Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Pulls the Plug on Kaliningrad Bash

With an eye of St. Petersburg's 300th birthday extravaganza, Kaliningrad decided to throw a big bash next year to celebrate the city's founding 750 years ago as the German settlement of K?nigsberg.

But the Kremlin squashed the plan, sternly reminding the city that it was born in 1946 -- a year after an Allied deal in Potsdam made Kaliningrad a part of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin said Kaliningrad instead should gear up for a lower-key party when it turns 60 in 2006.

The rejection has upset Kaliningrad officials, who had envisioned a lavish celebration along the lines of that thrown by Moscow when it turned 850 in 1997 or the one that will kick off in St. Petersburg on Friday.

"I personally think it is a shame that this date is not recognized at the national level," said Andrei Popov, deputy head of the culture department for the Kaliningrad regional administration.

But Kaliningrad World War II veterans were delighted.

"Our veterans in no way would want to celebrate this date. It is not ours. This is the history of another nation and another culture," said Yury Zamyatin, head of the city's World War II veterans' council, which represents about 5,400 veterans.

"Let those who want to celebrate it go somewhere else and do so," he said by telephone from Kaliningrad.

"We have to be respectful to our veterans, there not so many of them left."

He and other veterans said they also opposed a 750th birthday party because it would fall in the same year as the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory in World War II.

"A great number of our people died here fighting in a war that wasn't started by us," Semyon Koretsky, a retired navy captain and honorary citizen of Kaliningrad, said in a telephone interview.

Kaliningrad officials submitted their plans for a big 750th anniversary bash to the presidential administration last month.

But the presidential legal department fired back a sharp rejection.

"There is no reason to celebrate the proposed date of the founding of the city of Kaliningrad," the department wrote back. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Moscow Times.

Larisa Brycheva, who signed the letter, refused to comment.

The Kaliningrad mayor's office and regional administration said the rejection caught them by surprise. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov had backed Governor Vladimir Yegorov over the plan during a visit to the exclave last fall.

Lidiya Pimenova, spokeswoman for the mayor's office, said the city had been counting on getting the 11 billion rubles ($355 million) it had requested from the federal government ahead of the anniversary.

The city's numerous historical buildings, especially those under federal jurisdiction, require urgent restoration, she said.

As Russia's westernmost region, Kaliningrad has a chronic traffic problem and desperately needs federal money to finish the construction of a major transport hub started over a decade ago, she said.

"These are costly projects we cannot undertake at the city's expense," Pimenova said.

She also said the city will miss out on an opportunity to attract crowds of German tourists -- and their fat wallets.

Until Kaliningrad was seized by the Soviet army in April 1945, the territory was part of German East Prussia and considered for centuries a major center of commerce and culture.

It is also known as the hometown of 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant.

After the war the Soviet authorities eradicated all traces of the German past that remained. The city was renamed after the late Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin.

Soviet textbooks taught that the history of Kaliningrad only started in 1946, prompting a popular joke that there was no history from the time of Adam to Potsdam.