Interview With Adolph Fetsch
"Interview With Adolph Fetsch." Europa-Express, June 2004.
What principal themes will be discussed on the 28th meeting of
Russian Germans in Karlsruhe?
Translation from Russian to English by Shukrat Usmanov,
edited by Jay Gage
The motto of the forth-coming meeting is “Assimilation and
Recognition”. It is important for us to show our colleagues
the opportunities by sharing from Russian Germans in different “lands”
and how they could be involved in the process of assimilation. In
addition, our demands to government for increased efficiency of
the assimilation arrangements will be discussed. We must use the
potential of our compatriots with their knowledge of Russian and
German languages for helping with different groups of migrants:
especially with young people. This meeting of Russian Germans demonstrates
of interests in our ethnical group, with unity and orderliness.
A broad cultural program will be represented here.
The meetings are being held annually for three years. Those
are some initial stages in life of migrants. What are, in your opinion,
the features of last three years in life of Russian Germans in Germany
and what will be in next three years?
A new Law of Immigration, which is expected for approval in the
near future, recognizes the serious adjustments for German migrants
from the former Soviet Union. In particular, criteria of their admittance
will become tougher. For example, the demand of sufficient knowledge
of the German language will be specifying, not only for ethnical
Germans, but also for the members of their families, which lead
to the bigger complications in the questions of reunion of families.
Of course, knowledge of German language is the inalienable prerequisite
of successful assimilation. However, historical reality was that
not all German families had the opportunity to give knowledge of
German language to children.
Do you think the requirement of passing of the linguistic
test for members of families of ethnical Germans is a true demand?
The association always came out against acceptance of the corresponding
legislative changes. We tried to convince politicians that they
need to show more understanding for destinies of German migrants,
taking into account their history. On the one hand, knowledge of
language is very necessary for the successful assimilation. On other
hand, if new Immigration Law would be accepted where the adult members
of families of ethnical Germans would not pass the linguistic test,
then they could not expect recognition of their rights based on
the Law for migrants. Thus, for them to take the linguistic test
could be a major barrier for return of Russian Germans to their
historical fatherland. Speaking softly, we do not like the new Law;
but despite our efforts, where we had extensive talks with representatives
of all influential parties, we could not achieve the changes. Because
of our conference on issues of concerns, the leaders of the political
party understand the problems of migrants; but the (German) language
issue is, unfortunately, an obstacle to the assimilation of Russian
Germans. This is general opinion of political elite of Germany.
However, the new Immigration Law contains some positive aspects:
for example, the opportunity for family members of ethnic Germans
to take linguistic classes, which are paid by the State. Therefore,
the migrants who came to Germany based on the Section 8 of the Law
for banished status, had not the right for the linguistics classes.
However, they will have the same opportunity in future benefits.
May someone define the sign of equality between knowledge
of the language and successful assimilation? Millions of aboriginal
Germans cannot find jobs, although they have no problems with language.
However, in Germany are living many foreigners who know language
poorly, but have their jobs and consider themselves as successfully
The German government, not only presently, but also previously,
brought forward certain requirements to Russian Germans as conditions
for taking citizenship. Those criteria 1) are the keeping of traditions
of German people and 2) knowledge of the German language. We always
were principally against overestimating of the role of language
in the decision of return of migrants. Historical realities in the
former Soviet Union were so harsh that few Germans (because of certain
reasons, i.e. discrimination, closing of German schools, separating
apart of the German villages, etc.) could transfer knowledge of
German language from generation to generation. We cannot turn time
back and change anything in the past. The government must take into
account these realities. However, if somebody would have told me
15 years ago that: up to year 2004, more then 2.5 million emigrants
from former Soviet Union could come to Germany for permanent residency,
I would judge that he was crazy. This is a great service of our
compatriots. The people who did return to Germany just after war,
or soon after war. They fought for the right for ethnic Germans
to return to their historical fatherland. In addition, our Association,
without exaggeration, is the basic active mechanism to help open
the gates to Germany for millions of Russian Germans. We must be
grateful for German government and German people to make possible
the “process of return”. With all existing problems
of assimilation, the positive role of migrants is recognized by
representatives of national government and the different political
You know the demographic records for the country: the German nation
is going to be older. The average ages of migrants are one-half
less than for aboriginal people. The level of unemployment among
migrants during same time is less than for country. Russian Germans,
along with migrants from other countries, such as Poland, pay billions
to the pension funds. In addition, all of that growth is in the
future, despite the fact that the number of the pensioners in our
ethnical groups is much less than among aboriginal population. Only
ten percent population of Russian Germans is older then 60, only
five percent population is older then 65. However, in the group
of people older then 65: Not all are taking a pension. One can take
the right for pension only by Section Four of the Law for banished
persons. Therefore, nobody can say that the Russian Germans and
members of their families are a burden for the pension system and
for national economics. On the contrary, national German economics
is the winner, which we emphasized more then once during the talks
among various national leaders of Germany. However, one needs to
note that the positions of some our compatriots make constructive
dialog more difficult. I desire that my position would be taken
as a facilitator. Nevertheless, I am asking our compatriots to search
for a solution to their problems in some realistic way, but do not
set up illusory demands.
We are living in Germany now. I have lived here more then sixty
years and retain my identity as a Russian German. I love Russian
culture and Russian music very much. However, staying in Germany,
we are obeying those rules prescribed for the country’s integrity.
In addition, nothing good would come from negligence with these
prescribed rules. This concerns primarily the study of the German
language. It is impossible to stand apart and oppose himself to
rules of behavior which are supported here. “When you are
in Rome, then you must do as the Romans do”. Assimilation
of Russian Germans is proceeding successfully, although one meets
some unpleasant moments. It would be very desirable that our compatriots
were given more participation in various areas of activity: political,
economical and cultural. We already have enough examples when the
Russian Germans had achieved significant success.
Let us look at our sportsmen. On the national hockey team of Germany,
the Russian Germans are represented by two professional players.
The same representation is also occurring within soccer teams of
various levels. Our boxers are also having success. Therefore, we
have enough examples. The most important result is that success
in some kind of chosen activity is bringing the feeling of self-assurance.
Our men and women are very talented and inventive; they are not
afraid for challenges.
The problems of youth criminal activity and narcotic addictions
among young migrants are increasing sharply more than last surveys.
What action is the Association doing in this area?
Narcotic addiction among youth is really a serious problem today.
With that hindrance, young people are victims of social and economical
troubles. I am not going to defend or justify the victims of narcotic
dependency, but this drug problem is not unique to Russian Germans,
since this trouble has affected the whole world. Of course, one
needs to provide the strong guidance.
In the group of “risk”, we have identified high school
students and graduate students who have difficulty in the process
of assimilation. Therefore, we must work further with these people.
The Association helps to manage these kinds of projects, so our
work with different community organizations and with church communities
became to be more fruitful.
Some concerns are that the Association is not paying enough
attention to youth. How would you comment that opinion?
I cannot agree with this assumption. Our association is doing powerful
We are permanently funding for completion of cultural and social
projects. There successfully exists our youth organization here.
We are in continuous contact with young people. In addition, I would
like to solicit for young people: “Please participate more
actively in the helpful work of the Association. If you have some
ideas for projects, please come to our regional organizations. We
have more than 200 of them. When you come to see what we are doing
and what structure we have provided. Any dialog is a two-way road.
Please contact us with your problems, which will be much easier
to solve together.”
Sometimes we need not only do something successfully, but
also to inform other people about your activities. Do you think
that an improvement would be to emphasize and popularize of your
ideas? Many migrants are ignorant or have very unclear information
about the social work of the Association and its structure for accessibility.
Information about our activity is appearing in newspapers periodically.
Naturally, the Russian press shows more interest for our activities.
In the German press, the articles about our work are appearing mostly
on the regional level. With central press, we receive little coverage.
Of course, for our agenda we are sending corresponding information
to many newspapers. But newspapers live for the sensation; thus,
we cannot keep continuous interest of the press for our agenda program.
However, we are giving quick response for any critical information,
as we are attempting to explain our point of view and show corresponding
As far as I know, the Association intends to publish a
newspaper. Could you talk more about it?
I cannot give to you a detailed answer, because that newspaper
is still in preparation. I only want to emphasize that we have intended
to create a bi-linguistic German Russian publication to comment,
inform and to increase interest for a larger number of readers:
newly arrived immigrants, youth and pensioners. This task will not
be easy to do, and we are facing these challenges.
Many letters are arriving in our editorial office from
the people who are concerned what exactly the Association did for
canceling the decision to change pension plans for migrants, which
reduced pensions very much. What would you comment about this?
We are in touch, and we are participating to solve this problem.
Our suit against forty percent reduction of pensions is in the Constitutional
Court at Karlsruhe now. We had also initiated the suit to the Federal
Administrative Court. We are doing everything possible to remove
the quantity of reduced pensions.
Along with your Association, there exists another organization,
which is proclaiming of representing well the interests of Russian
Germans: it is the International Convention of Russian Germans.
Could you to describe difference between the Association and the
We must talk not about differences, but about mutual understanding.
We need to be able to listen, understand each other, and change
our opinion. We must understand that absence of unity within the
ethnic group of Russian Germans hurts us. I can claim with honor
that the Association is the recognized partner in the questions
of assimilation of migrants on level of political parties. If somebody
begins to make some criticism of our activity, than the critic must
be ready to receive some criticism to his views, too. We must respect
each other. The Association is participating actively in political
life of Germany by promoting the interests of our people on each
level; but the Association cannot dictate our terms for the political
parties and stay on a position of influence. We must be able to
find mutual interests with any political party.
Could you see some threat of radicalization of Russian
Germans in the Convention? Many migrants think that if the Association
continues to promote in the same style, than it will loose the support
of the Russian Germans. Russian Germans met with a growing number
of problems, but they have not your support in the situation. H.
Grout, the chair of the International Convention of Russian Germans,
proposes the solution for the problem. Maybe it is some fantasy,
but we see growing interest among migrants for his candidacy. You
will certainly feel it at the meeting on Karlsruhe. What are you
going to do?
We think that it is not simple coincidence. Somebody is making
his own business here. It is another question: could this opposition
be useful? After years of experience, we can see many examples in
political life when some societies were creating on some wave, and
they have disappeared for the short time. Populism does not have
a strong basis. Check the history of the populist’s party
of Shilee. Where is the party now?
There is one more opportunity for the Association to attract
people being more active in political life. The Convention had found
the partner the German Party. The Association is cooperating traditionally
with the Christian Democrats. Why would not the representatives
of migrants stay in their list of candidates for elections? You
see that the Christian Democrats are proclaiming that they are defenders
of the interests of migrants.
The Association is a public organization, which is not depending
on any political party. Any participation of each member of the
Association in political life is his or her private business. But
the members of the Board of the Association are representing the
Association, not some political party. About cooperation with the
German Party: I think it would be better to concentrate the votes
of Russian Germans. Let us assume that the party will take one or
two percent on the elections, and so? Nothing will be changed. I
think we must participate in agendas of political parties represented
in the Parliament, and more actively. It will be more useful. However,
merely being the candidate of some political party is not enough
to better the Russian German. The parties do not have quotes for
migrants or somebody else. If somebody wants to be successful in
politics, that person must work for that party. It is possible to
take the position in the list of candidates of some party for the
elections, but only for the case when you are not only a member
of some ethnic group, but also political activist of this party.
This is only way to be elected into Parliament. This is a reality
of German life. Sorry, when somebody does not understand this reality.
The Russian Germans frequently won the local elections, as we have
our representatives in the level of communes, but only in the districts
where migrants are living in more density.
Our appreciation is extended to Shukrat Usmanov for translation of this article.