Neither: The Young Women of Kaliningrad
23 Feb 2012
This project is an exploration into the hearts of young women in post-soviet Kaliningrad. Locked into dreams of a future that their homeland cannot recognise or fulfill, they look afar. They live estranged from both their motherland and the new Europe and must struggle to negotiate their own place in a society in continual flux. The women I have been living with and sharing with have generously opened up their homes and their minds to allow me to better understand this link between place, identity and history.
Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian enclave, is wedged between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. You must cross over 800km and pass through both Lithuania and Belarus to get to ‘Big Russia’. It is this geographic isolation of being neither a part of Europe, nor being physically connected to the motherland that gives this area its uniqueness. Kaliningrad’s history has been fraught with great transformations from its beginnings. It was once known as Konigsberg, a major city of Prussia, until 1944 when the Red Army invaded and the German and Lithuanian population fled or were killed. Those who live here tell me how, to the rural and the poor of Russia, Stalin proclaimed, ‘Come to Konigsberg – choose your home and build your city.’ Then came the cold war and with its strategic military position and containing the Baltic Fleet, the region was closed to foreigners and only open to certain eminent Russians. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that it re-opened. The independence of Lithuania and Latvia severed Kaliningrad from Russia and has left the region in the fragile position of being an exclave of Russia and an enclave of the EU.
These young women have guided me through the stories of this region and the effect it has had on the individual. Kaliningrad has been isolated in many ways from the beginning and numerous women have never travelled to ‘Big Russia’ but are still true Russians. They have given me an opportunity to fully explore this post-soviet culture and the roles that they play within it, telling me of their dreams and fears. They are caught between a rich Russian history and the new Europe in which they have seen another life, another choice which has made them more hopeful and open than the generations before them.