Riigikogu to vote next week on using Königsberg instead of Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad (Königsberg)..
Kaliningrad (Königsberg).. Source: SCANPIX / DPA

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu decided this week to put forward a draft bill, which would oblige the government to use the pre-war German name "Königsberg" to refer to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. The vote is due to take place on October 19, with at least 51 MPs needing to be in favor for it to pass. However, there is no guarantee that this number will be achieved.

Although the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu unanimously backed the initiative put forward by its deputy chair Henn Põlluaas (EKRE), coalition lawmakers admitted to ERR that imposing this form an obligation on the government was not reasonable as there is no mechanism to implement it.

"Even if this decision were to get the support of 51 MPs, it would mean nothing for the government, because the government has no mechanism to implement it," Juku-Kalle Raid (Eesti 200), representative of the draft steering committee, told ERR.

"As an idea, it is a very good one. It's nice to point out that the names of the Communist era should not be used," Raid added. He also suggested that the same principle could be applied to the Russian cities Ivangorod or Kingisepp, which could be referred to by their former names "Jaanalinn" and "Jamburg" respectively.

"However, we don't have any institution that can oblige this, we can only make a recommendation. The current decision would be akin to us telling the Vilnius trolleybus park to rename one of its trolleybuses after Jaan Poska," Raid said.

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson (Reform) also told ERR that there was no substantive opposition to the initiative among the committee and that the Königsberg name should be used wherever possible.

Mihkelson also mentioned that, in September, the Foreign Affairs Committee had already decided to approach the Language Committee of the Estonian Language Society, which has an advisory working group on foreign names, to discuss using the name Königsberg.

"The fact that the committee reached a consensus during its discussions, is a good thing," said Mihkelson.

Henn Põlluaas, told ERR on Thursday that, during Tuesday's committee meeting, members of the coalition still felt "a certain nervousness" about the decision and pointed out some of its inconsistencies. "My understanding is that the Riigikogu, as the legislator, can oblige the government, as the executive, to comply with the decision," he said.

Põlluaas added that if the coalition was really concerned by one particular word (obliges - ed.) in the draft, then they could have proposed an amendment. However, they did not and nor was the point raised in the debate. In his view, this shows that it is simply a pretext for rejecting the draft.

In 1255, the city with the old Prussian name Twangste was renamed Königsberg in honor of King Ottokar II of Bohemia. After World War Two, the city became part of the Soviet Union and was renamed Kaliningrad after the Soviet politician and a leading figure of the Stalinist regime Mikhail Kalinin.

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have already decided to start using the city's pre-war name, to the annoyance of Russia.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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