Actively engaged participants in the discussions at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Time to act: The Clock is at Five of Twelve

Zeit zu HandeIn: Die Uhr Schlaegt Fuenf vor Zwoelf

A New Newspaper for German-Russians that Enlightens and Educates toward Mature Citizenship

Neue Zeitung Fuer Russlanddeutsche Soll Aufklaeren und zu Muendigen Buergernerziehen

Paulsen, Nina. "Time to act: The Clock is at Five of Twelve." Volk auf dem Weg, December 2002, 6-7.

Translation from German to English by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

[Following paragraph is printed in bold in the original:]
The clock is only five minutes from striking twelve; it is high time that we act together. This was the dominant thought during the round of discussions of November 1 - 3 in the Eichholz Castle Learning Center of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, where more than 25 German-Russian editors and publishers from various places in Germany debated prospects of a potential, new Russian-language newspaper aimed at Germans from Russia.

In the face of the negative image of the Germans from Russia in the German media, and of the nationally lessening acceptance of all Aussiedler [resettling immigrants of German descent], the need for a nationwide Russian-language newspaper, with the Germans from Russia as its target audience, can no longer be denied. This was the overall opinion during the gathering. Discussions centered on the following topics: How can negative reporting be countered? Who is the target audience of the future newspaper? Aside from Germans from Russia, where would the paper meet with further interest? How large should the initial circulation be? What sorts of topics would be most desirable among the target audience? The meetings were moderated by Dr. Werner Blumenthal, Director of the Learning Center; Waldemar Axt, formerly the honorary Business Manager of the Landsmannschaft; and Adolf Fetch, Spokesman for the national leadership of the Landsmannschaft.

The motto for the event that the organizers had chosen, "Associations within a pluralistic democracy -- working with the press and the public as the basis for forming opinion" pointed to public relations work as the key factor in forming public opinion. The negative image of Germans from Russia in the local media is a drastic example of what happens when, instead of emphasizing professional methodology, cliches are mobilized and isolated cases are generalized. In his remarks on this topic, Hans Kempen (Augsburg), editor of our association's monthly newspaper, emphasized that Germans from Russia do not comprise a protected ethnic group. "Newly arriving Aussiedler find acceptance only if they integrate immediately." As the most recent example of the cheapest kind of journalism he cited the contribution in a "Frontal 21" program aired by the German Second Television: "During the program, not a single politician came to the defense of the Spaetaussielder. The usual argumentation was put forth: isolation, lack of command of the language, and criminality." Kempen also formulated the next theme, which found sufficient confirmation during the next two days of discussions, namely, that Spaetaussiedler simply are generally ignored as a topic for the general German press. At best, the local press still reports on the Aussiedler, although that reporting tends to drift toward the negative side. The nationwide media rarely touch on the topic, and when they do, their reporting is not based on factual research, but on cliches and on lack of real information. "Hardly ever is there any reporting on the effects of the new immigration laws or on the severe cutbacks in pensions that have occurred in recent years," Kempen sums up.

A parallel to this situation existed in the postwar press of the former Soviet Union, a topic addressed by the independent journalist Josef Schleicher (Bergisch Gladbach). Between 1957 and the end of the 1980s, three German-language newspapers were published in the USSR: "Neues Leben {New Life]" (Moscow), "Freundschaft [Friendship]" (Zelinograd, as of 1965), and "Rote Fahre [The Red Ferry]" (Slavgorod). Yet even these publications, although appearing in the German language and supposedly intended for the Germans in Russia, were not allowed to deal with anything but general topics; topics concerning Germans in Russia as an ethnic group, and their general fate, were taboo. Specifically "German" topics were limited to instruction in German language courses (including German as the so-called mother tongue), works by German authors, and German amateur art. Russian-language newspapers, too, reported -- if and when they did -- only occasionally on top workers with German names.

The breakthrough came in 1987. The German-language press was finally permitted to deal with themes on history, the autonomy movement, and questions of German identity. Concurrently dual-language attempts were made, and these did subsequently experience further development, particularly after 1991, when the struggle against political opposition, attempts toward resurrecting German-Russian culture, and an upswing in historical research returned to the center of attention. Even Russian-language newspapers began to uncover this "new ground" called Germans in Russia. In Russia after 1987, a new image of Germans began to emerge: of a people that had suffered, that demanded the return to autonomy, and that in the end simply gave up hope and emigrated.

Dr. Alfred Eisfeld (Goettingen) spoke in his presentation on the landscape of the Russian-language press and on the portrayal of Germans from Russia in the Russian-language press in Germany. Although the market offers dozens of titles, only few report on Germans from Russia or on problems associated with the Aussiedler. Most of the Aussiedler who read such papers prefer the newspapers "Semlyaki ("Landsleute [Coutnrymen]"), "Kontakt," or "Heimat-Rodina," in which topics on the Aussiedler are presented most often. Eisfeld's summary: "There is no nationwide Russian-language newspaper that concentrates on the area of problems and difficulties of the Aussiedler."

An example worthy of emulation, one that demonstrates cooperation with the press, as it relates to the area of integration of Spaetaussiedler, was cited by Alexander Reiser of Berlin. The former journalist from Vladivostok is now press spokesman for the housing agency of Berlin-Marzhan (city borough management), which itself, among other duties, supports projects toward integration. About 20,000 Germans from Russia, half of the entire Berlin Aussiedler population, currently reside in Berlin-Marzahn. The Aussielder association "Vision," with its leader Alexander Reiser, has established (with support from the housing agency) a multifaceted set of projects for aiding integration. Included are counseling, a dual-language newsletter called "Nachbarn [Neighbors]," a reader circle dealing with German-Russian authors, cultural events, public relations work with the Berlin press, and an attack on language for migrants. Additionally, the association has stocked Berlin libraries with books on the history of Germans from Russia. Under the motto, "We must go on the Offensive," Reiser works diligently toward making the problems of the Aussiedler a constant topic in the Berlin press. In his experience, he states, "We must get to know journalists in person and constantly remain in touch with them. The feeling of modesty so common in our origins is not appropriate here, what's needed instead are tenacity and a systematic approach."

The subsequent exchange of experiences demonstrated the difficulty in forcing to push the Aussiedler topic to the attention of newspapers. An example: the designer Alexander Kuehl (Neuss), who had sent to every newspaper specific information about a successfully run painting competition by his integration association called "Freundeskreis [Circle of Friends]," was forced to learn that nothing had been published. In contrast, a fist fight in which young Aussiedler were involved a few days later, had made headlines.

Optimistic voices were given support by Dr. Blumenthal, who provided advice from one on the outside: it is important to build personal contact with journalists, to talk with them, and to furnish them with information. "With constant follow-up, we can achieve considerable success," agreed Waldemar Axt (Muenchen). An example for emulation can be the active engagement by the chairman of the local chapter in Biberach, Johannes Feller, who has succeeded in getting the regional newspaper "Schwaebische Zeitung [Schwabian News]" to report on the Aussiedler with regularity.

A publication which has enjoyed great popularity among Aussiedlern was one that has not been published for the last six years, "Ost-Express." Its former chief editor, Nelli Kossko (Reiferscheid/Westerwald), talked about the experiences she made at the time. A newly planned newspaper should, according to Kossko, on the one hand enlighten about the history and culture
of the Germans from Russia and, on the other, exhibit all stories of life in Germany. With regard to forming of opinion, it should increasingly point up Western views on matters. Also, "such a new newspaper must be of assistance in searching for home and for one's identity."

Dr. Alfred Eisfeld and Dr. Artur Bechert (Regensburg) also indicated that enlightenment or education is the most important task of the newspaper. Besides, it must remain tolerant, it must not attack other ethnic groups or minorities, and it must leave room for discussion. To incite people to demonstrations for a matter that is known to be beyond possibilities would be a crime. People who are in great need must not be shown the wrong path by means of misinformation.

Nearly full agreement emerged on the target audience for a new paper: countrymen who are willing to be integrated, as well as all the entire range of levels of education among the Spaetaussiedler. Strong value must be placed on tolerance and on cooperation with other associations of Germans from Russia. Finally, the German-Russian newspapers in the CIS should be viewed as important partners for the future newspaper for Germans from Russia in this country.

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

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