They Left Their old Home, but They Have not Found a new one

It's a Long way From Kazakhstan to Bavaria: Young Russian Germans Find Integration an Enormous Problem. Experts Warn This Might Become a Social Explosive one day.

"Der weite Weg von Kasachstan nach Bayern: Die alte Heimat verlassen, in der neuen Heimat noch nich angekommen"

Schneider, Christian. "They Left Their old Home, but They Have not Found a new one." Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6 January 1998, 43.

Article adapted and translated from German to English by Alice Morgenstern, Munich, Germany

Augsburg, Germany - Andreas did not really want to go to Germany. "My parents just took me with them", says the 17 year old boy who obviously has difficulties with the German language. To most of the questions he reacts with an embarrassed silence, before he mutters a short "ja" or "nein". Only with the help of an interpreter he manages to answer more fluently.

The same can be said about Dimitri. He is red-cheeked with a round baby face and does not look his 18 years. Dimitri has specially spruced up for this interview, his hands lie folded under the table, he hardly dares to look up. There is not a trace of self-confidence in him. He is sitting before me, a picture of misery. So his answer is not surprising. "No", says Baby face, he and his sister who is four years old, were not very keen on leaving, when their mother told them that she intended to go to Germany.

A Russian in his heart
Andreas Bauer and Dimitri Vogel are Germans according to their passports. But in their hearts they feel that they are still Russians, although they have been living with their families in Germany for the last two years. One was born in Barsutschie in Eastern Russia, the other in Akmola in Kazakhstan. They left in 1995, and so far they have not really arrived as yet in Bavaria, their new home - country.

In 1990 397,000 "Aussiedler" of German origin returned to the land of their fathers, in 1996 the number had gone down to 177,751, and the tendencies indicate a further decrease in the future.

At the beginning "Aussiedler" used to come from Poland and Romania, now days 96% are Russian Germans from Kazakhstan and the Republics of the former Soviet Union.

"Their integration is getting increasingly difficult", says Peter Hillebrand, the Secretary for "Young Germans from the East" in Bavaria, an institution that changed its name to "German Youth in Europe" after the new political developments of the past years. This institution sees its main responsibility in caring for young "Aussiedler". "Nobody seems to feel responsible for them", says Hillebrand. The indifference of officials and the society in general towards this group might lead to serious consequences, "a social explosive might develop here".

According to the system accepted in the Federal Republic of Germany, Bavaria is obligated to take 14.4% of the "Spätaussiedler", the latest group. They amounted to 26,000 in 1996. Edmund Stoiber, Prime Minister of Bavaria, then assured: "We are aware of our historical obligations towards the Russian Germans."

But the newcomers see their chances from a different angle. The support of the Federal Government was continuously cut down and sank to a level hardly above the sum for public relief. The crucial points are the language courses. They are free of charge, but have been lessened from 15 to 6 months tuition. The results are obvious, and Andreas and Dimitri are shining examples of the effects. After having lived in this country for two years, they still shrink from contacts with Germans. "It's because of the language" is the reason they give for their retreat into isolation.

Andreas once tried to make contacts, but "it didn't work". He stood tongue-tied around, unable to understand anybody. The boys have no German friends, and the girl friend is of course "Russian". When they set off for a disco together with their friend Dimitri Sutter from Kazakhstan, they head for the "Troika" in Augsburg. "Germans never go there", says Andreas. And Dimitri adds: "There are only Russians".

Living in "Little Moscow"
It is not only the language barrier that drives them into isolation. Their quarters add to the situation. Dimitri's family lives in a part of the town which is generally referred to as "Little Moscow". Similar circumstances can be found elsewhere in Bavaria. Hillebrand calls it "a Ghetto situation".

The isolation of the young Russian Germans can also be noticed in the "Berufszentrum des Kolpingswerks" in Augsburg. This is an education center run by a Roman Catholic institution that aims to train them by making them fit for future jobs and by improving their German. So far these endeavors did not lead to any positive results. Whenever they applied for jobs they were turned down because of their language deficiencies.

Even in the streets of the town, where youngsters might get together, the young Russians are the underdogs. There is a strict hierarchy or much rather a "pecking-order" at work among them. Social- and street-workers have made out that German boys range first, the "German" Turks who master the German language come next, and they look down upon the illiterate "Russians". "It's better you bolt", says Andreas.

"The lives of the young Russian Germans are maimed by isolation and rejection"; that is how Peter Hillebrand describes an alarming social situation. And Ortfried Kotzian, the director of the (Rumanian) "Bukovina Institute" in Augsburg is convinced: "We are drifting into enormous problems with their integration", It seems most dangerous for the age-group between 16 and 25. "They don't find contacts anywhere". In Niedersachsen - another state of the Federal Republic - traces of tendencies towards criminality could already be observed. And 45% of the "Aussiedler" are less than 25 years old.

There are moments when Dimitri in Augsburg thinks: "Oh, had we only remained in Kazakhstan!" When asked about plans for the future, the boys do not dream of smart cars, the big money or travelling for fun. After a short discussion with his friends Dimitri finally says: "We want to speak German, we want to find a job, and we want to belong to the others".

Our appreciation is extended to Alice Morgenstern for translation of this article.

Reprinted with permission of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, Germany.

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