On Intersections of Land, Law, and Literature, from Primitive Territories to the Post-National Future

Tensions in the Exclave: The New Cold War and Kaliningrad (April 6, 2015)

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Another sign of the return of Cold War emerged in the news today (here following BBC reporting): responding to Russian missile deployment at Kaliningrad, Poland plans to build observation towers on its land border with Russia. As I have written about before, tensions between the European Union and the Russian Federation have been increasing, and we see here a “cold,” but still militarist example to add to economic Russo-EU competition. The border fortification program, as the BBC reports, will cost $3.8 million (14 million zloty), with 75% of the budget coming from the European Union’s External Borders Fund.

One of the things that makes this particular border issue intriguing to this blog is the fact that Kaliningrad is an exclave—Russian territory (part of the Kaliningrad Oblast) that is not connected to Russia proper, but is in fact between Polish and Lithuanian lands. Considering theorists of nationalism such as Ernest Gellner who have argued that nationalist development differs from imperialist development in favoring static, contiguous territories (a view that makes the expansionist regimes of, say, the World War II era either anomalous or indeed aloof from national identity), the exclave stands as an intriguing challenge: all the armature of territorial nationalism is deployed, but in a space that challenges everyday assumptions about how national space unfolds. It is fascinating to me to see the dance of retaliatory gestures of the Cold War era, with the EU a new entity intervening in what was previously a US-NATO vs USSR dynamic. An exclave such as Kaliningrad should make for a geographically fascinating area in which to see how new modes of territorialism play out.

In reading about the EU’s External Borders Fund, whose mission statement page highlights the investments required to maintain the integrity of external borders, I was fascinated by how much such external borer maintenance is tied to the goal of free movement within those borders. The External Borders Fund foregrounds the EU’s interests in the Schengen zone, which features areas where internal movement is seen as a right and something to be facilitated. Intriguingly, not all EU members are part of this Schengen zone (the UK a prominent non-participant), while non-EU members are also part of this artificial zone designed to enable and protect free movement. It will be interesting to see if this dialectics of internal-external pressure leads to explicit debates about how neo-Cold War tensions are affecting the possibility of expanding free movement—or whether it will simply seethe beneath the surface.

As I have written about before here, here, and here, the European Union has itself become a locus of great internal tensions, with nationalist energies militating against federalism. The Kaliningrad tensions will perhaps offer an excellent indicator of whether there will be a rallying around this federalist vision that can enable such free movement as the Schengen zone entails—or whether it may indeed cause further fracturing among members.


Author: Randy P. Schiff

I am an Associate Professor of English currently at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. I specialize in Middle English literature, with special interests in alliterative verse, medieval romance, Scottish poetry, Old French poetry, Arthurian literature, ethnic identity, imperialism, nationalism, ecocriticism, courtly love, and literary history.

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