| Aussiedler in Germany
Pergande, Frank. "Aussiedler in Germany." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August, 2003.
PEITZ, GERMANY.. A visitor gets a nervous Guten Tag from Olga,
but after that an interpreter is needed. So her grandmother, Valentina,
helps with the simpler questions, since she still understands German
and can speak it a little. It's too bad great-grandmother Klara
is away, a visitor is told: She grew up speaking German at home.
Home was the small town of Kaptshagay, Kazakhstan, and during Valentina's
childhood she was fluent in German, but then she married a Russian
and forgot most of it. It didn't seem anything to worry about at
the time; it never occurred to her, or to anyone else in her family,
that they would one day move to Germany.
Olga, who is 19 and nine months pregnant, married the child's father
recently and two days later she was en route to Germany, becoming
the eighth member of her family to settle in this country after
being recognized as Aussiedler - literally “emigrants,“
but specifically those ethnic Germans who moved east over the centuries.
Today, the term usually refers to ethnic Germans from the former
Soviet Union who did not start coming to Germany in large numbers
until the 1990s.
So far, 2.5 million of these “German-Russians“ have
come. No one knows how many more will.
Back in Kazakhstan, Valentina's husband, Aleksandr, was an engineer,
she worked in a ceramics factory, and Olga decorated new apartments.
In 1996 they decided to leave for Germany, but when the time to
leave finally came this year, Aleksandr was told he had to stay
behind. He will be joining them soon, after resolving some routine
problems with his personal documents, Olga says. Although the three
women had relatives in North Rhine-Westphalia, their request to
go there was rejected.
All German-Russians are first sent to a reception center in Friedland,
Lower Saxony, and then parceled out among the 16 states. That's
how Klara and her family ended up in this small Brandenburg town,
in a prefabricated concrete apartment block that once housed Polish
workers employed nearby during the communist era. When the Poles
went home the building was turned into a temporary shelter for the
German-Russians, and about half of its 600 beds are full. In a few
days, Klara, Valentina and Olga will move to another center, just
a few kilometers away, where they will wait until a public housing
unit becomes available. In the meantime, they have been instructed
to use their time in Peitz to get accustomed to life in Germany.They
are already starting to realize that language is just one barrier,
and that the cultural
differences involved in coming to the West are huge. Moreover, they
cannot move closer to their “compatriots“ in larger
towns, but must stay where they are assigned for at least three
year unless they find work and agree to be completely responsible
for their own support.
That is not easy for them in a country with over 4 million unemployed.
A 2001 study by the German government found that 20 percent of German-Russians
were jobless, about double the overall national rate and even higher
than the 17 percent rate for foreigners, which they legally are
not.“Many have qualifications with little value on the German
labor market,“ the study concluded.Still, their prospects
are by no means hopeless: many companies have found German-Russians
to be reliable and hard working, and advertisements in prosperous
Baden-Württemberg in particular seek specifically to recruit
them. But for the highly educated it can be more difficult because
language becomes more of an issue and their qualifications are often
challenged, according to the Otto Benneke Foundation, which helps
with their integration.
Still, many German-Russian professionals are now working, especially
as doctors.Germans began settling in Russia after Catherine the
Great, who was German, decided the country needed new settlers,
possessing modern technical skills to develop her adopted country.
They were lured with an exemption from taxes and a promise of religious
freedom and the Volga region in particular was soon thriving.
This long success story ended in 1941, when Nazi Germany attacked
the Soviet Union. Ethnic Germans were quickly declared enemies of
the state and forcibly removed to Siberia and some of the more remote
areas of Kazakhstan. Many were pressed into the Trud armija, the
workers' army, where they performed the hardest imaginable labor
under appalling conditions.
German-language schools were abolished, and many of the ethnic
Germans accepted Russian nationality, rediscovering their German
roots only when the cold war ended and they saw a chance to emigrate
to a new life in Germany. Here, they can become citizens fairly
quickly under a citizenship law, still largely based on the principle
of blood, that was created to help the millions of ethnic German
refugees expelled from eastern Europe at the end of World War II.
German officials are aware of duplicity in the application process
and acknowledge that only a quarter of the group classified as German-Russians
are ethnically German; the rest are their dependents. The number
of German-Russians who emigrated was much higher than expected,
and some 100,000 are still coming every year. Taken aback by the
costs of bringing the German-Russians to Germany and sponsoring
their integration, the German government is making it more difficult
for them to come. The required German proficiency tests have become
much more difficult, and migrants must now pay their own transportation
costs.According to a formula agreed between the federal and state
governments, each state accepts German-Russians in proportion to
its share of Germany's population.
Relatives without status as ethnic Germans are classified as foreigners
and do not receive the transition payments, and language courses,
provided from public funds. Brandenburg, with its 19.8 percent jobless
rate, is not German-Russians' favored destination, although they
do find that people in the eastern German states are generally more
sympathetic than those in the West to people trying to make their
way in a new foreign system.
Klara, Valentina and Olga have only a few weeks to wait until they
receive the pink certificate certifying them as ethnic Germans,
which will lead to German citizenship, but they say they do not
feel like citizens, and worry constantly about how they will fare
in their new country. Everyone assures them that the children quickly
adjust, but what about German-Russian adults? The women have heard
that many turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with their loneliness
and disorientation.Olga says little during the interview, and it
remains unclear if the problem was entirely one of linguistic incomprehension
or, rather, a simple unwillingness to say much about
herself. As a reporter leaves, she offers a gentle auf Wiedersehen.