Could Kaliningrad become Disneyland?

  • 2001-02-22
Only Russia could find itself with such a basket case on its hands.

A million Russians have suddenly found themselves completely cut off while still within the borders of their own country. They are about to become more isolated than ever, surrounded by EU and NATO members Lithuania and Poland. These Russians live in Kaliningrad.

Bulldozed after the World War II and rebuilt to make way for some fine examples of Soviet architecture - the monstrous, unfinished House of Soviets is a prime example - Kaliningrad is not a desirable place to live.

Chronic drug abuse has made it the AIDS capital of Russia. The economy, if there is one at all, is stagnant, and Moscow's half-hearted idea of making it a "free economic zone" has failed.

Kaliningrad recently became the focus of accusations that evoke that old Cold Warrior spirit, with the West worried about reports of top secret nukes and Russia growling about NATO reconnaissance flights in the area.

Kaliningrad is looking increasingly like a limb with the blood supply cut off. Gangrene is about to set in. Russia can do nothing else but amputate as quickly as possible.

If Russia ever were considering getting shot of its unnecessary exclave, would anybody really want to buy this ugly, poverty-stricken, crime-riddled hole?

The rumor mill has been full of stories about Germany relieving Russia of its burdensome outpost in return for debt cancellation. Germany would in effect be buying back Kaliningrad, which is the northern part of what used to be East Prussia, part of the pre-war German empire.

But Germany is already struggling to rejuvenate its own backward lands, the old East Germany.

Lithuania and Poland also lay historical claim to the region. But the charm of Koenigsberg is sadly long gone, and taking on Kaliningrad's woes would surely jeopardize these aspirants' chances of economic success.

That leaves Kaliningrad one single possible savior, the United States. Yes, this wayward region could finally present the U.S. with the opportunity it always wanted Ð to get a secure foothold in Europe.

Of course, Kaliningrad is no Alaska (purchased from Russia for two cents an acre in 1867). It has no oil or gold.

But there is one perfect way for the U.S. to transform Kaliningrad into a money spinner, lifting it out of its terminal depression, and attract tourism to the entire Baltic region.

Turn Kaliningrad into one huge theme park, a "Soviet Disneyland". The entire basket case would become a stunning lucrative business, and without any investment.