Germans in Russia are Having Tough Times, German Researcher Says

Wood, Carter. "Germans in Russia are Having Tough Times, German Researcher Says." Grand Forks Herald, 8 October 1993.

BISMARCK - Despite political uncertainty, economic hardships and heavy emigration, ethnic German communities in Russia will survive into the next century, an expert on their culture says.

The German government is contributing to that survival by restricting immigration from the former Soviet Union, said Peter Hilkes of the East European Institute of Munich, Germany.

At the same time, the German government is offering economic and cultural programs to make staying in Russia more attractive, he said.

Hilkes is traveling the region to do research, give lectures and build ties with the strong German from Russia community in North Dakota. He speaks at 9 a.m. Oct. 14 at the St. Michael’s Catholic church basement in Grand Forks.

Hilkes is a consultant with the federal German government on projects to aid the remaining 2 million ethnic Germans living in the former Soviet Union, concentrated in Russia, Siberia, and Kazahkstan. Germans and other ethnic groups were forcibly relocated there during the Stalin regime.

Conditions in those regions have prompted a flood of emigration to Germany, totaling more than 600,000 ethnic Germans since 1990.

Along with refugees from Third World countries, the influx has put heavy pressure on a reunified Germany and economy suffering from a deep recession and high unemployment. Many Germans resent the immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

"In many cases, he is treated as a foreigner. He’s not treated as a German, but as a Russian," Hilkes said. "He is speaking Russian, He has quite different outlook. He is behaving not according to the German style and mentality and so on and so on."

Limited immigration

In reaction, the German government began in July limiting immigration of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe to 225,000 a year. In addition, authorities demand a much higher standard of proof of ethnic identity.

The law makes it much more difficult for the offspring of mixed marriages between a German and Russian to immigrate, Hilkes said.

Meanwhile, Germany is working with governments in the former Soviet Union to build housing and develop employment for the remaining ethnic German communities. Cultural programs and German-language newspapers are financed.

All projects also must involve the local Russians and other ethnic groups, Hilkes said.

"You can’t do any program for the Germans excluding their neighbors. It’s not possible," he said. "You provoke ethnic conflict if you exclude somebody."

The best chance for cultural survival lies in Siberia, Hilkes said. While Russian President Boris Yeltsin has promised the re-establishment of an autonomous German settlement in the Volga, Hilkes said few ethnic Germans support the plan.

It’s also unlikely Germans will gain self-governing authority in the Kaliningrad portion of Russia, Germans have settled in the region, formerly part of East Prussia located between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic.

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

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