Sunday, 1 August 2010

Quick notes

A few quick notes about things I've read today, since it's a Sunday afternoon and the weather's not very nice. There's lots of excellent Russia coverage around today, led by a piece on Comment is Free by Stefan Berger, a German academic, summarising the fallout of a report in Der Spiegel, which claimed that Gorbachev had offered the West Germans the city of Kaliningrad (Königsberg to the Germans) in 1990 during the German re-unification talks.

A bit of background: The city was the capital of Prussia for centuries and a major German cultural centre until 1945, when the Russians levelled the city, drove out the Germans and moved in Russian settlers to Kaliningrad, a concrete workers' paradise named after one of Stalin's henchmen (less gloriously, Königsberg had also been a fervent focus for Nazism). The interesting part in Berger's piece is this paragraph:

"But what about the Kaliningraders themselves? All survey data indicates that the vast majority see themselves as Russian, but Russian with a difference – more European. Kaliningrad intellectuals have been spearheading a rediscovery of the enclave's German past. Many are proud of their few German architectural remains and there has been vociferous support for the rebuilding of the German castle, destroyed by the Soviets. Some even support the renaming of Kaliningrad to Königsberg."
 This is a big difference to how the region is usually portrayed in the media, as a hotbed of belligerent, uncomprising Russian ultranationalism of the sort usually reserved for enemies in computer games whose writers are determined to find a way of letting the player fight the Cold War. I haven't been myself, so I can't give an opinion on this, but I'd love to go there and find out more. It seems fascinating.

Elsewhere, glancing at Der Spiegel I noticed a very incisive English-language piece on the situation in Russia's restive, Islamist-leaning republic of Dagestan. A friend of mine in Moscow travelled there to interview the family of one of the bombers from the Moscow metro suicide attacks and corroborated a lot of what Schepp has to say here (my reflections on arriving in Moscow shortly after the attacks). Also, Anna Matveeva, previously all too often the Guardian's resident mouthpiece for Putin-style "sovereign democracy", is quite good on the subject of Kyrgyzstan, although studiously refusing to admit any hint that Russia may be doing a lot behind the scenes.

In the Times, which I can't give you any links to because of the paywall and the fact I read it on some dead trees, Caitlin Moran kicks AA Gill's arse on the subject of the excellent Sherlock, while Christina Lamb is very informative on Pakistan.