Saturday, 16 June 2018

A Football Match and a reminder of 'The Kaliningrad Question'


I must confess to have been temporarily dumbstruck when perusing a World Cup brochure a few weeks ago upon discovering that the Nigerian national football team would be playing their first match in the city of Kaliningrad.

Kaliningrad?

Surely all the former Russian Soviet cities had reverted back to the original names they had under the Russian empire. Leningrad is now Saint Petersburg, Sverdlovsk went back to being Yekaterinburg, while Stalingrad, although not becoming Tsaritsyn once more, is now known as Volgograd.

To be sure, I have noted Kaliningrad in recent times when writing about Russia’s attempts to counter NATOs deployment of anti-ballistic nuclear shields in Eastern Europe, but did not ponder on it.

Kaliningrad has a much forgotten historical and geopolitical significance.

Nestled between Poland and Lithuania, in part of what used to be East Prussia, Kaliningrad,* formerly known as Konigsberg, serves as a reminder of part of the radical adjustments made to national borders and the wholesale transfer of populations after the Second World War.

Not only was the ethnic German population murdered or expelled by the Red Army, the Soviet and now Russian occupation of Konigsberg underlines the fact that the status of East Prussia has yet to be settled by a formal peace treaty ending the state of war between the victorious allies and Germany. The Potsdam Conference of July 1945, which sanctioned the forcible expulsion of ethnic Germans from parts of Central and Eastern Europe, provided that the Soviet Union’s occupation of Konigsberg and the surrounding land would continue until a peace treaty was signed with Germany.

Thus, it is argued, mainly by die-hard German nationalists, that German sovereignty remains compromised by Russian occupation of Konigsberg and United States ‘occupation’ of what was West Germany.

So does a state of war still exist between Germany and the nations against whom it fought up until 1945? And to which country does Kaliningrad, nee Konigsberg belong?

Well, in regard to the first question, one answer is to state that while Germany did not formally sign a peace contract at the end of World War Two, a state of war can hardly be argued to persist. The absence of a treaty is, it is argued, covered by the German Instrument of Surrender signed by representatives of the three armed services of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht. A dictated peace it may be, but it underlined the objective of maintaining peace between previously warring states.

An alternative way of looking at the situation is by reference to the ancient concept of debellatio. This refers to where one protagonist in a war has been totally destroyed so that none of its institutions exist for it to be able to exercise control over previously sovereign territory. The classic example of this is the Roman conquest of Carthage. After the Third Punic War, Carthage ceased to exist. An analogy can thus be made to the state of affairs existing at the end of the war when the Third Reich disintegrated and was subsequently succeeded by two German states.

So far as the territory of Konigsberg-Kaliningrad is concerned, the question of ceding it to the current unified German state or granting it autonomy remains a hypothetical one. Attempts at resettling the area with ethnic Germans has not met with much success. By virtue of the Final Settlement Treaty of 1990, Germany renounced all claim to Konigsberg-Kaliningrad, although it did not formally transfer its former title to any other party.

But so much for history and geopolitics. The pressing issue tonight is how Nigeria fare against Croatia in the second match of what is billed the ‘Group of Death’.

*Mikhail Kalinin was a high-ranking Bolshevik functionary who became the head of state of the USSR and for whom the city was named in 1946.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2018)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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