Tourism as a spatial construct in cross-border cooperation between Kaliningrad Oblast, Lithuania and Poland

Eduardas Spiriajevas
Dr., Associate Professor, Head
Center for Social Geography and Regional Studies, Klaipeda University

The developments on territorial cooperation between the border regions of Lithuania, Poland and Kaliningrad oblast of Russia was an intensively ongoing process for the last twenty years. The most intensive processes on territorial cooperation with the support of the EU programmes started since Lithuania and Poland accessed to the EU, and Kaliningrad region became an exclave of Russia framed by the EU countries. Simultaneously, such changed geoeconomic and geopolitical situation facilitated Kaliningrad oblast to be involved as target area of territorial cooperation in order to develop joint projects and to keep a social, economic and cultural interaction for creation of common value added in cross-border areas of neighboring countries. The legal bodies and public enterprises started to pay an attention to develop the common values and identities based on heritage protection. An organization of joint social events devoted for revitalization of social dialogue between different organizations in borderlands. A significant role has been played by municipal authorities, who were interested to develop joint project based on sharing of experiences and the best practices in solution of common problems in cross-border areas. In addition, the researchers of Klaipeda University (KU) and Baltic Federal University named after Immanuel  Kant (BFU), and from University of Gdansk (UG) were very active in promotion of social, academic, cultural events and researches in order to create the Tripolar space of science and research between Klaipeda – Kaliningrad and Gdansk, and this model of cooperation has been developed and achieved in many different  extents, e.g. organized summer schools of young researchers, workshops and seminars on the problems of cross-border cooperation, development of tourism projects, initiatives on nature monitoring, facilitation of infrastructure for firefighting, and technical assistance etc.

During the period of 2007-2013 there was acting Lithuania-Poland-Russia cross border cooperation programme, which gave an opportunity to implement projects based on cross-border cooperation in three countries at the same time. There were implemented numerous large-scale projects for cultural tourism development and improvement of social environment in border areas. The territorial scope was rather wide and the effect was extended beyond the border areas. Later on, this programme was divided into two different programmes as Lithuania-Russia, and Poland-Russia for the period of 2014-2020. Both newly created programmes were devoted for facilitation of cultural tourism development, environmental protection and development of socially oriented projects. An aspect of tourism has been determined as a key spatial construct for cross-border cooperation in order to support a cultural tourism and nature tourism development, and its interaction on the both sides of the border areas. In Lithuania-Russia programme the areas along Curonian lagoon, Klaipeda and Kaliningrad, Taurage and Sovetsk, Marijampole and Tcherniakhovsk became the most intensively involved areas in tourism development through the actions of cross-border cooperation. Relatively, in Poland-Russia cross-border cooperation programme the areas along Vistula lagoon, Kaliningrad – Elblag and Olsztyn became the target areas for implementation of jointly planned tourism related projects. In Lithuania-Russia cross-border cooperation programme from the 1st call have been approved and implemented 6 projects, from the 2nd call 6 project as well, from the 3rd call 4 projects and 1 assigned into reserved list. The content of these projects reflect on the cultural, historical, natural and maritime values of the heritage objects and their adaptation for cultural tourism and nature recreation development. In total, half of the approved projects in this programe have got a strong spatial construct on tourism development in cross-border areas in order to increase a cultural and tourism interaction in the borderlands of neighboring countries. In the issue, tourism related actions for both countries have been considered as the unifying factors for better cohesions, communication and dialogue between Lithuania and Kaliningrad region of Russia. A protection of heritage, a creation of land and water cross-border tourism routes, a co-designing of almanacs and other digital tourism products facilitated an agreement on common values and identities adopted into local and international tourism markets for better mutual understanding between the neighboring countries. This is being recognized as the most efficient effect of cross-border cooperation with a high political support from the both countries. In addition, in Poland-Russia cross-border cooperation programe implemented 12 large-scale project on historical, cultural and environmental heritage preservation and its adaptation for cross-border tourism development. Tourism related actions have been considered as a junction for better cultural and spatial cohesion between Russian and Polish regions in order to create common values and identities for national and international tourism activities. Cultural tourism and development of recreational infrastructure, restoration of heritage and its adaptation into tourism models, for a long decade it was rather successful model of territorial cooperation. Due to numerous successfully implemented projects Kaliningrad region became more well known for potential tourists from Lithuania and Poland. In particular, a strong facilitation gave the issuance of electronic visas under simplified rules to enter Kaliningrad region for tourism purposes since 1st July 2019. Due to this in 2019 it has been mentioned a significant increase of inbound tourists from Lithuania, Poland and from overseas. Tourism ecosystems in Kaliningrad region started to be integrated with tourism ecosystems of Lithuania and Poland through promotion of cultural, historical tourism development. A cross-border cooperation models between national parks, and border municipalities have been developed. Created common tourism products as tourism almanacs, thematic land tourism routes on common heritage, cycling routes, water routes, ecotourism routes. This activated an involvement of museums, universities, cultural organizations, municipal authorities, tourism information centers in creation of joint tourism physical and digital products based on cross-border cooperation issues and preservation of heritage. The models of cultural tourism elected as the basis for continuous tourism development and facilitation a spatial interaction between the border territories with political support from local and national authorities.

Recently, due to increased geopolitical tensions affected by the war between Russian Federation and Ukraine, and due to implemented sanctions on Russia, all this affected the acting of models of territorial cooperation between Lithuania and Kaliningrad region, and Poland in particular. Currently, the joint implementation of cross-border project stopped for an unlimited time. A models of cross-border cooperation in the field of tourism development stopped to function. An experience of territorial cooperation based on cultural and social interaction stopped to exist after the twenty years of prosperous and promising communication between Lithuanian, Polish and Russian researches, municipal authorities, NGOs, museums, cultural organizations, tourism information centers. A period of uncertainties in tourism system of border regions is obvious in the future.


Expert article 3256

>Back to Baltic Rim Economies 3/2022

To receive the Baltic Rim Economies review free of charge, you may register to the mailing list.
The review is published 4-6 times a year.