Federal Chancellor Merkel Meets With German-Russians in Tomsk

Bundeskanzlerin Merkel traf Russlanddeutsche in Tomsk

"Federal Chancellor Merkel Meets With German-Russians in Tomsk." Volk auf dem Weg, June 2006, 8-9.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

German-Russian Government Consultations in Tomsk -- Both Coutnries Profit from Cooperation

Bread and Salt for the Federal Chancellor

The designation of Tomsk as the site for this year's German-Russian governmental consultations had been agreed on even before last year's federal elections. It is possible that its significance for the German-Russian population may have played a role in the Western-Siberian city's selection. Following years of emigration by hundreds of thousands of German-Russians to Germany, only a few islands of German life still remain in this area. The Tomsk region is, in addition to the Altai region and the Osmk region, part of a plan to establish German national rayons.

Many Areas of Agreement, but also Differences of Opinion

"It was an open, a very intensive set of conversations, often with differences of opinion," described Chancellor Merkel the results of the April 26 and 27 German-Russian summit in Tomsk. Economic issues were central. The traveling group included 20 commercial delegates from Deutsche Bank, Siemens, E.ON, BASF and the Deutsche Bahn [German RR System], as well as from mid-sized firms.

German ministers also used the opportunity to discuss various issues and possibilities for cooperation with their counterparts. The Chancellor was accompanied by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schaeuble, Education Minister Annette Schavan, Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck, Minister of Economics Michael Glos, Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Transportation Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee, State Minister of Culture Bernd Neumann, and State Secretaries from the Labor and Ecology ministries.

The press reported in detail about the meetings. So in what follows, we'll therefore limit ourselves to reporting on matters of direct concern for the German-Russian ethnic group.

"We are fully aware of their difficult fate" -- Angela Merkel in the Russian-German House

On the final day of meetings, as Angela Merkel arrived at the Russian-German House, the spring sun had returned, following earlier severe winter weather. As if by prediction, girls clad in traditional dress had prepared the song "Hei, so treiben wir den Winter aus [Hey, that's how we drive winter away]" and received the Federal Chancellor with the old traditional Russian gift of bread and salt. The Chancellor then met with German-Russians and representatives of the Ev.-Lutheran and Catholic Churches.

More than 13,000 Germans live in the Tomsk region these days. They are descendants of German colonists, mostly children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of German settlers who sixty-five years earlier had forcibly been resettled in Siberia from the Volga region and other areas of European Russia.

"We are aware of their difficult fate," stated Angela Merkel at the start of the get-together. The Federal Government recognizes its responsibilities on behalf of those who, because they were Germans, suffered in the Soviet Union under the consequences of World War II. She also promised that the Federal Government will continue in the future to provide assistance to German-Russians in their current countries. In the presence of [the government's] representative for Auslaender, Christoph Berger, the Chancellor mentioned the work of the German-Russia Governmental Commission, which coordinates the activities of both governments on behalf of the German minority and determines points of emphasis.

Among other things, Tomsk is a center for German-Russian activities. The Russia-German House (with Viktor Adam as its Director), located near the city center, coordinates and combines the activities of thirteen "meeting places" within the rayons and settlements of the region. The imposing and richly ornate villa, of classical wood architecture, which is home for the Russian-German House, had been erected during the first years of the 20th Century by Golovanov, a Tomsk merchant.

During the mid-1990s the building was restored by the [German] Minister of the Interior and then handed over for its current use. Today a number of social clubs and organizations for German-Russians work under its roof, among them the Kulturautonomie [Cultural Autonomy], the "Wiedergeburt [Rebirth]" Society, the youth organization "Jugendblick [Youth Outlook]", and others.

Language and cultural activities receive central emphasis. The goal is to strengthen the cohesion of German-Russians in the region and to preserve their common identity. There are 38 German-language courses for children and for adults, and there are 22 different groups involved in various creative areas. Among them are the cultural group "Moder," the children's choir "Gloeckchen [Little Bell]," the children's dance ensemble "Quelle [Fount or Source]," the theater "Fata Morgana," and many others.

There are regularly organized language camps for children, also youth camps, and since 2004 there have been international youth camps. For 34 organizations of German-Russians in the regions of Tomsk and Kemerovo, the RDH [Russian-German House] of Tomsk constitutes a support center representing the Education/Information-Center at the Moscow Russian-German House. During the past ten years, 5500 children and 4000 adults have attended courses, seminars and workshops. "Do not shy away from keeping the German language alive," the German Chancellor reminded participants in the get-together.

Included in the visitors' program was the dedication of the newly constructed Ev.-Lutheran Church of Mary, which from now on will be the spiritual-cultural center for Ev.-Lutherans in Tomsk and surrounds. Last autumn, the city of Tomsk had donated a piece of land for the church building to be built on. In a record time of only five months, the new wooden church structure was erected. fourteen million rubels for its construction were contributed from the regional government budget, and the rest of the funding came from donations from German-Russians firms and from community members.

German-Russians between Past and Future

Today there are around 585,000 German-Russians in Russia, and about 307,000 of them living in Siberia. Half of the original German population has emigrated to Germany in the meantime. Merkel did pay attention to the problems the Late Aussiedler from the former Soviet Union face in Germany. Particularly those young people who come to Germany without command of the German language do experience difficulties entering successfully into an occupation.

The Russian-German House Tomsk
The small German minority does not play a minor role in the Tomsk region, and not only due to Governor Kress. There is a longtime German tradition in Tomsk. The first settlers arrived even before the turn of the [Twentieth] Century, the next group arrived involuntarily in 1941, as German-Russians were being expelled from Ukraine, the Caucasus area, and the Volga region. And finally, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many German-Russians from central Asian Soviet republics preferred to emigrate to Germany. Those who live in Tomsk today will likely want to stay there, as confirmed by Alexander Hahn, Deacon of the Ev.-Lutheran Church: "Six, seven years back, people had themselves baptized by us, thinking that this might improve their chances for emigration, but that is not happening any longer," the German-Russian who had come to Tomsk from Kirgistan said. Following deportation of German-Russians during World War II, this university city actually offered the most talented and diligent a rare opportunity for university education or for a good job in the city or in the country. To name a few examples: For years, the German-Russian Viktor Kress has been Governor of the region; the rector of the State University of Tomsk is Georgi Meier; and numerous regional representatives, entrepreneurs, and scientists are of German descent. Tomsk today is considered the third-most important region for Germans in Russia.

Many members of the German minority placed great expectations into the visit by the German Chancellor. Tomnsk would become a decisive point for the future of cooperation on behalf of German-Russians, plus whether Angela Merkel might pay continued attention to matters of importance to German-Russians. Especially in this year of the Federal Program targeted toward Cultural and Economic Development of German-Russians -- a program that had been enacted under President Yeltsin, but which does not seem to enjoy a positive lobby for its extension. Russia's influential Minister of Economics, the German-Russian German Gref, has officially been silent on this subject. Also, Germany's support for the activities of German-Russians has seen noticeable reduction in the past few years.

On the other hand, German-Russian business people have played a not inconsiderable role in the economy of the region. Ivan Klein, owner of the brewery "Tomsker Bier," is one of these. As representative to the State Duma, the 46-year-old also has some political influence. The brewery, founded at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Centuries by two Prussian immigrants, today again yields good revenues. Vladimir Baitinger's firm, on the other hand, is a bit more modest. Still, this professor has managed to develop his Institute for Microsurgery into one of the world's most modern ones. The money for this development comes primarily from plastic surgery, which even in Russia is experiencing ever more expansion. Baitinger is proud of his German ancestors, but sees his future in Russia. He wants to build a Russian-German Center for Microsurgery in Tomsk and intends to make use of the opportunities that may come from agreements reached during the summit. Meanwhile, many German-Russians in Tomsk have achieved recognition, and the old "German Diligence" is once again being respected. For most of them, home and future lie in Siberia. "I am part of two great nations," Governor Viktor Kress, who came to Siberia in 1949 with his parents, assures his listeners. That appears to be the attitude of many German-Russian in Tomsk -- perhaps even an attitude of defiance toward the rejection that they have experienced for such a long time in Russia and in many places in Germany.

Summarized by Nina Paulsen

(Sources: Information furnished by the Russian-German House of Tomsk, ID, Sextant, tageschau.de)

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller