Adolf Fetsch during his address in Karlsruhe
Rede des Bundesvorsitzenden der Landsmannschaft, Adolf Fetsch
"Address by the National Chairman of the Landsmanschaft." Volk auf dem Weg, July 2004.
Translation from German to American
English by Alex Herzog, Boulder,
As I mentioned during my welcoming remarks, this is the second time that a national convention of the Landsmannschaft is taking place in Karlsruhe. During the first meeting in Karlsruhe twenty-one years ago, our focus was on the efforts of the Landsmannschaft toward the realization of the rightful demands of German-Russian returnees and Spaetaussiedler [or late returnees], as our countrymen were called at the time.
The difficulty of that work even in those years is apparent in a passage from the address given by the then national chairman of the Landsmannschaft, Franz Uselmann, and I cite him here:
"Indeed we have succeeded in fighting through to the recognition of the returnees, to the acknowledgment of achievements according to the law concerning aid to those imprisoned, to federal caretaker laws as well as to the compensation law for relatives of prisoners of war. But at what cost? It all came after long-term, grueling struggles with the appropriate officials and, finally, by obtaining court decisions at the highest levels."
A great concern at the time was the rapid decrease in the number of returnees. Following a brief interim high it had sunk in 1983 to 1,447, and in the following three years, the number sank even lower, to 460 per year, before increasing again very rapidly as of 1987 and, in 1994, reaching an absolute high of 213,214.
While in 1983, we were still dealing with an ethnic group whose members were still living almost exclusively in the former Soviet Union and were being hindered in their attempts at finding their way back to Germany, today many of our countrymen, after decades of persecution and discrimination, have finally found their way back to the land of their ancestors. Numbering well over 2.5 million people, they have in the meantime even numerically become a factor that can and should no longer be ignored.
Of course the increase in the number of resettlers effectively increased the responsibilities of the Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia and, thereby, the difficulties they had to deal with.
In this context, please allow me to say a few words concerning the work of the Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia, in part because in the past we put our light under a bushel and spoke too modestly about our achievements, thereby providing room for incorrect judgments:
-- We can state quite justifiably that, without the engaged and persistent efforts of the Landsmannschaft, many of our immigrant returnees and late returnees might still be in what is now the former Soviet Union waiting for immigration, presumably for naught. In this work, we have always allowed ourselves to be guided by the maxim that quiet, persistent and matter-of fact efforts can often effect more than loud proclamations and resolutions that, in the end, might have only therapeutic effects for those who state them.
-- These kinds of efforts by the Landsmannschaft for the most part happen on a volunteer basis. To make the extent of this work clear, please let me state a number: every year, volunteer advisers and helpers provide 60,000 hours of consultation -- without charge! Our members appreciate that within the Landsmannschaft they can find advice from competent people whom we assist in keeping up their skills at the latest level of expertise, via regular exchanges and conventions.
-- Following cuts in funding of cultural efforts that took place in the 1990s, and following a decade when the strong increase in late returnees caused the social work by the Landsmannschaft to take absolute priority, we have within the last two years resumed our intensive cultural work. In that vein, during the previous year we observed, via a series of events, the 200th anniversary of the immigration of Black Sea Germans, and this year we wish to observe similarly the immigration anniversary of the Volga-Germans and the Crimea-Germans. We are grateful that the sponsoring federal "land" of Hesse, via its special representative for returning immigrants, Rudolf Friedrich, has in a special way accepted responsibility for festivities relating to the anniversary for the Volga-Ggermans
-- Those who still insist on criticizing the Landsmannschaft are thereby primarily criticizing the work of its volunteer members, that is, the achievements of people who sacrifice large portions of their free time on behalf of the concerns of their countrymen. In order to make these efforts even more effective, I call on all those who remain outside of our organization to join the Landsmannschaft and to assist us with their great capacity for work and with their creativity.
"Integration and Acceptance!" -- we did not choose this motto lightly for this our 28th national convention. Instead, we chose these two keywords purposely, because they express in a most effective manner the problems our late returnees are still struggling with.
I do not wish to reiterate here what we perhaps have been told a few times too often: that integration efforts by the State is a prerequisite to the willingness for integration by the late returnees -- and that Germans from Russia are an ethnic group whose integration presents special difficulties.
Naturally, the greatest portion of my countrymen are aware that they need to be active in the process of integration, and by far most of them are. Our people do make efforts to learn German; they assume jobs that are often far beneath their qualifications; and it has become a well-known fact German-Russian children and youth do represent a considerable enrichment of, say, German sports clubs.
We no longer wish to hear that the integration of our countrymen represents special difficulties. Given statistics from the federal office for labor, that is simply not the case. These figures show that Germans from Russia are not criminally active beyond the national average. They also show that Germans from Russia are also not affected by unemployment more than the national average. Further, the numbers do show that these people pay more into German social and pension funds than they receive from them. And, finally, they prove that these Germans constitute an expressly young group of people. Many a school and kindergarten might have had to be closed without the existence of this ethnic group.
Should there be any more discussion about integration difficulties, it might perhaps apply to the group of 18 to 30-year old male Germans from Russia. The Landsmannschaft has been well aware of this problem area and has provided suggestions for solutions to federal, state, and community governmental bodies, which -- among other things -- call for engaging native and German-Russian social workers.
Fortunately, our arguments are falling on deaf ears less and less, which is illustrated by the fact that during the last several years we have been able to execute fifteen projects toward integration, which have been led by full-time employees of the Landsmannschaft. We wish to express our gratitude to all officials who have aided us financially in effecting these projects special gratitude is owed to the states, to the federal office for out-of-country refugees, and to the federal government's representative for Aussiedler matters, Jochen Welt. Even if we have not been or are not always in full agreement with Mr. Welt, we fully respect him as a reliable partner in the debate.
Although we are of the opinion -- which we can also substantiate -- that our countrymen do not cause any more problems than any other ethnic groups of the population, we must admit that public acceptance of Germans from Russia has declined considerably. Without over-dramatizing, the media arguably demonstrate a tendency to report more about negative than positive, even marginal, aspects concerning our late Aussiedler.
The low level of reality exhibited by many of these reports can be illustrated via an article that appeared during the previous year in Welt am Sonntag concerning a situation in the city of Lahr in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Under the headline "Renewed Fears of the Russians" the report deals with allegedly negative conditions in the idyllic little city, which have supposedly been caused by our countrymen.
Only after the article did its damage did official statements by the local police place matters in perspective. According to these statements, involvement by our Aussiedler in criminal activities in Lahr was at 21.9 percent in 2001, at 17.9 percent in 2002, and 16.8 percent during the first half of 2003, while the proportion of Aussiedler of total population stands at 20 percent. Clearly, the percentage of criminal involvement our Aussiedler in Lahr was not above, but lower than, the average!
So in Lahr, as in the rest of the federal state, there is no proof that the Germans from Russia are particularly negatively involved -- yet our countrymen are still looked on negatively and with clear prejudice! Let me state the reasons for this -- with a degree of frankness that one might not normally expect from the federal chairman of consistently carefully acting Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia:
-- Since the Germans from Russia were allowed to emigrate to Germany -- under the best of circumstances within the framework of uniting families -- they now arrive as the last Germans from Eastern Europe in a country that, following years of economic progress and prosperity, is struggling with financial problems and with increasing unemployment. And for these negative aspects the people from the CIS are now to serve as the scapegoats! As strangers who supposedly are taking jobs from the native population and are serving themselves from the federal pension trough! We all know that there is not an lot of truth in these accusations, but unfortunately we have also been forced to realize the staying power of such judgments and prejudices among the public.
-- To those journalists who use such headlines as "Criminal Children of the Late Aussiedler" or "Renewed Fears of the Russians" and to fellow citizens who glibly use such terms as "Russian Ghetto" or "Only Russians live here!" we pose this question: Do they not realize how close they come therewith to slogans of the right-wing radicals! It is hoped that it will never be "politically correct" to equate a particular national or ethnic designation with a curse word!
-- On the other hand, it appears to be "politically correct" to ignore the topic of late Aussiedler at higher political levels. One might get the impression that the parties may fear that even a mention of such concepts as Late Aussiedler or Germans from Russia might affect their chances in elections! We therefore ask representatives of all parties to publicly close ranks with an ethnic group that continues to this day to suffer from the effects of World War II more than any other ethnic group in Germany.
Similarly, I appeal to those who continue to stay back from recognizing the collective postwar fate of the Germans from Russia: do not to make entry into Germany even tighter or even to close it altogether.
Passage of the current immigration law, at least concerning parts that deal with the acceptance of late Aussiedlern, would make entry into Germany very tough, or even impossible. The Landsmannschaft is therefore emphatically opposed to the enactment of this law and is convinced to have the better argumentation on its side. Please let me summarize these arguments:
-- The new immigration law was drafted strictly to apply to citizens and foreigners. However, Germans from Russia are by definition, according to Article 116 of the Constitution. Therefore, it was a mistake right from the outset to include them in this law.
-- To attempt to solve actual or alleged integration problems among the group of late Aussiedler is without a doubt the wrong way to proceed.
-- The overemphasis toward language skills in the acceptance process completely ignores the fact that after the onset of the German-Russian war, it became practically impossible for Germans in the Soviet Union to cultivate the German language. Therefore, it is the opinion of the Landsmannschaft that German-language skills as a prerequisite for acceptance into Germany must not be misused. More to the point as a criterion for readiness for integration might be a ready willingness to learn German.
-- Those who wish to go through with the conditions in the immigration law need to be clear that they are thereby approving separation of families and are making immigration in all practical terms impossible.
Despite problems and criticisms we must not forget that this Bundestreffen is also intended as a festive occasion for meeting people and for celebrating culture. Most who attend will return home with a good feeling if they will have met relatives or friends, former neighbors or school chums, or former colleagues. And for all of us, it will be a winning proposition if we succeed in presenting to the public a positive image of our ethnic group.
I wish all of you here in Karlsruhe pleasant days that will remain in our memories for a long time.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.