WHEN Poland and Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004, many were concerned that the Russia exclave of 950,000 inhabitants would be cut off, once surrounded by EU members. (Just under half live in the city of Kaliningrad—east Prussia’s Königsberg until Stalin annexed it 60 years ago.) This changed with Poland’s law on “small-border-traffic”, signed by Russia in December 2011.
Almost two years on, the response to the small-border-traffic law has been very positive.Locals on both sides of the border can apply for a card that allows them to cross the border repeatedly, without the hassle of getting a visa. (Poland has a similar deal with Ukraine). The law encompasses all of Russia’s Kaliningrad region, and includes Olsztyn, Elbl?g and Gda?sk on the Polish side. Other Russians still need a visa to enter Poland, and vice versa.
Card in hand, Kaliningrad’s inhabitants are flocking to Poland, drawn by cheaper groceries, but also DIY shops and Ikea, a Swedish furniture store. Some say they visit a few times a month. In July, the Polish consulate in Kaliningrad issued the hundred thousandth card. Poland is considering opening two new border crossings to cope with demand. Local Poles are also using the card to travel to Kaliningrad, though in smaller numbers.
These trips to Poland are satirised in a recent song by Parovoz, a music group from Kaliningrad, with the chorus “Zdrastvuy Biedronka, zrastvuy Lidl” (hello Biedronka, hello Lidl – two discount supermarkets popular in Poland). Timur Titarenko, the band leader, says he got the idea for the song while queuing at the border on his way to spend a day in Poland. The song has been spreading online; on YouTube, a version with Polish subtitles has had over 200,000 views in two weeks.