"Interview With Adolph Fetsch." Europa-Express, June 2004.
What principal themes will be discussed on the 28th meeting of Russian Germans in Karlsruhe?
Translation from Russian to English by Shukrat Usmanov, edited by Jay Gage
The motto of the forth-coming meeting is “Assimilation and Recognition”. It is important for us to show our colleagues the opportunities by sharing from Russian Germans in different “lands” and how they could be involved in the process of assimilation. In addition, our demands to government for increased efficiency of the assimilation arrangements will be discussed. We must use the potential of our compatriots with their knowledge of Russian and German languages for helping with different groups of migrants: especially with young people. This meeting of Russian Germans demonstrates of interests in our ethnical group, with unity and orderliness. A broad cultural program will be represented here.
The meetings are being held annually for three years. Those are some initial stages in life of migrants. What are, in your opinion, the features of last three years in life of Russian Germans in Germany and what will be in next three years?
A new Law of Immigration, which is expected for approval in the near future, recognizes the serious adjustments for German migrants from the former Soviet Union. In particular, criteria of their admittance will become tougher. For example, the demand of sufficient knowledge of the German language will be specifying, not only for ethnical Germans, but also for the members of their families, which lead to the bigger complications in the questions of reunion of families. Of course, knowledge of German language is the inalienable prerequisite of successful assimilation. However, historical reality was that not all German families had the opportunity to give knowledge of German language to children.
Do you think the requirement of passing of the linguistic test for members of families of ethnical Germans is a true demand?
The association always came out against acceptance of the corresponding legislative changes. We tried to convince politicians that they need to show more understanding for destinies of German migrants, taking into account their history. On the one hand, knowledge of language is very necessary for the successful assimilation. On other hand, if new Immigration Law would be accepted where the adult members of families of ethnical Germans would not pass the linguistic test, then they could not expect recognition of their rights based on the Law for migrants. Thus, for them to take the linguistic test could be a major barrier for return of Russian Germans to their historical fatherland. Speaking softly, we do not like the new Law; but despite our efforts, where we had extensive talks with representatives of all influential parties, we could not achieve the changes. Because of our conference on issues of concerns, the leaders of the political party understand the problems of migrants; but the (German) language issue is, unfortunately, an obstacle to the assimilation of Russian Germans. This is general opinion of political elite of Germany. However, the new Immigration Law contains some positive aspects: for example, the opportunity for family members of ethnic Germans to take linguistic classes, which are paid by the State. Therefore, the migrants who came to Germany based on the Section 8 of the Law for banished status, had not the right for the linguistics classes. However, they will have the same opportunity in future benefits.
May someone define the sign of equality between knowledge of the language and successful assimilation? Millions of aboriginal Germans cannot find jobs, although they have no problems with language. However, in Germany are living many foreigners who know language poorly, but have their jobs and consider themselves as successfully assimilated people.
The German government, not only presently, but also previously, brought forward certain requirements to Russian Germans as conditions for taking citizenship. Those criteria 1) are the keeping of traditions of German people and 2) knowledge of the German language. We always were principally against overestimating of the role of language in the decision of return of migrants. Historical realities in the former Soviet Union were so harsh that few Germans (because of certain reasons, i.e. discrimination, closing of German schools, separating apart of the German villages, etc.) could transfer knowledge of German language from generation to generation. We cannot turn time back and change anything in the past. The government must take into account these realities. However, if somebody would have told me 15 years ago that: up to year 2004, more then 2.5 million emigrants from former Soviet Union could come to Germany for permanent residency, I would judge that he was crazy. This is a great service of our compatriots. The people who did return to Germany just after war, or soon after war. They fought for the right for ethnic Germans to return to their historical fatherland. In addition, our Association, without exaggeration, is the basic active mechanism to help open the gates to Germany for millions of Russian Germans. We must be grateful for German government and German people to make possible the “process of return”. With all existing problems of assimilation, the positive role of migrants is recognized by representatives of national government and the different political parties.
You know the demographic records for the country: the German nation is going to be older. The average ages of migrants are one-half less than for aboriginal people. The level of unemployment among migrants during same time is less than for country. Russian Germans, along with migrants from other countries, such as Poland, pay billions to the pension funds. In addition, all of that growth is in the future, despite the fact that the number of the pensioners in our ethnical groups is much less than among aboriginal population. Only ten percent population of Russian Germans is older then 60, only five percent population is older then 65. However, in the group of people older then 65: Not all are taking a pension. One can take the right for pension only by Section Four of the Law for banished persons. Therefore, nobody can say that the Russian Germans and members of their families are a burden for the pension system and for national economics. On the contrary, national German economics is the winner, which we emphasized more then once during the talks among various national leaders of Germany. However, one needs to note that the positions of some our compatriots make constructive dialog more difficult. I desire that my position would be taken as a facilitator. Nevertheless, I am asking our compatriots to search for a solution to their problems in some realistic way, but do not set up illusory demands.
We are living in Germany now. I have lived here more then sixty years and retain my identity as a Russian German. I love Russian culture and Russian music very much. However, staying in Germany, we are obeying those rules prescribed for the country’s integrity. In addition, nothing good would come from negligence with these prescribed rules. This concerns primarily the study of the German language. It is impossible to stand apart and oppose himself to rules of behavior which are supported here. “When you are in Rome, then you must do as the Romans do”. Assimilation of Russian Germans is proceeding successfully, although one meets some unpleasant moments. It would be very desirable that our compatriots were given more participation in various areas of activity: political, economical and cultural. We already have enough examples when the Russian Germans had achieved significant success.
Let us look at our sportsmen. On the national hockey team of Germany, the Russian Germans are represented by two professional players. The same representation is also occurring within soccer teams of various levels. Our boxers are also having success. Therefore, we have enough examples. The most important result is that success in some kind of chosen activity is bringing the feeling of self-assurance. Our men and women are very talented and inventive; they are not afraid for challenges.
The problems of youth criminal activity and narcotic addictions among young migrants are increasing sharply more than last surveys. What action is the Association doing in this area?
Narcotic addiction among youth is really a serious problem today. With that hindrance, young people are victims of social and economical troubles. I am not going to defend or justify the victims of narcotic dependency, but this drug problem is not unique to Russian Germans, since this trouble has affected the whole world. Of course, one needs to provide the strong guidance.
In the group of “risk”, we have identified high school students and graduate students who have difficulty in the process of assimilation. Therefore, we must work further with these people. The Association helps to manage these kinds of projects, so our work with different community organizations and with church communities became to be more fruitful.
Some concerns are that the Association is not paying enough attention to youth. How would you comment that opinion?
I cannot agree with this assumption. Our association is doing powerful
We are permanently funding for completion of cultural and social projects. There successfully exists our youth organization here. We are in continuous contact with young people. In addition, I would like to solicit for young people: “Please participate more actively in the helpful work of the Association. If you have some ideas for projects, please come to our regional organizations. We have more than 200 of them. When you come to see what we are doing and what structure we have provided. Any dialog is a two-way road. Please contact us with your problems, which will be much easier to solve together.”
Sometimes we need not only do something successfully, but also to inform other people about your activities. Do you think that an improvement would be to emphasize and popularize of your ideas? Many migrants are ignorant or have very unclear information about the social work of the Association and its structure for accessibility.
Information about our activity is appearing in newspapers periodically. Naturally, the Russian press shows more interest for our activities. In the German press, the articles about our work are appearing mostly on the regional level. With central press, we receive little coverage. Of course, for our agenda we are sending corresponding information to many newspapers. But newspapers live for the sensation; thus, we cannot keep continuous interest of the press for our agenda program. However, we are giving quick response for any critical information, as we are attempting to explain our point of view and show corresponding documents.
As far as I know, the Association intends to publish a newspaper. Could you talk more about it?
I cannot give to you a detailed answer, because that newspaper is still in preparation. I only want to emphasize that we have intended to create a bi-linguistic German Russian publication to comment, inform and to increase interest for a larger number of readers: newly arrived immigrants, youth and pensioners. This task will not be easy to do, and we are facing these challenges.
Many letters are arriving in our editorial office from the people who are concerned what exactly the Association did for canceling the decision to change pension plans for migrants, which reduced pensions very much. What would you comment about this?
We are in touch, and we are participating to solve this problem. Our suit against forty percent reduction of pensions is in the Constitutional Court at Karlsruhe now. We had also initiated the suit to the Federal Administrative Court. We are doing everything possible to remove the quantity of reduced pensions.
Along with your Association, there exists another organization, which is proclaiming of representing well the interests of Russian Germans: it is the International Convention of Russian Germans. Could you to describe difference between the Association and the Convention?
We must talk not about differences, but about mutual understanding. We need to be able to listen, understand each other, and change our opinion. We must understand that absence of unity within the ethnic group of Russian Germans hurts us. I can claim with honor that the Association is the recognized partner in the questions of assimilation of migrants on level of political parties. If somebody begins to make some criticism of our activity, than the critic must be ready to receive some criticism to his views, too. We must respect each other. The Association is participating actively in political life of Germany by promoting the interests of our people on each level; but the Association cannot dictate our terms for the political parties and stay on a position of influence. We must be able to find mutual interests with any political party.
Could you see some threat of radicalization of Russian Germans in the Convention? Many migrants think that if the Association continues to promote in the same style, than it will loose the support of the Russian Germans. Russian Germans met with a growing number of problems, but they have not your support in the situation. H. Grout, the chair of the International Convention of Russian Germans, proposes the solution for the problem. Maybe it is some fantasy, but we see growing interest among migrants for his candidacy. You will certainly feel it at the meeting on Karlsruhe. What are you going to do?
We think that it is not simple coincidence. Somebody is making his own business here. It is another question: could this opposition be useful? After years of experience, we can see many examples in political life when some societies were creating on some wave, and they have disappeared for the short time. Populism does not have a strong basis. Check the history of the populist’s party of Shilee. Where is the party now?
There is one more opportunity for the Association to attract people being more active in political life. The Convention had found the partner the German Party. The Association is cooperating traditionally with the Christian Democrats. Why would not the representatives of migrants stay in their list of candidates for elections? You see that the Christian Democrats are proclaiming that they are defenders of the interests of migrants.
The Association is a public organization, which is not depending on any political party. Any participation of each member of the Association in political life is his or her private business. But the members of the Board of the Association are representing the Association, not some political party. About cooperation with the German Party: I think it would be better to concentrate the votes of Russian Germans. Let us assume that the party will take one or two percent on the elections, and so? Nothing will be changed. I think we must participate in agendas of political parties represented in the Parliament, and more actively. It will be more useful. However, merely being the candidate of some political party is not enough to better the Russian German. The parties do not have quotes for migrants or somebody else. If somebody wants to be successful in politics, that person must work for that party. It is possible to take the position in the list of candidates of some party for the elections, but only for the case when you are not only a member of some ethnic group, but also political activist of this party. This is only way to be elected into Parliament. This is a reality of German life. Sorry, when somebody does not understand this reality. The Russian Germans frequently won the local elections, as we have our representatives in the level of communes, but only in the districts where migrants are living in more density.
Our appreciation is extended to Shukrat Usmanov for translation of this article.