Row over 'traitor' philosopher Kant hits Russian hometown


Moscow (AFP)

German philosopher Immanuel Kant has sparked surprising tensions in his Russian hometown over the prospect of naming the airport after him, with officials branding him a "traitor" and vandals throwing paint at his tomb.

Kant was born and spent most of his life in Prussian Koenigsberg, which was renamed Kaliningrad after coming under the control of the Soviet Union in the wake of World War II. Now it is Russia's westernmost city and hosted World Cup matches this year.

Until recently the philosopher was leading an online poll to choose a name for the city's airport, currently called Khrabrovo after the nearby village.

This sparked a furious row with officials blasting Kant as a "Russophobe", even though there is no historical evidence that the philosopher harboured strong feelings toward the Russian Empire.

In a video on regional media, a senior Russian naval officer urges servicemen to vote against Kant in the poll, saying he "betrayed his motherland."

The philosopher, a central figure in Western thought, has now sharply dropped in the rankings below Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, whose army captured the city in 1758 but abandoned it five years later.

Kant, during the brief period of Russian rule, asked the empress to let him teach at the local university, but his letter was never delivered.

"He demeaned himself to get a department in the university, so that he could teach and write some strange books that none of those present here today have read," says the naval officer in the video, identified by local media as Vice-Admiral Igor Mukhametshin, head of the Baltic Fleet staff.

The viral video follows other attacks on Kant in Kaliningrad, which was heavily bombarded during World War II and almost entirely rebuilt in Soviet style while the German population was expelled.

Last week, three Kant-related locations were vandalised with paint: his tomb, a monument to the philosopher and a memorial plaque commemorating the place where his house once stood.

Flyers strewn around the monument expressed satisfaction that "the name of the German Kant will not tarnish our airport."

The spokesman for Kaliningrad's Gothic-style basilica, which houses Kant's tomb, said he couldn't understand the motive behind the anti-Kant protests.

"For Kaliningrad residents, for thinking people, Kant is not a citizen of any certain country, he is an individual of a planetary scope," spokesman Vladimir Silinevich told AFP.

A student at the local state university Mikhail Shipilov was questioned by police after proposing a rally in support of the philosopher on his social networking page, local news website New Kaliningrad said.

A small pro-Kant picket was eventually held near the philosopher's tomb on Sunday.