Delegates Seek Better Programs to Help Germans From Russia

Nowatzki, Mike. "Delegates Seek Better Programs to Help Germans From Russia." Forum, 1 August 2003, sec. 6A.

German government officials visited North Dakota State University Thursday to forge a link they hope will help improve the lives of Germans from Russia.

Since 1950, about 2.2 million ethnic Germans have left the former Soviet Union for Germany, in search of better economic and social conditions and an escape from post-World War II persecution.

Jochen Welt, Germany's commissioner in charge of matters relating to Germans from Russia, and Klaus Pohle, director general of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, listen intently Thursday morning during a briefing by NDSU Research and Technology Park Executive Director Tony Grindberg. Photo by Colburn Hvidston III, The Forum.

Another 1 million Germans remain in Russia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine, said Jochen Welt, the commissioner who handles Germans from Russia matters for the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

A recent transition from collective farming to modern agriculture has been very difficult for the Germans who remain in Russia, Welt said. Those who return to Germany often need retraining, due to a lack of farming-related jobs.

The question is if there are possibilities from here, from North Dakota, to get support for those Germans from Russia in terms of equipment, information, training and so on, Welt said.

The German government spends 500 million Euros ($562 million) annually to aid Germans from Russia, Welt said. [Note: The 500 million Euros per year is only for the teaching of German language skills in Germany for the Germans who have returned from the former Soviet Union.]

Those who return to Germany often find themselves as outcasts again and need help assimilating into German culture.

They come with bad conditions and few language skills, Welt said. So, in Germany, they are not considered Germans, but Russians.

For those ethnic Germans who remain in Russia, the German government has helped build community centers where they can receive skills and language training. They're offered small business loans, housing assistance and agricultural aid.

Our desire is to try and find out how to help those people there to stabilize themselves, Welt said through interpreter Verena Bonitz, an NDSU graduate student and native of Weinstadt, Germany.

Welts office also works with the Russian and Kazakhstani governments to develop business incubators to keep the German-Russian work force from leaving the former Soviet Union.

The number of ethnic Germans returning to Germany has declined drastically, from 400,000 per year in the early 1990s to 80,000 last year, he said.

As Welt listened intently, NDSU Research and Technology Park Executive Director Tony Grindberg explained how NDSU has formed public-private partnerships to create jobs and opportunities.

The visit by Welt, Director General Klaus Pohle and assistant Alexander Schumacher was organized by Michael Miller, bibliographer of NDSU's Germans from Russia Heritage Collection. Miller met the officials while in Bonn, Germany, in June.

They need expertise from people here, he said.

The German officials toured NDSU's Research building and Northern Crops Institute Thursday before leaving for California to visit other descendants of Germans from Russia. Their trip to North Dakota also included a visit to Gov. John Hoeven's office and stops in the German-Russian towns of Strasburg and Lehr.

About 30 percent of North Dakotas residents are thought to be of German-Russian descent, Miller said. Many Germans from Russia have relatives here but dont realize it, he said.

Miller said he hopes the Germans visit will lead to a student exchange program to bring Germans from Russia to NDSU.

"The ethnic Germans who have come back from the former Soviet Union are especially strong in the areas of technology and engineering, so I think there would be some potential at NDSU," he said.

Grindberg told Welt the research park tries to stay informed of international opportunities through its membership in the national Association of University Research Parks.

When asked by Welt if he had any contacts in Germany, Grindberg said: To this point, I do not. But I certainly see a door opening here."

Reprinted with permission of The Forum.

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