At the Press Conference of Dr. Heinrich Groth on the Occasion of Resigning from His Leadership Position (Moscow, Russia, December 20, 1993)
“At the Press Conference of Dr. Heinrich Groth on the Occasion of Resigning from His Leadership Position (Moscow, Russia, December 20, 1993).” Translated and Edited by Eric J. Schmaltz, St. Petersburgische Zeitung, (Russia).
Translated and edited by Eric J. Schmaltz, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Co-Executive Director of the NWOSU-Masonic Institute for Citizenship Studies, Department of Social Sciences, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Alva.
The original German source: “Zur Pressekonferenz von Dr. Heinrich Groth anlässlich der Niederlegung seiner Vollmachten,” St. Petersburgische Zeitung (Russia), No. 1 (Feb. 1994): pp. 1-3.
In Moscow, the International Council of Russian Germans of the former USSR (Zwischenstaatlicher Rat der Russlanddeutschen der ehemaligen UdSSR/Mezhgosudarstvennii sovet nemtsev byvshego SSSR [ZSRD/MGSN]) held a session on December 19-20, 1993. Its long-established goal was to secure the full restoration of national rights for ethnic Germans in the federal framework of the Soviet Union, and subsequently in the various post-Soviet successor states, including the Russian Federation. The ZSRD/MGSN originated as a splinter group under activist Dr. Heinrich Groth in mid-October 1991 following a divisive internal political struggle within the larger ethnic German umbrella organization called the “Rebirth Society” (Wiedergeburt/Vozrozhdenie), which had formed in March 1989.
Groth, whose Volga German ancestors were deported to Kazakhstan under Stalin, was a biologist by profession. Born in 1951, he had worked as an ethnic German activist in the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s, later serving as the first international chairman of the “Rebirth” Society between March 1989 and February 1993. In 1990, he also was named as the first international president of the newly established Confederation of Repressed Peoples in the USSR (Russia).1
Groth soon earned the reputation among ethnic Germans and Soviet and West German officials as an outspoken critic of leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin during this intense period of national reawakening among the Soviet peoples. In particular, he grew impatient with the apparent lack of progress made by Moscow on matters of national rights for deported and repressed minority peoples, including the ethnic Germans. He came to view Soviet and post-Soviet officials, along with the more moderate prominent members of his national autonomy movement, notably Peter Falk and Hugo Wormsbecher, as political barriers on the road toward the full restoration of national autonomy rights for ethnic Germans and other deported and repressed peoples.2
On December 20, 1993, Groth used the occasion of the ZSRD/MGSN gathering in Moscow to announce his formal resignation from his various political posts. At this time, the Russian Federation’s “Rebirth” leader Jakob Maurer replaced Groth as the international chairman of the ZSRD/MGSN, while Ernst Wolf assumed leadership of this organization’s national branch within the Russian Federation.
The value of this press conference by a recognized leader of the ethnic group’s autonomy movement in Russia and the post-Soviet states is considerable. Indeed, a number of important themes became quite apparent at this press conference:
- The ethnic Germans living in Russia and other post-Soviet countries had begun since the late 1980s to develop local and regional organizations and assemblies to advance and maintain their voice as an important national minority in a multinational region.
- The ethnic Germans of the former USSR in recent years had been striving with other ethnic interest groups and organizations to seek full rehabilitation in order to help reverse what had occurred under Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s. This inter-ethnic dialogue among former deported and repressed peoples suggested the possibility at the time of further cooperation between ethnic Germans and other nationalities in the region.
- Groth underscored the apparent ambivalence and opposition of the post-Soviet governments toward instituting constructive reforms for ethnic Germans and other nationalities in the region. In fact, one concern was that united Germany’s recent economic investment in the East, intended as it was to assist ethnic Germans and their neighbors as well as to reverse the region’s economic deterioration and the tide of ethnic German mass emigration, might be abused and even wasted by the same post-Soviet authorities.
- Groth’s public resignation signaled a formal protest against Russian and other government officials. It expressed a growing sense of frustration with the burning emigration question at the time and its potentially negative implications for the considerable political advances made in the former USSR after Gorbachev. The high-stakes matter of losing valuable human capital (i.e., a significant ethnic German labor pool in Eurasia) in the rebuilding of the former USSR lay behind his concern. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, the legal ethnic German exodus to united Germany had reached record levels.
In retrospect, Groth’s high-profile retirement from national politics marked a critical moment in the history of ethnic Germans in the ex-USSR, when the group had to make the stark decision between developing some limited forms of autonomy amid the ruins of the Soviet system and setting their sights on the recently unified Germany. After the mid-1990s, much of the initial energy and enthusiasm of the ethnic German national autonomy movement began to wane as full cultural and political “rehabilitation” remained elusive in the former Soviet empire.
The historic press conference appeared in the German- and Russian-language newspaper St. Petersburgische Zeitung (St. Petersburg, Russia) in February 1994. A copy of the original publication is available at the North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection in Fargo:
Twenty-one years ago as a first-year university student, I made my way into the Russian German national movement. For the last six years, I have occupied myself with it professionally.
Under the conditions of the stormy political process in the former USSR and present-day Russia and the hard political struggle of our repressed ethnic group with the totalitarian central authorities and the new Russian leadership, we have succeeded in carrying out, practically every half-year, national conventions and new elections as legitimate political organs for the Russian Germans. The entire time, beginning in 1988, I have accompanied the following organizational bodies: first, the Coordinating Center of the Soviet Germans on the Restoration of the Volga German ASSR; then the “Rebirth” Society of Soviet Germans; the “Rebirth” International Union; the Provisional Council of the Germans for the Restoration of the Volga German ASSR; the International Council of Russian Germans; the Council of Germans in Russia; and finally, the Confederation of the Repressed Peoples of Russia.
The “Rebirth” Society (in Russian—Vozrozhdenie) was one of the first national and democratic liberation movements in the USSR. First, the Russian Germans acted independently. Later, we allied ourselves with the Crimean Tatars and the Meskhetian Turks. Still later, with the Greeks, Karachai, Balkars, Ingush, Finns, Koreans, and Kalmyks. On the other hand, the “Rebirth” joined the “Democratic Russia” movement and prepared and carried out a campaign for the election of President Yeltsin.
It is known that the 1950s era of genocide and forcible assimilation had led the Russian Germans to an ethnic “dead end” right up to the beginning of the changes by Gorbachev.
One needed urgent and cardinal measures for the rehabilitation of the ethnic group, for its voluntary return to homeland regions, for the creation of conditions necessary to revive language, culture, and traditions. All of this we realized by means of reviving the Volga German republic which had been unjustly liquidated.
The six years of active, organized and considerable political struggle brought the Russian Germans the following results:
1. There was developed a wide network of public structures for Russian Germans in all regions of the former USSR which included, above all, the 250,000-member-strong “Rebirth” Society, the International Association for German Culture, the Fund for the Rehabilitation of Forced Labor Army Survivors and the Victims of Stalinism, the Society of Russian Germans in the Volga and Kaliningrad Regions, as well as other public structures.
2. On the interstate level, as well as within the framework of the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, viably functioning representative organs for Russian Germans were elected.
3. There was developed a whole series of state, interstate, and public structures for the support of Russian Germans in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. However, the activity of these structures unfortunately bears a rather propagandist and cosmetic character.
Russia and Germany, which are inclined toward a natural and multi-faceted union and have repeatedly stated the function of using the Russian Germans as a mutual human resource, still have not reached a strategic understanding of this potential.
The possibilities of erecting “bridges” between Germany and the Volga region and Russia and Europe practically have gone to ruin with them. The less important and yet quite feasible “bridge” between Russia and Germany (namely, between Russia and Europe), by means of Kaliningrad, is likewise losing any real consideration.
Instead of reaching proposed and truly strategic projects, Russia and Germany have involved themselves in small cosmetic measures in the Russian Germans’ places of exile. For our problems, one speculates in dozens of areas in the Russian Federation, attempting to entice German investment [from the West] in order waste it in a Soviet fashion.
The ignorance about the severity of our problem by the leadership of the USSR and, subsequently, by that of Russia, as well as the delays and the clear opposition on the part of officials, has fully destroyed the Russian Germans’ fragile hopes for a complete rehabilitation.
As a consequence of the policies of the Communist Party and Russian leadership, the restoration of the Volga German republic has been frustrated.
The emigration of Russian Germans to Germany has assumed an irreparable character. In the last eight years, 900,000 persons have emigrated, nearly half of them in the past two years.
Around 1993, the emigration of Russian Germans to Germany was regulated at the level of 225,000 persons annually. The admission of all willing Russian Germans is guaranteed up to the year 2011.
Like all of the repressed peoples, I am displeased with Russian policy. I have had enough of the misled politics of public opinion and of its ignoring the representative bodies of the Russian Germans and other repressed peoples. I have had enough of the policies gradually strangulating the Russian Germans’ ethno-social interests when it happens simultaneously with the leadership’s spoken support for such interests.
In the form of a public protest, I consciously resign from my leadership position as chairman of the highest legitimate organ of the Russian Germans and as president of the Confederation of the Repressed Peoples of Russia. My stepping down from these offices does not mean, however, an end to the national liberation movement. Since these problems are being quelled by force or by ignorance, one must solve them in the future and probably pay a high price for it, however.
What befalls the Russian German movement remains in the reliable hands of the democratically elected team of politicians from the people.
Through the voluntary resignation of my high offices, I would like to underscore the strengths of the value of the Russian Germans’ ideas, which dominate small business trends and political discourse.
I hope that this step will cause politicians from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan to pay additional attention and that they bring together diplomatic and strategic ideas to the problems facing Russian Germans and other repressed peoples.
1. Concerning the plethora of ethnic German organizations in the USSR during this frenetic period of political activism, please see Eric J. Schmaltz, ed., An Expanded Bibliography and Reference Guide for the Former Soviet Union’s Ethnic Germans: Issues of Ethnic Autonomy, Group Repression, Cultural Assimilation and Mass Emigration in the Twentieth Century and Beyond (Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University Libraries’ Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2003), pp. xi-xii, xxii-xxxv, 1-17.
2. Schmaltz, “Reform, ‘Rebirth’ and Regret: The Rise and Decline of the Ethnic-German Nationalist Wiedergeburt Movement in the USSR and CIS, 1987-1993,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1998): pp. 215-247.