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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Kaliningrad looks to Europe
Kaliningrad border post
Kaliningrad people want free movement across borders

A tiny region on the Baltic Sea coast has become the most divisive issue between the European Union and Russia.

Kaliningrad - currently a Russian enclave stranded from Russia proper - is about to be surrounded by an enlarged European Union.

Seized by Stalin from Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, its only access to the rest of Russia is via Lithuania or Poland, which are both hoping to join the EU in 2004.

Then, Russians will need visas to travel to and from Kaliningrad - hence President Putin's row with Brussels over what he sees as a violation of Russian sovereignty.

Map showing Kaliningrad
But perhaps an even bigger problem for Russia is that Kaliningrad's ties with the motherland are fading.

Only 15% of young people there have been to Russia while 80% have been to Europe - and that is where many see their future.

On a hot summer's day, the youngsters sipping Cokes or beers at the cosy pavement cafe look the same as in any other European city.

Only the music, and the amount the youngsters smoke, suggests we are still in Russia.

Kaliningrad has become the biggest bone of contention between Moscow and Brussels, as the EU expands eastwards to Kaliningrad's borders.

We are Russians because we speak Russian and we have Russian culture, but because of our connections with Europe we feel kind of European

TV reporter Svetlana Kolbanyova

On the evening independent TV news in Kaliningrad, on the Kaskad channel, the young reporter Svetlana Kolbanyova announces that the Russian president is again defying Brussels.

She reports President Putin's latest statement, saying he will not give in to Europe's insistence that Russians will need visas to cross from Kaliningrad to Russia proper, once Lithuania and Poland join the European Union.

Once the bulletin is finished, Svetlana tells me her own views. Like many here, she travels often to Germany, Poland and Lithuania.

She spent several years studying in Berlin, just 600 kilometres away. I ask her if she feels more Russian or more European.

"Mr Putin wouldn't like my answer, but I'm the second generation of Kaliningraders, my mother was born here and so was I," she says.

"I have no relatives in Russia and I have no reasons to go there. And I think most young people feel the same as me.

"I think Kaliningrad dreams of being European. It's a kind of mix. We are Russians because we speak Russian and we have Russian culture, but because of our connections with Europe we feel kind of European."

German past

There is another reason for that feeling - Kaliningrad's German past. For hundreds of years this was German territory - Koenigsberg, capital of East Prussia. It has been Russian for less than 60.

We visit a new church in one of the leafiest suburbs of the city, where the old German villas stayed miraculously intact despite the bombing and the fighting during World War II.

Kaliningrad still has reminders of its richer past

The Russian women singing in German at the church choir are ethnic Germans, driven out of their homes in former Soviet republics after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

They sought refuge in Kaliningrad and their Lutheran church is run by a German couple, the Wolframs.

Luise Wolfram was born here in 1939, before her parents fled during the war. She is sensitive to local concerns about Germans returning to Kaliningrad, but says ordinary people have welcomed them.

"The attitude of the population here is in favour of the Germans," she says "especially the young people. They long for contacts with Germany. These young people learn computer programming, and they learn English or German. Russia itself is not so interesting for them."

The Russian families who came here in 1945 inherited a city devastated by war.

Stalin ensured that the region┐s German population was driven out.

During the Cold War, Kaliningrad became a secretive, closed naval port. Yet since the collapse of communism, it hasn┐t prospered as the locals prayed it would.

The Hong Kong of the Baltics, which Kaliningrad's one million people wanted to become, has failed to materialise.

Looking westward

But now some hope to capitalise on its location so close to Germany.

Andrei Levchenko is a successful local nightclub owner, who is campaigning to return Kaliningrad to its original name of Koenigsberg.

He says the enclave's ties with Russia are shallow, and that it must start looking westwards for its future.

"I can't say that my friends and I have that many connections with Russia. My business is connected to Russia a bit, but I think Moscow is acting like a dog with a bone with Kaliningrad," he tells me.

"We are living here on German soil. And the main problem for the Russians in Kaliningrad is that we want a good life, but we don't understand we have to work hard for it.

"We need to behave more like Europeans - go to bed early, get up early, and stop drinking and partying every night."

That inclination to party all night at Andre's club Vagonka does him no harm. But in the sober light of day, the people of Kaliningrad are worried.

The row with Brussels could leave them more isolated than ever - yet tantalisingly close to the EU.

What they would like is the freedom to continue travelling and trading beyond their borders - not just with Russia but with the new Europe, which is where some in Kaliningrad believe their future lies.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"Europe is where they believe their future lies"
See also:

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