Conference on Establishing a German-Russian Homeland
Along Volga Opens Today
Nixon, Lance. "Conference on Establishing a German-Russian Homeland Along Volga Opens Today." Grand Forks Herald, 18 October 1991, sec. 1B.
Ethnic Germans living inside the Soviet Union begin a three-day
congress in Moscow today to discuss their future, perhaps with a view
to re-establishing an autonomous German republic within the country.
The Soviet Union had such a republic under Vladimir Lenin’s
leadership after World War I, the Volga German Autonomous Soviet
Socialist Republic, an area of 10,888 square miles that lay mostly
on the east side of the Volga River with a small portion on the
The area was colonized by Germans in the 1760s at the invitation
of Empress Catherine II. It was made a district in 1918 and made
and autonomous republic in 1924, but Soviet leader Joseph Stalin
disbanded it in1941 as Nazi Germany brought war against the Soviet
Union. Stalin had the republic’s German inhabitants deported
to Siberia and central Asia.
The talk of creating a new Soviet republic for ethnic Germans raises
interest here because some 25 percent to 30 percent of the people
living in North Dakota trace their families to the 120,000 Germans
from Russia who came to America between 1870 and 1920 - some form
the Volga region, others from the Black Sea, Bessarabia, or elsewhere.
There is even more interest in Germany because the so-called Aussiedler,
or “out-settlers,” have been returning to Germany in
droves—77,000 from the Soviet Union in the first half of this
Others are coming from other parts of Europe.
“As a matter of constitutional law in Germany... ethnic Germans
from eastern Europe who wish to return to Germany are basically
on the same footing as other Germans once they have come to Germany,”
said Karl Schon, deputy consul general for the German consulate
in Chicago. “I should say ‘alleged Germans.’ Some
of them have digged out, in miraculous ways, German grandmothers.”
About 200,000 people have returned to Germany in the past year
alone, Schon said. In a nation the size of Montana with a population
of about 80 million, there is concern that the migration will add
to already crowded conditions.
Schon said German policy is to help bolster the Soviet economy
so that people will be able to stay where they are. The German government
plans to give $40 billion in aid to the Soviet Union over the next
three years, more than all the other western nations combined.
According to a 1989 Soviet census, there were 2,038,603 ethnic Germans
living inside the Soviet Union, making them the 12th largest ethnic
group. The Asian republic of Kazakhstan – where many were
during World War II – has the greatest share of them, about
958,000. Some 843,000 lived in Russia, the sprawling republic that
Despite those numbers, Schon said Germany won’t get deeply
involved in the move to create a new homeland for Germans in the
“This is clearly an internal matter for whatever this new
country should be called, the former Soviet Union,” Schon
said, “I think right now the Soviet Union has even more urgent
matters to solve than creating new republics. We think it more appropriate
to create a situation in which people can stay in what has been
their homeland for generations rather than moving them around.”
But Timothy Kloberdanz, chairman of the department of sociology
and anthropology at North Dakota State University, disagrees. He
thinks Germany – at least economically – is nudging
the Soviet Union to do something for ethnic Germans. Kloberdanz
said he’s confident that a new German republic will be created,
probably in roughly the same area as the old Volga German republic.
Kloberdanz said that according to the 1989 census, already some
55,000 Germans have returned to the Volga area during the 1960’s
If no republic is set up, the emigration of the Soviet Germans
“I don’t think the Soviet Union wants to lose those
people,” Kloberdanz said. “If they were allowed to return
to the Volga, they could make those steppes bloom again. They have
an emotional attachment to that land.”
Kloberdanz and his wife, Rosalinda, visited the Volga region this
summer, he to study the folklore and she to interview German Russian
women for her master’s thesis in child development and family
Kloberdanz said Germans living in the area were pessimistic that
they would ever have a republic again.
But Kloberdanz said he is optimistic because he has visited Germany
and seen the jostling for jobs and houses.
“It looks like the republic will be established not so much
because of a feeling on the part of the Soviets that they want to
right a great wrong, but because of pressure from the German government,”
The Soviet news service Tass and the British news agents Reuters
reported from Bonn on Sept. 24 that Horst Waffenschmidt of the German
Interior Ministry and Leonid Prokopiev of Russia’s Ethnic
Minority Committee had agreed on the need to restore the Volga republic
as soon as possible.
Reuters reported Waffenschmidt as saying the two sides would draw
up a joint declaration on the ethnic German republic to be signed
during Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s visit to Bonn on
Tass reported that Germans could begin returning to the Volga region
as soon as 1992.
However, there is controversy over the idea. Kloberdanz said creating
a German republic on the Volga would likely displace Russians and
Ukrainians, and he said there was heated opposition when Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed in principle to a German republic
Kloberdanz said that on his visit to the Volga region this summer,
Germans told him about Russian slogans that appeared in the time
saying, “Better AIDS than Germans,” and “We stopped
the Germans at the Volga, and we will stop them again.”
The Volga region is near to where Nazi armies were halted during
World War II.
Kloberdanz added that restoring the Volga republic will not right
the wrongs done to other ethnic Germans who were relocated to Siberia
and central Asia from elsewhere in the Soviet Union.
But if one man’s letter is any indication, Germans from throughout
the Soviet Union may rally around the idea of an ethnic republic.
A Soviet German named Paul Kruger mentioned the Volga republic
when he wrote to Michael Miller, the bibliographer for the Germans
from Russia collection at NDSU, on Aug. 30 of this year. Kruger’s
family was displaced from Volhynia, an area west of Kiev, during
World War I. He lives now at Piketnoje, Siberia, close to the city
“In October the German Russian congress is to take place
where the problem of the German Russians is to be discussed,”
Kruger wrote. “The main emphasis in this regard is the restitution
of the German citizenship on the Volga. I am a delegate of the area
of Omsk for this Congress. The problem is difficult to solve. There
are various opinions where and how the republic is to be established...
In the tense situation in which our land is now it is of course
a complicated matter. However, this problem cannot be ignored because
the emigration process of German Russians to Germany does not decrease.”
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.