A Speech by the Minister of the Interior,
Otto Schily, at the 27th National Convention
of the Germans From Russia
Rede des Bundesministers des Innern, Otto Schily, Beim 27. Bundestreffen
der Deutschen aus Russland, 2 June 2001.
Schily, Otto. "A Speech by the Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily, at the 27th National Convention of the Germans From Russia." Volk auf dem Weg, July 2001.
Translated from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder,
(Emphases added by the editors)
This day is not merely a day for honoring the achievements of the
Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia. It is also a day for reminding
ourselves of the difficult fate and of the interminable suffering
that many of you or your ancestors have had to endure. These must
never be forgotten.
This is a day of remembering your tough breaks and your hard lot
[in life]. The fate of the Germans from Russia is an inherent part
of German history. Even now it is still difficult to imagine how
many of your ancestors were forced to work in mines to their last
bit of strength, fed only with watered-down soup, how they were
tortured as slave laborers, how they suffered famine and cold, and
how in everyday life they were marginalized and discriminated against
merely because they were part of a minority.
Today, however, we also look toward the future and we wish to speak
of the solidarity with which we desire to shape the lives of those
still coming to Germany or of those who are deciding to remain in
the successor states to the Soviet Union.
The Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia has achieved so much.
For this the federal government is very grateful to you. Chancellor
Schröder has asked me to convey to you his personal thanks
and his best wishes for today's event. Our most recent immigrating
repatriates [Spätaussiedler] would hardly be able to begin
to function without the tireless efforts of the Landsmannschaft.
Many of your members who perform volunteer assistance often provide
the very first contacts for the people who arrive here and who wish
to get used to their new surroundings. You facilitate their contacts
with the myriad authorities in communities, states, and federal
offices, which together execute their responsibility toward effecting
their integration. This is truly a complex task. Those who come
to us as Spätaussiedler have from time to time their own illusions
about living conditions they expect here. They must necessarily
adapt to a new way of living, to new challenges, and to stress and
a hectic pace of life.
The help of the Landsmannschaft, especially in practical matters
of everyday life, is thus indispensable. Your knowledge of the culture,
the language and the specific situations of the Spätaussiedler
contribute significantly to their integration. You build bridges
to their old home and you help to ensure that memories, traditions,
and historical awareness are not lost. Your involvement will be
required for many years to come --all the more reason to thank you
and to acknowledge the work of the Landsmannschaft.
Earlier immigrating repatriates [Aussiedler] and Spätaussiedler
in Germany, and ethnic Germans in the Russian Federation as well
as in the various successor states to the former Soviet Union, know
that the federal government is aware of their troubles and of their
needs. It is our common responsibility to keep alive the memory
of their difficult lot.
During the long history of the Germans from Russia, the relationship
between the various Russian governments with the colonists, as they
were then called, often varied--to an extreme. The words of a Russian
politician and educator of princes--spoken as late as the '60s of
the 19th century--still demonstrated tolerance and benevolence.
During a trip with the Russian crown prince he wrote: "Russia
is so vast that it can afford to be tolerant, without the practice
of that tolerance endangering its security."
After the establishment of the German Reich in 1871, the relationship
of leading sections of the Czarist Empire, and thereby of the Russian
government, with the German colonists in Russia changed fundamentally.
Among other factors, this was due to the political distance toward
the new German Reich and, especially, due to the Pan-Slavic Movement.
Mistrust and dislike began to gain the upper hand. Rights that had
presumably been guaranteed "until eternity" by Catherine
the Great in the 18th century were being gradually rescinded as
of 1871. The result was the massive emigration by German colonists
to North and South America. Return to the German Reich appeared
to be obstructed, since returnees to the Reich usually were met
with obvious dislike.
Then, too, the attitude of the government of the German Reich toward
the Germans in Russia appeared to be conflicting.
Otto von Bismarck had quite a distant relationship toward the Germans
in Russia. During the '70s of the 19th century there arose tensions
between the German Reich and the Czarist Empire. As these tensions
escalated during the '80s, the German envoy in St. Petersburg, von
Schweinitz, was asked for a detailed report on the situation of
the German settlements in Russia. The envoy von Schweinitz wrote
that he was of the opinion that the German Reich "need not
bother itself to maintain contacts with these colonies." Bismarck's
own annotation on the margin reads "I won't, either."
The report continues: "Those who leave their fatherland should
not demand that it make any effort to protect them." Bismarck
made the note "Right" on the margin and added double exclamation
It may well be a legitimate view that people who emigrate in a
quest to find their fortune outside their home country should take
control over their fate. However, that view should not preclude
solidarity and support in times of dire need.
Be that as it may, the outbreak of the First World War brought
with it rather bad times for Germans living in Russia. They were
deported to Siberia; they were no longer allowed to speak German
in public or even in their worship services. Harassment quickly
became pogrom. For the Germans in Russia this was a fate rife with
much suffering and bitterness, for they had always been loyal citizens
Additionally, toward the end of the 1920s, Stalin's ascendance
to power brought about the first wave of the collectivization of
agriculture. This also brought about an even worse time of suffering
for the Germans in Russia as well as for other farmers who had similarly
been disowned. When, in 1929, about 14,000 disowned German-Russian
farmers, barely this side of starvation, gathered for a protest
in Moscow, the German ambassador in Moscow and the German government
did nothing. The Reich's government based this lack of action on
the economical and budget difficulties in Germany and on its desire
not to disturb the good German-Russian relationship.
A group of about 6,000 of the demonstrators was in the end allowed
to emigrate overseas from the Soviet Union and lived in a transition
camp near Mölln. They were barely tolerated there, and the
budget did not include means toward taking care of them. Their condition
improved somewhat when the former Reich's President von Hindenburg
showed disgust about the indifferent attitude of the Reich's government
and provided relief from a special fund available only to the president's
Those who had to remain in Russia [I believe he means the demonstrators,
tr.] received no support from Russia or from their country of origin.
The manner in which that situation quickly worsened is well known.
Not only those who, subsequent to the protest action were deported
to Siberia, suffered the tortures of slave labor and great hunger.
The implementation of agricultural collectivization in the '30s
led to terrible famine, especially in the Ukraine. German farmers
were denounced as "kulaks" and deported. During the terrible
"cleansings" toward the end of the 1930s many Germans
were arrested without cause and simply "liquidated."
The worst times of suffering, however, followed the German surprise
attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. As a result of this war of aggression
of unprecedented intensity, the German Volga Republic was dissolved
on August 28, 1941. Hundreds of thousands of Germans in the Volga
area and in other Germans areas of the European side of Soviet Union
were deported to Siberia. There was not a single family that did
not mourn the loss of lives.
Following the end of the war nearly all in the banishment areas
were permanently detained by security forces, accordingly due to
a strict policy of compulsory registration. They were subject to
"command authority." Hundreds of thousands were forced
to perform incredibly difficult labor in the Trud Army.
Only the visit to Moscow by German Chancellor Adenauer in 1955
brought about a certain amount of relief. The resumption of diplomatic
relations between Germany and the Soviet Union actually affected
the policy toward the Germans in Russia. Various decisions by the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union and by other state organs introduced
some improvement in their situation. Yet, despite various attempts,
they still lacked any opportunity to affect their own fate to any
A turning point in the more recent history of the Germans from
Russia came about via an exit travel decree of August 28, 1986,
that was enacted as a result of the reform efforts by the then Secretary
of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. That
date had obviously not been selected by accident. However, the decree
made it possible for Germans in Russia to make their own decisions
concerning the remainder of their lives.
Beginning with the year 1987, when the exit decree took effect,
we have received into Germany over two million Germans from Russia
and their non-German family members.
Many Germans are unfamiliar with the history of suffering of the
Germans from Russia. We must make sure that this does not remain
We must understand and recognize the reasons why our repatriates
have returned to Germany and why many others desire to do the same.
This understanding presupposes knowledge of history. And knowledge
of history brings about empathy, which we need to have toward all
At this point I wish to repeat quite deliberately what I said in
May of 1999 during a ceremony of the Bund der Vertriebenen [Federation
of Exiles] on the occasion of their 50th year of existence in the
Federal Republic of Germany: In the past, the political left has--and
this unfortunately cannot be disputed--kept silent about the fate
of the Germans from Russia, and it has ignored the sufferings of
people who were deported and were dying of hunger, be it because
of disinterest or fear of being branded as "revanchists."
Or perhaps also playing a role may have been the mistaken belief
that repressing or covering up the truth might help pave the way
toward rapprochement with neighboring states. However, facing history
with clarity and truth is the only way to pave the way toward a
future with greater closeness.
On the other side, the political right has attempted to take the
facts out of their political context. Anyone who speaks of the fate
of the German-Russians must also speak of the unprecedented aggression
of National Socialism and the barbaric campaign by the Wehrmacht
[German Armed Forces] against the Soviet Union. The fate of the
German-Russians must not be used in looking for blame. Their suffering
must not serve in attempts at relativism and somehow playing down
the Nazi regime of terror, by means of which Germany terrorized
its neighbor states--and even its own population.
Article 116 of the [German] Constitution clearly takes into account
the history of the preceding century. It is an article we put our
faith into. It is a consequence of the catastrophe of World War
II. It offers a safe harbor to countless refugees, exiles and repatriates
who have fled persecution and have sought safety. The bad conditions
following the war made it our duty to accept into the Federal Republic
all Germans seeking help and protection, and, simply for reasons
of human dignity, to integrate them quickly into our society, instead
of keeping them mired in camps.
All federal governments have allowed themselves to be guided by
the following principles:
The choice of any member of a German minority whether to stay in
their country and to shape their future there, or to join us here,
is a personal decision of each individual, of each family.
We wish to provide assistance to all members of a German minority
who wish to stay in their country and to shape their lives there.
For those reasons, we have decided to offer effective assistance
wherever they find themselves, and we have discontinued less efficient
large-scale projects. We are instead concentrating on efforts in
public meeting places; on offering extracurricular language courses
in Russia and Kazakhstan; on measures toward qualification; and
particularly on working with the young, on individual assistance
for elderly and especially needy people, and on medical assistance.
We wish to relieve the distress of those in the former Trud Army,
who are to this day continuing to suffer from the harsh conditions
of their forced labors.
We also know that whoever comes here also requires assistance.
The state, the churches, and charitable groups like your own support
the immigrants in their prolonged and not always easy process of
integration. Regarding that, it is especially important to offer
a feeling of security and safety to those who at first feel very
strange here. Who could do this better than those who are familiar
with the situation and have been here awhile? We must make a common
effort to integrate our immigrant people as quickly as possible,
especially perhaps because of the not so small numbers of those
who still come here each year. This is a huge task, which our society
and even the immigrants must participate in.
Following the great accomplishments of the last 50 years of the
Federal Republic of Germany, every German from Russia who fulfills
the legal preconditions should be accepted into our country in the
future. I must clarify here that the Federal Republic is not planning
to make any changes to the respective quotas established by existing
Successful integration is the crucial factor. Fully engaged toward
the success of this matter is my party colleague Jochen Welt, the
government's representative assigned to questions concerning Aussiedler.
Many of them have been getting to know him in person during his
visits. Subsequent to his many conversations with Aussiedlern and
with those who assist them, and after his various trips to see German
minorities, he has worked up a draft for the "Aussiedler Policies
2000." Its ideas have meanwhile largely been actualized.
The main focus of his work concentrates on and has been concentrated
on measures toward integration. Much needed to be made up for that
had been neglected. Integration [into society] is a lengthy process.
It requires that the newcomers be ready to consider themselves as
German citizens, with rights and responsibilities, with a desire
to live here, and with the wish to be able to communicate and to
participate in our political life. This constitutes enrichment for
both sides. Being a music lover, I would like to point out that
the musical program that was just offered by the Orchestra of Germans
from Russia emphatically proves my point.
Our new citizens from Russia do have their own identity. They have
experienced much that was horrible, and also much that was pleasant,
living side by side with people of other lands they migrated to.
They bring to us experiences of tolerance toward those who think
differently, of learning how to get along with others, of ways to
communicate and of being able to accomplish things cooperatively,
even when circumstances are not favorable and, in fact, may be regrettable.
Those who have come to us from Russia must be given the chance to
preserve and nurture their identity. This constitutes one of the
more important tasks for your Landsmannschaft.
Those who come to us in these times find themselves in an extremely
difficult situation. They grew up and were socialized in a society
in which they lived for a long time and to which they have personal
attachments, a fact that is often not recognized. At the same time,
they immigrate to a country with a language they often no longer
master, with a lifestyle that is often strange to them, but one
from which they harbor great expectations. We must work intensively
for their much needed integration, so that they do not become outsiders.
However, this will not be possible with anything like unlimited
migration. Anyone wishing for integration must also understand that
capacity for immigrants is limited, and they must not, in wishing
for the abolition of quotas, endanger chances for individuals wishing
to shape a solid existence in Germany.
Ladies and gentlemen, you know that the Immigration Commission
that I appointed under the direction of Frau Professor Süssmuth
will publicly report on its findings on July 4, 2001. It will do
this in the form of proposals that will affect the Spätaussiedler
as well. Without anticipating their report, I can say the following
regarding their work:
The federal government will debate the commission's proposals thoroughly.
We will want especially to discuss them with the leadership of the
Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia--just as we have always done.
The federal government will also continue to adhere to the principles
of its Aussiedler policies. You may remember that, as early as the
autumn of 1998, Mister Welt and I declared that the federal government
will continue to adhere to Article 116 of our constitution and to
the principles laid down in the laws regarding refugees.
This includes for me even the presupposition of the experience
of the fate caused by the war's consequences. This is beyond discussion
in the face of the difficult lot of all who were affected subsequent
to the surprise attack by the Wehrmacht on the Soviet Union.
At the same time we must also determine who can be recognized as
German according to the provisions of the law on refugees, and who
might be seeking the possibility of settling in Germany based on
the mere accident of having a German ancestor.
Traditionally, membership in a family has been of the highest priority
for us. However, a certain transition in our thinking has also occurred.
As recent as during the middle of the 1990s, of every 100 persons
arriving in the transition camps, 75 were Aussiedler by definition,
and 25 were non-German family members, i.e., descendants who did
not know German. This ratio has meanwhile been completely reversed,
meaning that many family members, often part of nationally mixed
marriages, do not possess the ability to use the German language
as their everyday language.
This fact makes integration very difficult. Knowing the language
of a country and its citizens constitutes a core competence that
brings together people of varying origins and makes living together
successfully possible. People who cannot make themselves understood
will not be able to work with others, organize their everyday lives,
communicate their needs or comprehend those of others. Language,
in addition, demonstrates much about the manner in which those who
use it think and feel.
It is thus necessary that adolescents and adults learn to speak
German. It would also be desirable if at the same time they preserved
and spread their command of the language of Pushkin and Dostoyevski,
of Lermontov and Boris Pasternak. This is a question of intercultural
competence, as former Federal President Roman Herzog has written.
Of course, we know how difficult it is to speak the German language
in Russia. For that reason we have been offering German language
courses in the Federal Republic of Germany ever since 1976. For
the then Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who successfully worked
toward allowing immigration of Germans from Poland, it was of great
importance that they learn German.
Ever since then, German language courses have also benefited those
coming to us from Russia. Thanks to the efforts of Chancellors Brandt
and Schmidt they were, as of the '70s, able to emigrate in great
numbers, even if they did not have German citizenship or were unable
to prove that they did.
Out of fairness it must be stated that German authorities, at least
until the mid-90s, often looked the other way when it came to determining
the level of knowledge of the German language of immigrant Germans
from Russia. For that reason a language test was introduced in 1996.
A recent decision by the German Supreme Administrative Court made
some qualifications in the law. Accordingly, it is now sufficient
to demonstrate the specific characteristic of "German language"
capability only for a person's childhood or adolescence, not necessarily
at the time of immigration. This decision contradicts the intent
of the lawgivers. Current administrative practices must therefore
be modified via clarifying modifications of the law.
Ten years after "glasnost and perestroika"--I don't need
to translate these concepts for you--it should be expected of any
who consider themselves Germans in Russia that they learn the German
language in their successor states of the Soviet Union. In the interest
of their ability to integrate and toward preserving the acceptance
for Spätaussiedler in Germany, they must thus be asked to possess
a level of language capability.
I would like to counter the critical statements of our colleague
Mister Schäuble reducing the budget in the area of cultural
support of refugees and Aussiedler with the following: on the contrary,
since 1998 we have increased the federal integration funds from
40 million DM to 52 million DM, despite the fact that the federal
budget has rigorously been pared down. According to Hegel, only
the whole yields the truth, and that's how we would like to see
it as well.
In Russia and Kazakhstan, German language courses organized and
financed by Germany have been made available since 1996. These courses
make it possible to polish and refresh German language abilities
learned in childhood. There are over 470 meeting places where German
language courses are offered gratis.
For anyone willing to immigrate, life in Germany becomes easier
if she or he does not have to labor initially with communication
difficulties in looking for work or while shopping, in school or
on the playground, in the bus or in official places.
Deficiencies in the language are in my opinion contributing factors
toward an alarming development; that is, increasing violence among
adolescents who have come here with their families. This development
worries me, frankly. It is a sign of the fact that integration is
threatened when immigrants do not or cannot put their energies into
integration simply because they are not able to speak the language
of their new country.
For the sake of their acceptance, it is important that other family
members who arrive with the Spätaussiedler also demonstrate
minimum ability in the German language at the time of their arrival.
Demanding this does not constitute a disadvantage to the family
members of the Spätaussiedler relative to other foreign immigrants.
Rather, the guarantee of an advantage gained by immediate acquisition
of German citizenship is made dependent merely on a minimum of German
language skills. Those who do not fulfill this requirement must
enter the country under the laws governing any other foreigner wishing
All political leaders in our country are in agreement on the necessity
of improved integration. To me that also implies agreement on the
shaping of the conditions for integration commensurate with the
This political consensus, which has unified political leadership
over the 50 years since the establishment of the Federal Republic,
is one of the reasons for the successful integration of over 15
million German refugees, exiles, and Aussiedler since the end of
World War II. Of decisive importance, however, were the determination,
diligence, and abilities of the immigrants, who have attained in
Germany a life of freedom without social and ethnic suppression.
Ladies and gentlemen, you have chosen for this 27th Bundestreffen
the theme "Equality of Opportunity through Integration."
The selection of this motto demonstrates farsightedness and appreciation
for existing problems.
It is our goal to be of even more effective assistance in the integration
of those recently arrived or those yet to come. We wish to support
every individual. We therefore require the willingness of everyone
to become familiar with the conditions of living together and a
wish to do well in every aspect.
We have the saying, "Er kommt gut an." [He is hitting
it off very well.] The success of this saying depends on both sides;
the ones arriving and the ones receiving.
We are looking at model projects relating to integration contracts.
We are offering general and occupation-related language improvement
courses, we are offering occupational training and we are assisting
with special tutoring of children until they catch up in school.
However, integration is not a one-way street. Spätaussiedler
must take advantage of these opportunities toward training and education
if they wish to receive the full compliment of social and material
assistance available toward taking on a job. We are taking a critical
look at whether there shouldn't be a formal integration contract,
so that both sides know exactly what their part is in the integration
The special history of the Germans from Russia, particularly their
immense suffering, admonishes us to employ our strengths toward
a better future. The experiences that so many of you, ladies and
gentlemen, have had as members of a minority, to me signify an admonition
for our entire society to live together with tolerance and in peace.
Your fate must remind us all of the great value of respect toward
each other. Respect by the majority of minorities, toward unique
individuals among us, and by individuals and groups for the principles
and basic tenets of living together.
The past century was the "Century of Exile." Minorities
were mistreated and shown great disdain. In Kosovo we have recently
seen-and unfortunately we continue to see it in the entire Balkan
region-how minorities still fall victim to ethnic fanaticism, religious
fundamentalism and nationalistic mania. The family of European peoples
has senselessly torn itself apart over these things.
At the threshold of the 21st Century it is our common responsibility
that an attitude of respect for the human dignity of every individual,
regardless of his or her origin, is and remains the highest guiding
principle for our political actions.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.