Interview with Peter Hilkes (PH)
Conducted by Ron Vossler, Interviewer (RV)
1 June 1998, Munich, Germany
Transcription By Margaret Templin
Editing and proofreading by Brigitte von Budde and Mary Lynn Axtman
|RV:||I'm Ron Vossler and I am talking today on June 1, 1997, with Peter Hilkes at the East Europa Institute in Munich. Do you want to say some things about yourself and briefly describe your background?|
|PH:||Well, I don't have any German-Russian background. My background is much more Dutch. Hilkes is a typical Dutch name. I'm working with the Ost Europa Institut; it could be translated into Institute for Eastern European Studies since January, but I worked here from 1987 until 1994, and with a short interruption returned in January, and I am dealing from 1984 on with German-Russian questions.|
|RV:||The first part - if you could talk about the general emphasis of your work as it relates to the Germans from Russia.|
|PH:||This is one and very important part of my work as a research
fellow at the Ost Europa Institut. Right now am I working
on a research project dealing with the Black Sea Germans.
Officially the program is called, "Migration and Integration
of Germans in Ukraine," which means the migration processes
of Germans have been born in Ukraine, especially in the Black
Sea area, who have been deported to Kazakhstan, Siberia, and
Tajikistan, and then immigrated to Germany.
Another important part of that research project is an aspect which right now is very important in the field of German Ukrainian relations on the whole, the integration of the Germans in Ukrainian society. That's why the project is called this. Besides, I am dealing with the whole German-Russian question, in general. I am writing expert analysis for courts and for ministries, etc.
|RV:||So you work for the government?|
|PH:||Yes. Just partly, just by order. If they order a kind of analysis, well, it's just on me to write it. I'm not the only one, of course.|
|RV:||Why does the German government need to have people like you to make some of these determinations about the Germans from Russia? In what sense or purpose does it serve?|
|PH:||First of all, it is important for the actual situation.
You have to have people who are just working on the actual
analysis, on the actual situation, for example, in Kazakhstan,
Siberia, Ukraine. All of those experts or scholars get very
fractured information about processes going on over there.
That's one reason.
The second reason has to do with internal aspects relating to the integration situation in Germany itself. You always have to take into account the policy which has been done for the immigrants coming into Germany, who are called Aussiedlers. Always, and especially right now, there is to be seen a very close connection with situations over there.
Officially, Germany is not a country of immigration, but we have hundreds of thousands of people coming to Germany within the last few years. Especially due to the criticism which has been expressed by many parts of the German population here. Officially, there is a need for quota or limitation. Just to say that we can take, let's say only two hundred thousand people a year. It turned out, due to the critics of the indigenous population in Germany, that this quota has been reduced more and more.
This is a very difficult situation to describe in just a few words but the policy which has been undertaken for Germans in the former Soviet Union is closely connected to the integration policy. So, if you have problems with the integration situation, then you have to do something, you have to react.
Our government and our provincial governments, on the basis of a compromise, don't have a quota but their numbers are now reduced more and more. One important reason why we need experts is, in 1989 there were about one million Germans still living in Kazakhstan, according to the census. Now officially, there are only three hundred and seventy thousand left. The question is, how do you handle those people, what is going on in Kazakhstan, and so on? Just to know a little more about that, you have to have people or institutions who work with it.
|RV:||Is there any other area besides Kazakhstan where there still is a large concentration of German Russians?|
|PH:||The largest concentration of German Russians can be found in West Siberia. Which means the districts of Altai, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tyumen, and the Omsk areas which are very close together.|
|RV:||Then how many would be there, do you imagine?|
|PH:||I guess more than five hundred thousand.|
|RV:||Only in West Siberia?|
|PH:||That's what I guess, because to say something about concrete numbers is very difficult because there is no basis for it. The last census was in 1989. It is very difficult to say exactly and precisely how many there still are, but that is a number which might be quite realistic.|
|RV:||Of these three hundred thousand in Kazakhstan and five hundred thousand in Western Siberia, how many want to come to Germany?|
|PH:||That's a good question and the most decisive question in
the whole context. I think if we talk about, about 1.3 to
5 million Germans still living in the countries of the former
Soviet Union, then it might be that more than half of them
want to immigrate to Germany, but there are restrictions in
our laws. There are also restrictions in the countries where
they are emigrating from.
There are very different reasons for people to immigrate or to stay at the place where they are. We have more and more families being separated by the German laws. One part of the family is already living in Germany, and the other part is still living in Kazakhstan or Siberia. They have no chance to come together in Germany because part of the family have non-German spouses or husbands or the children are non-Germans. That's the reasons why they, according to our legislation, don't have any chance at all or a small chance to immigrate to Germany. That's the reason they have to stay there.
|RV:||It sounds like a real complex problem. Could you give us briefly the origin of this problem, how it began, how it has come to this situation in 1997, and does it have historical roots?|
|PH:|| Yes, of course. Maybe you are familiar with the history
of the German-Russians. They were invited by Catherine the
second and left Germany, especially for religious and economic
reasons, from the German provinces in the 18th century.
They came to Russia, and built up their colonies, daughter colonies, and mother colonies, 'Mutter' and 'Töchterkolonien' as it is called in German. The first colonies were built in the Volga area. Then with Alexander the second, thousands of people from Baden, Baden-Württemberg came to the Black Sea area. They built their colonies there. Then they built new colonies because there wasn't space enough or other problems. They built new colonies in Siberia or even Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan or what is now Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan today.
They had their own lives, their own villages, and their own schools. They were just parents of the society. They had their German language and their special culture, and could preserve their German language and culture.
Certainly, World War II was a decisive moment in German Russian history because they were accused of collaboration with Hitler and many of them were deported.
The Volga Republic came to an end in 1941 and the first deportations were already started in the end of the 1930s. People were deported to the high north, to Kazakhstan, Middle Asia, and Siberia. Those who survived could arrange their lives correspondingly normal after 1955 due to a kind of a 'cast' as it is called. There was a rehabilitation in 1964 but no chance to go to the old places where they had lived before. That's very important to know.
They were like many non-Russians. A population belonging to the ... Sovieticus, the propaganda, the state, everything was arranged according to that purpose. It turned out that Glasnos and Perestroika also helped the Germans to develop their own interest, their expectation about their own future, not organized by the Communist Party.
In 1989, the Rebirth Society, the Wiedergeburt, was built in Moscow, and from then on the Germans more and more began to organize. Especially the Andoff, the Soviet Union in 1991 was a very big event. From that time on, more and more Germans left the country because they didn't see any prospects where they were living.
The Soviet legislation had treated emigration processes more freely than before, which means at the end of the 1980s, more than one hundred thousand came to Germany in one year.
Just imagine, in 1985 we had about four hundred thirty seven thousand. I'll have to check that to be precise. Then in 1989, we had already ninety eight thousand and it grew to two hundred seventeen thousand within one year.
|RV:||Just a quick question. I spoke to Hampton Bash some. He had come to Germany in early 1970s, 1972 I think, and was one of the first several hundred families, at that time. Someone I was speaking to asked why would the Soviet Union even allow a trickle of this immigration to Germany in the 1970s? Was there a particular reason to defuse the political situation at home with the promise of emigration? Or was it just a bureaucratic.....|
|PH:|| Well, both of it. At the beginning of the 1970s, we had
the start of a new policy towards Eastern Europe. The policy
of, Entspannungspolitik, a policy of detention.
Willie Brandt, the first Social Democratic translator, and so on, developed a new kind of policy toward Eastern Europe. As a result, there was a kind of defector which almost increased unrest in the former Soviet Union because people wanted to get rid of them.
They made a compromise and let the people immigrate to Germany. It was a Policy of Compromises. There was an autonomy movement and it was cut down. There were meetings of people in several areas where the German Russians lived and it was, of course, cut down by the KGB.
Many Germans had their own kind of communication systems and they were very successful in handling it. Not all actions were made public, therefore, many things could be handled secretly. In the 1970s there was a compromise between the Soviet and the German governments so that many of those people could immigrate to Germany. But those people, just to add that, which is very, very important, we have a look upon the emigration movement as a whole.
People having come to Germany until the end of the 1980s, seriously had to fight for their immigration. Many of them asked for immigration not once but five, ten and even more times and were always stopped by the KGB and the authorities. For example, teachers, university teachers lost their jobs and before they immigrated to Germany, they were on the lowest level of workers. They worked at the train stations and even the women had to handle very heavy boxes and so on. That was their job and they were university teachers.
From the end of the 1980s on, the situation improved significantly and many, from that time on, came to Germany. They did it by only one 'Antrag' as it is said in Germany. One application to immigration and that's all. They didn't lose their jobs, everything was fine. They just lived their normal lives, and then they packed their things and immigrated to Germany. Of course, they had to have bureaucratic obstacles, problems and all those things.
As a matter of fact, there's a kind of difference between both groups. People, even immigrants who have lived in Germany a little longer, say that the people coming now to Germany as German Russians are not as German Russian as they had been. There is kind of quality change.
|RV:||Is that the split between Bessarabian Germans from Russian and the Spätussiedlers? Is it correct to say the difference is that Bessarabia Germans had come back early before World War II to Germany?|
|RV:||And now they are seeing the newer people. Is there even a split between those who came in the 1970s, that first group, and those who are coming now?|
|PH:||There is, of course. Let me put it in the following way.
The German Russians having come to Germany from 1945 to 1955
until the end of the 1980s, could be put in one group because
they really had to fight for their immigration. Many of them
are married to Germans. They and their children were able
to understand the German dialect or German on the whole. But
there was a dramatic change from the end of the 1980s on when
there was a liberation in the Soviet legislation and in the
Commonwealth of Independent States so many could immigrate
Now, many are coming to Germany not knowing any German. Having, in many cases, non-German spouses or husbands. There are some hints that it's about 50 percent. So people coming to us under the category 'Aussiedler' are not always Germans, they may be the non-German spouses, or children. But our legislation allows them to immigrate because they are closely connected, but it has put on more and more restrictions.
|RV:||For example, at the Bundestreffen last summer in the lower basement rooms, there were thousands of Spätaussiedlers. Is it correct to say that half of them, or how many of them are non-German-Russians?|
|PH:|| That's a very hard question to answer. Even in Soviet times
many Germans had to hide themselves under the nationality
of Russians because Germans were discriminated and mistreated
by the KGB and the authorities.
That is a very important thing. Additionally, that is why they don't speak German the way people in Germany speak because they had to hide their Germaness, if you want. Then when the legislation changed or as soon as the conditions improved, they had the chance to change it. For example, it was possible to change their nationality on their passports, whether it was Russian or it could be changed to German. That was possible, but according to our authorities and bureaucracies which are dealing with the immigration processes, look upon it very negatively because they say, "Well, if you would have been German or if you were German very seriously, then you would have written it in your passport." In many cases, they don't know what the situation was. It could have put their life in danger just to say, "I am German."
|RV:||There is an interesting parallel in America. The census
in 1910 and 1920 shows the Germans from Russia often gained
by saying that they are Russian, German or Rumanian depending
on the situation politically. So, some of that fear is an
I would like to now ask: You travel to Kazakhstan, Siberia, and to other areas. Are you familiar with Germans from Russia living in those places?
You also have been to North Dakota and I would like to see what kinds of similarity and differences you see between these groups of people who have, in effect, been separated by one hundred years but are of the same ethnic stock.
|PH:||That was astonishing to me when I was in North Dakota in
1993 and having the chance to be there and to talk to people
and to listen to them. There are so many similarities a person
in North Dakota can't imagine. That was my first impression.
It turned out, I think, I wasn't very far away from reality.
My thesis was that people in the former Soviet Union or Germans still living in the former Soviet Union, for example, the Ukraine (now officially we call the German Russians in the Ukraine, 'Ukrainian Germans'), the Aussiedlers in Germany, and the people in North Dakota don't know very much about their own history.
The old generation may know quite a lot about their history, but not as much as they could because much was hidden from them, or there was no chance to get into the archives, or no interest. On the whole, there were problems with getting the information about the old history, and that is an important point. The young generation normally doesn't know anything or little about their history.
Second, Germans in the former Soviet Union, the Aussiedler, as well as the people in North Dakota don't know much German. Maybe they feel themselves as Germans but they have problems expressing themselves in German or even don't know any German.
The third similarity, but that has changed a little in Germany itself and the Ukraine, for example, I just want to mention it because on the whole it may be true today if we look at the large number of people. The grade of political participation is relatively low. Among the German population in the Ukraine or in Russia you find just a couple of them who are prepared and who are able to express themselves well in public, or able to join a party, or able to organize the Germans or to express their interest politically. So that they are able to build up their own societies, and to be a German voice in Ukraine, Russia or Kazakhstan.
The same is true of Aussiedlers. Just imagine, from the end of the 1980s 1.6 or 1.8 million Aussiedlers have come to Germany. It's a huge number of people being a very important factor during the elections.
So, what has happened? Up to now there is no party of German-Russian immigrants. Politically they are not organized. Maybe they will because there is a discussion among the German-Russian and the Aussiedler population about organizing themselves as a politically important factor.
As an example, you see there is now a huge market for journals and newspapers for German-Russians, for Aussiedler, and for people reading and speaking Russian. Now we have many magazines, journals, newspapers for this population. It doesn't play any role whether it is for German-Russians, or Jews, or their non-German relatives, it doesn't matter at all. It's just in Russian and for people from the former Soviet Union.
For example, one journal, which is called "EAST WEST", within one year got the number of subscriptions to twenty-five thousand. Just imagine, it's unbelievable but it shows that people have an interest in discussing, reading about their problems, and also discussing them with others. They are interested in informing us and our public about themselves, and the situation in the countries of their origin. Because, for example, east west dialogue is kind of a bridge between Germany and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
When I was in North Dakota I met just a few people who were representing the German communities. My impression maybe was completely wrong, but my impression was that although they are organized in the diverse chapters, there is a very small number of people speaking for the German-Russians as Germans.
|RV:||One of the reason for that may be, they say, for a German-Russian, a political caucus is to get one German-Russian in one room because one German-Russian has seven different opinions. There is a very sharp difference of opinion, perhaps due to religious differences among them.|
|PH:||That's very important. I just want to mention one thing
because this might also be an important explanation relating
to political participation. It's a little bit of a wild theory,
if you want it. If we look at the German-Russian representative
in the Soviet times, we see that, especially in the Volga
area, there were many members of German-Russian origin who
were in the Communist Party. It wasn't that much in the Black
My impression of this is, just a short and wild thought, that especially people from the Black Sea area are very tough people. You have to convince them and they are very skeptical towards politics. They want to conduct everything by themselves, not be ruled by somebody else. That is just an impression but that was striking to me when I met people and talked to them. If we have a look at German-Russian history, it's nearly the same. The skeptics taught authorities other opinions. We really have to convince somebody. They are not that, it's really a stereotype. They are not that quickly engaged in something. They just wait until things develop a little bit and then make their decision.
|RV:||A passive nature, in some ways, with aggressive on the other edge of that.|
|PH:||Maybe. That for me is stereotype, but a thing that is typical for Russians in Ukraine. I deal with the Ukrainians very much, and at the same time I'm a member of the Bavarian Ukraine Governmental Commission and during the negotiations it's terms are very clear. You have to count on some, and you have to wait on some. That is very difficult. I'm not criticizing, but that is just how it is. Maybe it's just a little stereotyped like analysis, but it's an observation.|
|RV:||Stereotypes do grow out of some kinds of conduct. It's interesting what you are saying. I think it sounds as if, to some, the fatalism which is again a kind of stereotype, of the Ukrainians, or the Russians, who are more fatalistic. That is also a part of what the Germans from Russia picked up along with food and certain behavior.|
|PH:||And now they have to organize their lives and, of course,
The fourth factor I mentioned, which the three groups have in common, is a very close relation to religion, ethics, and their moral values. Although, even in my generation, there are not many people engaged in church, but the standards and values are correspondingly developed.
|RV:||We have that in North Dakota. I think we would see coming out of many of those small towns, many social workers, ministers, and educators. People who are involved in some way with the shaping of younger people's values. And so, even if it is not religious, it is value based.|
|PH:||The fifth factor could be the question of information. German-Russians
in Ukraine do not know much about the life of the German-Russians
in Germany, and about the Aussiedler life, and of course,
about life in North Dakota. The same is true about the North
Dakotans, not knowing much about the Aussiedler situation
in Germany, and the life of the German-Russians in Ukraine.
The activities which have been developed since 1994 is a wonderful experience for people in North Dakota now visiting the country of their ancestors and so on. Just to see with their own eyes what is going on and to find some Black Sea or German-Russian roots in Ukraine, Black Sea or Bessarabia. That is fascinating to see how they handle it and what they think about it.
|RV:||You've talked about some ways that are the same. Do you see any particular differences between the groups or are they the most obvious ones?|
|PH:||I think the most obvious one is the economic situation.
North Dakota Germans have arranged their lives. Their standard
of living is, I think, relatively high and they are well established
economically. They don't show it to the outside world that
they may be rich. I think that also is difficult. They may
be rich but wear old trousers or something like that which,
in my opinion, is very typical. It fits the picture I have.
It's not criticism, that's how it is and it works. I think
they feel much more like citizens of the United States of
America. They identify themselves much more with the country
they are living in.
German-Russian in Ukraine have difficulties in identifying themselves with Ukraine in many ways because many of them don't speak Ukraine. They still speak Russian. They are coming from Kazakhstan or Siberia. They are living in those trailer settlements, maybe you have seen some, under disastrous conditions. If you live in those trailer camps how can you identify with the state 100 percent? It's a difficult and very complicated question, concerning the trailer camps.
People in the Ukraine have trouble identifying themselves with Ukraine as a sovereign state because they think of living somewhere in Russia, and if you ask people in Kazakhstan, "Where do you come from?" They will answer, "We are from Russia.
And you will say, "Where in Russia?"
They will say, "Kazakhstan."
You answer, "But that's not in Russia."
"Yes, that is Russia," they say back.
That is how they see it, and for people in the USA, if you speak about the Ukraine they say, "Are you going to Russia once again?" It is very difficult for them to differentiate. We in Germany now differentiate very strictly between Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. I think that's the difference.
If you think of the Aussiedlers, they also have problems with identifying themselves with Germany; especially the younger generations. They have many problems, especially the young Aussiedlers, because they have left their mother countries which were their places of living. For example, they were born in Pavlodar in northern Kazakhstan or in Omsk and they identify with Pavlodar and Omsk. In many ways, they followed their parents to Germany. Now they have problems finding a job, or feeling at home to a certain extent. The young people build their own worlds in German society. They push forward their solidarity among the Aussiedlers and towards other young people. There are many problems. Social workers can tell stories for hours about that.
|RV:||When these people were allowed to leave Siberia and Kazakhstan in the 1980s as you mentioned, did any of them or many of them want to go back to Ukraine?|
|PH:||That's a question I'm asked very often. There are people who go back, especially to Russia. I don't know anybody who has gone back to Ukraine, but to Russia, especially to Siberia. If you compare those numbers with the ones coming to Germany, then it is a very small number. If you make a comparison with, for example, 1991 and 1992, then the numbers are increasing, although it is a small number. We have more and more people going back voluntarily, without being forced by our authorities, which is very complicated and completely another question. Our legislation is really complicated toward Aussiedlers and non-Germans, husbands children and so on.|
|RV:||If you were a German Russian in western Siberia in the last ten years, could you have gone back to your home village in the Ukraine if you had wanted to?|
|PH:||Yes. There was a decree in 1972. This decree wasn't published,
that was the problem. It allowed people to go back to their
former places of living. Due to the fact that is wasn't published,
nobody knew about it.
If you have a look at the numbers of Germans in Ukraine and you compare those with the numbers in the census from 1959 to 1989, there was or could have been a migration to the Ukraine, only singularly not in large numbers.
|RV:||It seems like more of the Volga Germans than the Black Sea Germans went back.|
|PH:||Well, there is immigration of the Germans to and from the
Volga area. Now many of them have also left the Volga area.
Many of them, after the decline of the Soviet Union, moved
from Kazakhstan to the Volga area.
Then they tried to establish their new life there with the help of Germany and Russia. To build their own houses and so on. They didn't succeed because it was very difficult. The reasons were structural, jobs, and so on. It was the same problems in the Ukraine.
Many of them, because there was no serious change in their lives, left once again from the Volga area and immigrated to Germany.
This has something to do with the policy of assistance by the German, the Ukraine, and the Russian governments. There was a vision and this was a problem, especially in the Ukraine.
There is an example I would like to mention, the vision to put people in the middle of the prairie. The Germans from Kazakhstan or Siberia were invited to places in the middle of the prairie. There were the trailer settlements. The idea was that people would come to the trailer houses. They would get material, build their own houses, build their new societies and lives in the Southern Ukraine. Later there would be German counties or maybe German districts in Ukraine, in the Volga, or in Siberia. It has happened, but not in the Ukraine. It was just a vision.
|RV:||Or in the Carpathians?|
|PH:||Right. From the beginning I was very skeptical because every
expert on regional development would tell you that, if you
had this kind of migration with a Soviet background, it always
has to be taken into account that you never bring people to
the middle of the prairie and stop there. The people have
to be integrated into an already existing infrastructure,
with schools, jobs, and with chances to additionally do something
for the existing community.
There was a vision and I was skeptical, but it turned out as you have seen in the Ukraine. The trailers are now history, although they still exist. The problems of assisting the Germans concentrates on the Odessa oblast and on two villages not far from Odessa, Alexanderhilf and Neuburg.
Although in Alexanderhilf, there are no Germans. Only in Neuburg there are just a few Germans. The houses have been built and everything may start. You see, it's much better to start there than in the middle of nowhere because you have Odessa. You might find a job. The harbor is not very far away. Odessa is a city of trade tradition. It offers more jobs than the middle of nowhere. It is logical that this is much better than to start in the middle of nowhere.
|RV:||Do you see this then as the thrust of the German government for assistance in the Ukraine, to build these villages closer to Odessa or a large city?|
|PH:||It took a long time for them to realize that. I have criticized that from the very beginning. My point was to bring people to the already existing infrastructure.|
|RV:||Are they, the German government, going to put money into that?|
|PH:||Yes, of course, but there is a special commission to get together with the Ukraine on that issue. They meet regularly to discuss problems.|
|RV:||How many million dollars have been put into that?|
|PH:||I think since 1992, when this started, maybe 30 million dollars.|
|RV:||All of the people we talked to in Peterstal have had papers
of application to Germany for three years or more. They are
still waiting. In some of the other villages where we were,
even as far away as Kassel and Glückstal Gebiet, they seem
to be waiting and they don't know when they are to come to
Germany. There are, as you suggested, many and complex problems
involving language, family history, or whether they consider
themselves Germans or not. Perhaps the main reason for people
to be waiting is
END OF SIDE A. GAP IN DIALOGUE
|PH:||Reason for people not to come to Germany is just to wait
to see if the situation improves in Germany. Another reason
may be that they are afraid of the language test. The third
reason may be that they are waiting for other members of their
family who still are living in Kazakhstan or Kirghistan and
they want to immigrate with them all together which is a German
Russian tradition, and is very typical. The fourth reason
may be that they were promised a new house, a new building,
or a better place to live and that is why they stay.
Maybe it is better to live in a house in Ukraine than to live in a small apartment of 30 square meters and sharing the 30 square meters with 5 persons. Many people from Ukraine or Russia are used to it, but in Germany, nobody is used to it. The indigenous population would not stand that situation, but there are many of them who have done that.
|RV:||Maybe you could revisit the criteria that a German in Siberia or the Ukraine would have to meet if they would want to immigrate. What are the standards they would have to meet before they are allowed to immigrate?|
|PH:||Three or four main points I think have to do with......|
|PH:||Yes. They have to have German origin. German nationality
on their passport is very important. Then they have to have
relatives or someone intervening or someone who may invite
The third is they have to educate their children in the German way, whatever this may be. So you have to teach your children German, you have to educate them with German values or culture. That's very important. That's a category which is not precise, but is very vague. To make a decision, if you go to court, is very difficult.
|RV:||What do you find is the most interesting part of the work you do, in relation to the Germans from Russia? What do you really like to do or what excites you?|
|PH:||Many things but just to mention one of the most important
is when I am traveling through the countries, to talk to the
people, and to see what is going on there. To talk with many
people and to see with my own eyes what is going on and then
to analyze and talk with my colleagues.
Something which is really fascinating for me is dealing with the questions because I am always asked, "What would you do, how would you decide or what comment could you give?" Of course, that is for a scholar sitting in an institute.
It is exciting because I feel what I am doing is somewhere in heaven, but it is in real life. Just to influence a little or to help to do something is fascinating.
|RV:||What is the hardest part of your job? The most difficult in relation to the Germans from Russia?|
|PH:||Time. It's a question of time because I would like to go
more often to Ukraine or Siberia but it's not possible because
my work is here. So it is very difficult to arrange.
Another thing is if you want to fight against prejudices. You may write hundreds of books and articles informing people about difficult situations for German Russians in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and about the reasons why they immigrate. One article in a German newspaper or in the yellow press and you may have to start from the very beginning once again. That is something which makes you very angry, if you have the feeling that you have to start at the beginning again and again.
We thought, and many of my colleagues as well, that if we published something or many things and regularly informed people, they would know about it. But I always have the impression that you have to start from the very beginning.
The same is true of representatives in many states and organizations, if somebody is new or the organization's technical assistants. Someone who has worked for this organization in the USA or the Caribbean Sea may know how to use a surf board, but is he prepared to deal with Siberia with that information? I don't think so. So you have to inform him from the very beginning and that is a problem. Sometimes it makes me angry but that is normal. You have to accept it. If you get angry about that all the time, you'll get a heart attack. Once is enough.
|RV:||You like to go to the villages, to travel, or to have a 'hands on' experience on what is going on. Can you think of a particular incident or experience that might reflect something about German Russians in Russia or Ukraine?|
|PH:||I don't understand.|
|RV:||When you travel or when you go out and you are talking to
people, can you think of a time when it was particularly cogent
or a time when you felt you learned something very important
from, let's say, a particular family or incident?
That something stands out and may be in some way representative of broader issues.
|RV:||Let's take a little bit of my own experience. My grandfather's second cousin was in Neuburg where I visited. They cannot speak any German and I don't think they will ever have the possibility of coming to Germany. It was a powerful experience to them.|
|PH:||Do they want to come to Germany?|
|RV:||They would like to, but I think it too hard for them.|
|PH:||This is a very important question because it is not only dealing with German Russians but societies in Eastern Europe as a whole. We have different communication cultures, to say the same words doesn't mean the same to me. Therefore, I have learned very much about the different cultures, ways of thinking, ways of expressing oneself.|
|PH:||For example, when I visited some congresses of the Rebirth Societies, I was lucky to join the first congress in 1990. It was fascinating for me to see those German Russians who formerly had no chance to meet officially. They were together there and I had the chance to talk to the people privately, as somebody from Germany, without the KGB.|
|RV:||And that was in Russia?|
|PH:||In Moscow. I went to several congresses. I had the chance
to listen to their speeches and to their cultural discussions
and to see how they handled the questions. This was very important
because you get a feeling for situations, and for people.
So you'll get to know better how they think, how to discuss
with them, and what their standards are.
This is also important if you want to do something with them because cooperation is not just getting some assistance and nothing more. To me that is the worst way. Maybe it is the beginning, but the best kind of cooperation is we have to learn from them as well. They learn from us and we learn from them. That, for me, is the most important experience and I have had it many times. That has helped me a lot.
When I was in Siberia officially and unofficially as a scholar and in a delegation, it helped me a lot.
|RV:||Can you think of a specific word or manner that might indicate that kind of communication, or difference?|
|PH:||I could describe a situation. Say that two university directors
meet, one is of Siberian origin and one of is German origin.
They meet in Siberia and they know one another a little. The
Siberian colleague is showing to the German partner some department
at the university. Then he said, "It would be very fine if
we could get a new Xerox."
The German would say as he would understand it. He would say, "Well, I will see what I can do. I will do what I can." This means he will go back to Germany and he would ask at his university or he would ask someone. If there is no money, then that's alright, there is no money.
But in that situation as soon as he says, "Well, I will see and do what I can," for the Russian, it is clear. The Xerox will come.
It may sound strange but it is typical. Just imagine the consequences. One is expecting the Xerox and the other is saying, "No, there won't be any". So, one has to be very careful with promises and situations where promises could be created by the surroundings, by persons or by the institutions or whatever, spontaneously. That is one of the biggest disasters in German policy talks with Russia or Ukraine, that many delegations, just come to people over there, see the disasters they are living in, and are unable to help.
They will say, "We'll do something for you." But, when they are back in Germany, it's nothing but blah, blah. You create catastrophes at the peoples level, their view of Germany, and their hopes toward Germany. That is very bad. This has a contra-productive effect on the policy, of course. You may go there and say the situation in Germany has deteriorated. It is hard to live there. The Aussiedlers in Germany will not believe a single word.
|RV:||When the Aussiedler comes here, are they welcome?|
|PH:||In general, no. They have many problems to be accepted as
Germans because they normally speak Russian. That's the reason
why there is a special program to learn German for Germans
in Russia and Ukraine. It's a kind of language offensive.
This, of course, is a good thing for people who want to be
German and who want to learn their German, their mother tongue
once again or to refresh it.
On the other hand, you may earn admissibility. If you don't feel German at all, or if you don't have any contact with the German language, and if you now learn German, you have the chance to get a little German ethnicity although you are not interested in your ethnic background or if your background is something different.
|RV:||Almost like America in that sense of being in America.|
|PH:||Yes. That's very interesting. So, you may earn ethnicity. That's completely new.|
|RV:||A German society. How about lifestyles, I mean you would see in your travels that the lifestyle, in the Ukraine is so drastically different from the way it is here in Germany. I would imagine in Siberia, it's got to be culture shock.|
|PH:||Of course it is. There was some source of information, letters
and reports of relatives. If you officially give them some
information, they will say, "No my relatives have told me
that blah, blah." This is a German Russian tradition. You
just believe your own people.
Of course, it's not so funny just to live in a small apartment for years, but they are used to the situation. In the beginning, many of them say, "Well, I survived and I'm just happy to be in Germany and I will stand the situation. That's no problem for me." Then it turns out the longer they live there, the more they want to profit and the more they want to do for themselves in German society and profit from it.
Well, there have been surveys conducted that are showing that in the beginning, the people are satisfied, but after a certain time, if they are still living in the small apartments, and they are still waiting for a job, they have their problems in the family. One part of the family is now voting for immigration to Russia or Ukraine, which is also very possible. Then the situation changes significantly.
|RV:||So, there are some very large social problems as a result of this immigration of Germans from Russia? How long do you think it will take before those problems are solved? Is it a generational issue and the assimilation may take generations?|
|PH:||It may be a generation. Of course, it has something to do with German society itself and with the economic situation in Germany. The better the economic situation, the faster the people coming to our country are accepted because they are not viewed or seen as competitors or the cause of the problems. Our economic situation right now is very critical and that is the reason the people say, "I don't want to lose my job in favor of a German-Russian."|
|RV:||How did you get interested in this whole topic? How did you get involved in it?|
|PH:||Well, at the university I once had the chance to visit a
seminar on multi-lingualism and due to the fact that my family
background is more Dutch than German and I knew some languages,
I took some interest in that phenomenon of multi-lingualism
in the former Soviet Union, and the Commonwealth of Independent
States is a fascinating topic. That's the reason I was fascinated
by it and that's when it all began.
At the university I had the chance as a student to work with research projects, and was already seriously involved in the research, and that was another motivating factor.
|RV:||How many languages do you speak?|
|PH:||I studied Russian, French, English, Dutch, Ukraine, German and dialect. Some Italian, I can understand but French helps a lot.|
|RV:||One question I would like to ask. How you got interested and why you have a passion for this? I think we touched on a lot of interesting things. We certainly could continue. So, what would you tell my grandfather's second cousins in Neuburg?|
|PH:||Make your own decision. I would never say stay there or come to Germany. But if you really want to come to Germany, then you might come, but you should know there are problems in Germany.|
|RV:||If you were in Kazakhstan?|
|PH:||If I would know Kazak, that would be the first thing I would learn. Then speaking Kazak and having no chance to be accepted by Kazak, then I would leave. If I have a dangerous life in south Kazakhstan maybe. In northern Kazakhstan, I don't know.|
|RV:||What about Siberia?|
|PH:||It depends on the situation. If I'm well established, knowing Russian and German, perfect German, and having a chance to get involved in some German Russian project or cooperations. Then, why not stay in Russia if I am happy there?|
|RV:||Is the German government as a whole, and German businesses, taking a big interest in Russia as a market?|
|PH:||Of course. They are really doing it. There are many programs relating to assisting, cooperations, and joint ventures. That's the reason they have supported Yeltsin. If there was a Zuganov, things would have been developed differently.|
|RV:||So it's not a drain of finances to put money into the Ukraine?
It is also seen as an investment in the market. Not only that,
it is righting some wrongs that were done in the past. Maybe
that is another question, how was the legal apparatus set
into motion in Germany so that there was the situation to
bring Germans from Russia back to Germany?
What is the political situation that caused this immigration to Germany? The climate? Why now? Why in the early 1990s, particularly other than the [Berlin] wall, the fall of the Soviet Empire or was that the primary reason?
|PH:||Why the Germans came to the Ukraine, you mean?|
|RV:||Why the Germans are being allowed back into Germany? The political situation and climate in Germany? Is it a moral thing?|
|PH:||I have already mentioned that in the beginning. The integration
policy is closely connected with the policy of assisting.
The German society had problems with the integration of hundreds
of thousands of people from East Germany, Romania, asylum
seekers and everyone, and with the economics.
At the same time, and afterwards, there was a liberalization in the Soviet Union. The German government just took the chance to use it for it's purposes, saying that the situation related to integration had deteriorated, the acceptance of the indigenous populations, the economic condition and etc.
On the other hand, the chances for cooperation have improved. Therefore, they say you may come to Germany but it is better if you stay where you are. That's how it is. No one would say that openly, but our authorities are dealing with the regulation of immigration. You can see that concretely if you have a look at the numbers. They are practically the same numbers, one year after another. This is fascinating, one hundred ninety seven thousand five hundred forty, the next year, one hundred ninety seven thousand six hundred thirty. How is this if you have, let's say, four hundred thousand applications for immigration? So, there is something wrong. There is a kind of regulation of immigration.
And relating to the Ukraine question, and the problem of the resettlement? There is a kind of competition among the leaders of the independent states. Yeltzin offered the Volga Republic and it was brought down by the local population in Saratow, etc. They refused. They said, "We would prefer aid instead of a Volga Reublic.
At the same time there was an offer from Kirghizstan from President Akia (SP.?). Delegations went over there and they had a good drink and wonderful meals with the partner in Kirghizstan and many talks. Somebody donated some sheep and they were transported in a airplane. Everybody felt fine, but nothing happened.
From 1989 until today more than seventy thousand Germans have left Kirghizstan. In Kazakhstan there are always talks about assisting the Germans from the Kazakh point of view, to assist them, help them, and to make them feel at home in their mother country, Kazakhstan. In reality, it is just the opposite. That's the reason why, officially, we had three hundred seventy thousand in Kazakhstan at the beginning of 1997.
When all that failed; President Kravchuk of the Ukraine made the offer for the return of four hundred thousand Germans in southern Ukraine and it was a sensation. Bourne was built and officially Germany and Ukraine had negotiation and it started. It turned out that just twelve thousand five hundred or a little more came to Ukraine.
|RV:||It's hard to find a German-Russian in southern Ukraine or Rebirth. You just don't see them. Just my relatives. They showed me the same cave they built many decades ago. They came back early in the 1956 or 1957, back to Neuburg. Very unusual in that sense.|
|PH:||Maybe they hide themselves under non-German nationality?|
|RV:||That's possible. It sounds like they hid themselves.You hear many different things on the politics from people who don't really know about it. That is very confusing.|