolshevist leaders who fell out with Stalin disappeared from pictures and were written out of the official history. An attack on Finland was made into a lethal threat coming from a country with about 40 times less citizens than the Soviet Union, Well documented atrocities like Katyn or the famine in Ukraine never happened and so on. And when Stalin died, the whole thing was reversed. Suddenly the glorified leader became a despised tyrant – until Khruschev, the man responsible for this, fell out of grace himself and Stalin was somewhat restored in his former glory. This peculiar way of dealing with history made the Soviet Union into the one country on earth whit an always bright and certain future but with a completely unpredictable history.
During the last years of the Soviet Union this attitude changed. Archives were opened and people began to publicly discuss the real history of their country. One could have expected that finally Russia would deal with it’s past the same way other countries do: be open about historical facts, don’t dispute facts that are obvious, and leave the interpretation of history to public and academic debate. And above all: don’t recreate history for propaganda purposes.
Of course, Putin’s Russia had to reach back to the old Soviet tradition: history is not there to have an idea about what really happened in the past and how nowadays society was shaped, history has only one purpose: glorifying the Russian state. School books were rewritten with that goal, previous attempts going back to the days of perestroika to assess what really happened were vilified, or cut out of public discussion and so on. If there is one nation on earth, that is completely deluded about it’s own history, than it is Russia – all thanks to years of hard work of both the Soviet Union and the Putin regime to wipe out the past and replace it with a history of their own making.
Recently, in an interview with Echo Moskvy, Feliks Lapin, mayor of Kaliningrad, showed to what absurdities this approach to history leads. He declared in all earnestness that Kaliningrad didn’t became part of Russia after World War II, but that Koenigsberg, as it was called before 1945, was a Russian city that became a part of the Russian empire two centuries ago. Now, as the name already indicates, the origins of Koenigsber/Kaliningrad, are not to be found in RUssian history. In fact, the city was founded by the German Teutonic Order in 1255. It became later a part of Prussia, first as a fief of Poland, later, in 1701, it became the place where the first German king of Prussia was crowned. During the Napoleontic wars, Koenigsberg became the centre of Prussian resistance against France. Almost throughout it’s entire history, the city remained in German hands. Only in April 1945 the city was occupied by the Soviet Army. The Soviets changed the name into Kaliningrad, and after deporting or killing the reamins of the German population, turned it into a thoroughly Russian city.
Before 1945, there was nothing Russian about the city. It was an important German harbour, it was also a cultural centre and in some ways the spiritual capital of Prussia. The most famous of it’s citizens was Immanuel Kant, on of the most important philosophers in history and one of the icons of German culture. You would have to search very far to find any traces of Russia in the history of this thoroughly German city. So, what was the basis of the claim that Koenigsberg became a Russian city two hundred years ago? During the Seven Years’ War, when Prussia was fighting Russia, the city was briefly – from 1758 to 1762 – occupied by Russian troops. During that time, Empress Elisabeth I of Russia issued an ukase about the incorporation of Koenigsberg in Russia. Apart from this, there is no link whatsoever between the history of Koenigsberg and that of Russia before 1945. But for the mayor of Kaliningrad, this is enough to claim that Koenigsberg is an old Russian city. Apparently he thinks a few years of Russian occupation make the birth place of Kant into a Russian city — and Kant himself probably into a Russian philosopher.
According to the same logic, Poland, once a part of the Russian empire, should be considered Russian above all. THe same probably goes for Finland, the Baltic states – not to mention Ukraine, Belarussia or Georgia. What once was Russian, even for a brief moment in history, should be considered first and foremost Russian until the end of times. The neighbours of Russia better be warned.