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Regular version of the site

Kaliningrad Continues its Drift Away

How Demographic Trends are Making the Exclave More Isolated


Kaliningrad may become even more detached from mainland Russia. In addition to its geographical isolation, the exclave is becoming increasingly isolated demographically and ethnically. The region’s population is almost uniform: its share of natives has grown, while its migratory ties with other countries and regions have weakened. These are the findings of a new study by HSE demographers Salavat Abylkalikov and Vitaly Sazin.

An Island State

Over the course of their study, the researchers analysed migration patterns to and from Kaliningrad from the late 1980s to the mid-2010s. Based on censuses (1989, 2002, and 2010) and micro-censuses of the population (1994, 2015), the researchers learned that the region is not only isolated geographically but increasingly demographically as well. The population is becoming more homogenous with only a marginal influx of people from outside regions. Kaliningrad is therefore becoming less and less connected with other parts of the Russia. Furthermore, the researchers observe preconditions for the emergence of an ‘island state’ - the ultimate self-sufficiency of the region.

Kaliningrad’s ‘separateness’ results from several factors:

1. The region’s geographical distance from mainland Russia.

2. An increase in the proportion of residents who are indigenous to the region, or, in other words, a kind of demographic closedness. After 1945, the region was settled by immigrants from other Soviet regions who maintained ties with their homelands. The younger generations of the region are, generally, already local natives. So, among Kaliningraders born in 1973, according to the 1994 micro-census, 73% came from the exclave itself. In 1983, 82% of the population was born there, and by 1993 this number was 97%.
      ‘If previous generations continued to maintain ties with other regions of Russia (i.e., the regions where they were born), then for the new generations, the separation from the mainland is most likely a given; it is their reality,’ explains Salavat Abylkalikov.
3. Weak migration ties with other territories. While the region receives a small influx of new residents, it is marginal. Only a small number of Russians relocated there under a resettlement programme: instead of the planned 300,000, only 31,500 people relocated there between 2007 and 2016. (However, in most other regions participating in the programme, figures are even lower).

4. In the local population, the share of those born in western former USSR republics is decreasing: between 1989 and 2010, the share of Kaliningraders born in Belarus fell from 8.5% to 3.6%, while the share born in Ukraine fell from 7.2% to 3.7%. Older generations of Kaliningraders, many of whom come from these countries, are leaving, and the influx of immigrants from these countries is small. As a result, the region has fewer intercultural ties to outside regions than it could.

‘There are fewer and fewer Kaliningraders who were born not only in other regions of Russia, but in neighbouring countries as well. This makes the Russian exclave all the more isolated,’ says Salavat Abylkalikov.

The increasingly hermetic nature of the region’s demographic makeup is somewhat diluted by migration from Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan, and the Caucasus. However, this has little effect on the regional identity there.

The Population and Regional Isolation

After World War II, almost the entire German-speaking population of the former Konigsberg was deported to the Soviet zone of German occupation. Kaliningrad was then repopulated. Natives of many regions of Russia and the then Soviet republics were involved in the development of the territory formed by decree of the USSR Council of Ministers of July 9, 1946 after the war. Since the 1950s, the population has been steadily increasing. This growth resulted both from migratory influxes and natural growth, whereby birth rates outpaced mortality rates.

In 1950, Kaliningrad had a population of 400,000. By the end of the decade, the region’s population had increased by 150%, and by 1989, it had doubled. In the 2010s, the region had a population of almost one million.

However, the younger a generation, the higher its share is of native-born Kaliningraders. On the one hand, this creates a regional identity. On the other hand, it paves the way for a kind of ‘monolith’. An ethnic ‘concentration’ is taking root, and it is becoming less and less diluted by representatives of other Russian territories and ethnic groups.

Inflated Numbers

The migration links that the region has are very important for the exclave. Increases in migration affect the population numbers.

 From 1997 - 2007, migration compensated for natural declines in the population (mortality).

 Since 2007, there has been a slight decrease in natural population decline. Together with a continued increase in migration, this led to a general increase in population. However, between 1999 and 2010, migration rates dipped somewhat.
 Since 2011, migration figures have grown significantly (which affected the total population). However, it seems that this rise was partly due to a change in the migrant registration system, and some overestimation occurred.

The fact is that people registered in Kaliningrad for periods of nine months or more began to be included in the region’s records of registered residents. This included, for example, students studying abroad in the region with registration that was valid up to a calendar year. As a result, the rate of incoming migration appeared higher than it was in reality.

The numbers were affected thus: in 2007, the increase in migration to Kaliningrad amounted to 3,300 people. In 2010, it almost doubled, reaching up to 6,400 people, and by 2014, it reached 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, the question remains of how amenable migrants are to settling in the exclave and, in one way or another, affecting regional identity. ‘The question of whether this population influx was real or not will be clarified in the upcoming 2020 census,’ says Abylkalikov.

The main sources of immigration are neighbouring countries and, to a lesser extent, other regions of Russia. As for immigration from regions within Russia, under a programme designed to attract Russians to the region, about 31,500 ethnic Russians moved to the exclave by 2016 (by the programme’s tenth year). This figure is high, but not a record. Russian regions attracting the largest numbers of settlers were the Kaluga and Lipetsk Regions, which received 49,500 and 41,200 new residents from within Russia, respectively.

At the same time, there is a certain loss in population to nearby European countries, which include Germany, Poland, the Baltic States, and Northern Europe.

Ethnic Uniformity

An important factor in the migration processes is the population’s ethnic composition. According to census data, in 1989, ethnic Russians’ share of the population was 78%; in 2002 it was 83.1%; and in 2010 it was 86.4%. The majority of immigrants (two thirds, or 75,000 people) who came to Kaliningrad after the fall of the Soviet Union were ethnically Russian. The contribution to the population by other nationalities (including Russian sub-ethnic groups) is not significant.

While many residents of Kaliningrad came from Belarus or Ukraine during the Soviet period, today these and other western post-Soviet countries provide a much smaller share of the population.

According to the 1989 census, almost one in seven Kaliningraders was born in Soviet Belarus or Ukraine. But in 2010, this number was nearly halved.

This decrease is partly due to emigration from the region or assimilation and changes in ethnic self-identification, especially in mixed families. But its main reason is the population’s age distribution. The population’s older generations have higher shares of Ukrainians and Belarusians, and mortality, correspondingly, is higher amongst these populations. In 1994, the largest share of Belarusians fell into the category of 55-59 years of age. That is, among immigrants from Belarus, ‘most were this age, although they obviously arrived earlier, in the 1950s-70s,’ the authors say. As a point of comparison, the largest age group amongst immigrants from Kazakhstan is 30-34 years of age. This difference persisted until 2015, at which point the age profile of immigrants from Belarus became even older.

Against this backdrop, the number of immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan) is growing in the region.

Connection to the Mainland

The researchers note that the region is becoming more ‘settled’, rooted, and stable. On the other hand, its exclave status and increasing independence may lead to a transformation of regional identity. The region may ‘close in on itself’. Kaliningraders’ feeling of disconnection from mainland Russia will increase.

At the same time, there is clearly a need for additional studies that would allow them to study the formation of regional identity there, the authors emphasize.

‘Both regular monitoring of local attitudes, and, probably, certain integration measures are crucial for strengthening the relationship between the residents of Kaliningrad and the rest of the country,’ concludes Salavat Abylkalikov. But this is another migration story.


Study authors:
Salavat Abylkalikov, Lecturer of the Department of Demography and Institute of Demography, HSE; Junior Research Fellow, Laboratory of Social and Demographic Policies, Institute of Demography, HSE
Vitaly Sazin, doctoral student, Department of Management, St. Petersburg School of Economics and Management, HSE University-St. Petersburg
September 22