With its imperial illness and limitless desire to expand territories, Russia caused a great deal of sorrow to other countries and peoples. In Central and Eastern Europe, it is difficult to find a country that has not been “steamrolled” by Russian culture or political pressure, if not tanks. The world perfectly understands the absurdity of Russia’s sham referendums held in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The whole thing looks like the agony of the aggressor country, which is trying to redraw the map by any means. As a response to this senseless situation, thousands of Polish and Czech internet users have started a satirical battle for the “Czech Královec”. Though, the joke seems to have grown out of control.
The news about the Russian “referendums” in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, as well as the decision of the aggressor country to declare these lands as its own (i.e., to annex them), did not intimidate the global community, but became a laughing stock. Ukrainians and foreigners mock at the presumptuousness and legal incoherence of these actions.Once again Russia has shown that it neglects international (and even its own) laws. Moreover, the aggressor country tried to grab territories which it does not control in fact.
The recent sham referendums in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in 2022 (and also of Luhansk and Donetsk in 2014) outraged all Ukrainians. Ukraine did not hesitate to respond. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, made a decree that recognized as null and void Putin’s decision regarding the “independence” of a number of regions of Ukraine. Ihor Smilyanskyi, the “Ukrposhta” CEO signed an executive order declaring the territory of the Moscow Kremlin as the property of his joint-stock company, and the American astronaut Scott Kelly “annexed” Mount Olympus volcano on Mars with his tweet.
A prank about the “annexation” by the Czech Republic of the Kaliningrad Oblast and the renaming of the city of Kaliningrad to Královec went viral. Nonetheless, as the saying goes, there is a grain of truth in this joke, and this truth is a historical fact. As a matter of fact, the city was founded by the crusaders in honour of the Czech king and called Královec.
It is worth reminding that Kaliningrad Oblast is a Baltic exclave of Russia, i.e., a region geographically separated from the main territory of the country and surrounded by other states. This being the case, it is “squeezed” by Lithuania and Poland, and it is washed by the Baltic Sea. Until 1945, Kaliningrad Oblast’s centre of the city of Koenigsberg did not fall under the category “historic Russian lands”, but it was actually a part of the German province of East Prussia. However, the Soviet Union annexed this territory after Germany’s defeat in WWII.
Kaliningrad is separated from the territory of Belarus (which is a Russian puppet state supporting the full-scale war) by the so-called Suwałki Gap. NATO considers this area a potential flashpoint if the conflict with Russia does break out eventually. Russian propagandists, instead, often mention that it is possible to attack NATO’s Eastern flank and invade the Baltic States from this very position.
Russians renamed Koenigsberg in honour of the Soviet revolutionary Mikhail Kalinin whose name is directly connected to the crimes of the Soviet totalitarian rule in 1917–1946. Since the city’s founding (initially it was a castle), the neighbouring peoples used to have names for the “Royal Mountain” in their native languages: Karaliaučius for Lithuanians, Królewiec for Poles, Královec for Czechs. In Muscovy, too, the name Královec was used initially, but after Peter I and before its renaming in 1946, the German version, i.e. Königsberg, was used more often. Apart from Russians, many Ukrainians and Belarusians were resettled in the newly created Kaliningrad Oblast as well. Even now, in the XXI century, they build up significant national minorities in the region.
The modern meme started off with a tweet by a Polish user @papież internetu who suggested that Russian Kaliningrad be divided between Czechs and Poles so that the Czechs would finally gain access to the sea. The tweet has gone viral, it was shared by the European Parliament member Tomáš Zdechovský amongst others.
This triggered a number of other comic tweets. Even the official account of the Czech Ministry of the Interior jokingly pointed out that they’ve been wondering where to find an expert on maritime borders.
The idea of retaking Kaliningrad was picked up by the satirical website AZ247. A petition for the “annexation” of the territory has been created, and as of October 8, 2022 it already collected more than 19,000 signatures. It says that the reason for the “annexation” is that the city of Koenigsberg was founded by the Bohemian king Přemysl Otakar II in 1255. “As Russia showed us in Crimea and is now showing us in the east of Ukraine, it is perfectly fine to step onto the territory of a foreign state, announce a referendum there and then annex the territory,” the petition states.
Actually, even a website and an “official” Twitter account for Královec have been created. The latter had over 82,000 followers as of the 8th of October, 2022. “After a successful referendum, 97.9% of Kaliningrad residents decided to join the Czech Republic and rename the city as Královec. ” This quote from the website is an obvious reference to “referendums” orchestrated by Russia in Ukraine.
The prank has spread all over social media so promptly that it was also caught up by users from other countries. For instance, the Poles, along with the Czechs, made up their minds to start building the Czech Baltic fleet with aircraft carriers and extended a pipeline carrying beer (Beer Stream) to Královec. Czech online stores. Postal operators and banks publish announcements about establishing their stores and branches in Královec. Czech media asks politicians about Královec, and weather forecasts show a map of the region. It seems like in a matter of days the prank has grown into a full-blow information movement on the verge of a joke, and it is actually counteracting Russian propaganda.
The story of the Czech Královec is another ample proof of the fact that any war takes place not only at the battlefield these days, but also on the media scene. Memes are a specific potent weapon here. At this point, unfortunately, not all opinion leaders acknowledge that Russia has violated international standards, so such jokes bring forward the obvious absurdity and illegitimacy of the Russian authorities’ actions.
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