There is no Plain Sailing for the Revival of the
German Rayon of Halbstadt in Siberia German Headlines: Das Deutschtum Pflegen -fur die
Ausreise Die Wiederbelebung des Deutschen Rayons Halbstadt in Sibirien
Klappt Nicht so Recht
Urban, Thomas. "There is no Plain Sailing for the Revival of the German Rayon of Halbstadt in Siberia German Headlines: Das Deutschtum Pflegen -fur die Ausreise Die Wiederbelebung des Deutschen Rayons Halbstadt in Sibirien Klappt Nicht so Recht." Suddeutsche Zeitung, 8 July 1996, 7.
Translation from German to English by Alice Morgenstern
The thermometer shows 45 degrees centigrade in the blazing heat of
South Siberia, a temperature not unusual in summer. But, a heatwave
does not last for more than a few days. The winter in that region,
however, lasts for seven or eight months with temperatures sometimes
45 degrees below zero.
Halbstadt is a community of 3000 inhabitants. It takes a car-ride
of an hour to the nearest railway station, then ten hours on the
train to get to Barnal, the center of the Altai District, and from
there a flight to Moscow takes four hours time.
In spite of being ioslated in the desolate Asian steppe, Halbstadt
is called "the Island of Hope”. That at least is the
slogan used by Russian and Federal German political representatives
who recently visited that place.
The official name of that area is "Deutscher Nationaler Rayon
im Altai-Gebiet (German national rayon in the Altai District)".
It was founded in July 1991 by special orders of President Boris
Jeltsin. Bonn and Moscow also agreed to the foundation of another
German rayon: Asowo in the district of Omsk. Halbstadt, however,
had already existed as a German village between 1927 and 1938, before
Stalin put an end to it.
The Russian Germans in Halbstadt are less optimistic. Josef Schleicher,
the editor of the Russian-German weekly: "Zeitung für
dich (the paper for you)", known in Communist times as "Rote
Fahne (Red flag)”, clearly explains the situation today with
the circulation of the paper. Five years ago 1000 copies were sold,
now the sale has dwindled to 180 copies among the 15000 inhabitants
of the district who have been registered as ethnic Germans. In the,
meantime 60% of the population have emigrated to the Federal German
Republic. Only a few thousand newcomers who hardly speak any German
have come from the former Soviet Republics of Middle Asia and even
they did so hoping to get their traveling permits for Germany here.
The cultural circles with their repertoire of German songs and folkdances
have diminished since the time of five years ago.
Schools are far from providing lessons in the two official languages,
Russian and German. Russian remains dominant in every aspect. Johann
Schellenberg (75), Josef Schleicher's predecessor sees the fault
in the very construction of the whole enterprise: on one hand the
German government supports the rayon with millions of DM, on the
other hand it also supports the mass-migration to Germany. One of
the kolkhoz-farmers whose relatives have been living in Germany
for some time now, comes to the point: "Even an illegal worker
in your country earns as much in a day as we do in a month.”
Another catchword bears the name "Tchetchenia" .The war
in the Caucasus Region has made it clear to Schellenberg and his
compatriots that Russia is still far from stability. New tendencies
of nationalism expressed by leading politicians in Moscow are troubling
the Russian Germans. Many fear that they will be getting from bad
to worse, says Schellenberg. So far 70% of the population of the
rayon have voted for Jeltsin. Halbstadt is a "white island"
in the "red belt" of workers, industrial- and farmworkers,
of South Siberia who dread unemployment.
In Halbstadt, people realize that the politicians in Bonn are in
a dilemma and not only because of the new discussions about the
Russian Germans in Germany. (The party-leader of the SPD, Oskar
Lafontaine, began to question their rights to get German pensions
etc.). If Bonn reduces the millions for the subventions of the Russian
German rayons, migration will increase dramatically. But the same
would happen if the German Government announced the end of the regulations
for the acception of ethnic German latecomers ("Spataussiedler").
One of the measures Bonn has taken is appreciated by everybody,
a measure, by the way, that saves millions of DM: In the future
Russian Germans must pass an examination in the German Language,
before they will get the papers allowing them to settle in Germany.
So far the language courses were installed in Germany and people
were sent there after their immigration. Now the Russian German
politicians hope for a revival of their cultural centers which had
been established by them and financed by Bonn. They are looking
forward to a new boom even if people only use the centers for preparing
to get away from Russia.
Our appreciation is extended to Alice Morgenstern for
translation of this article.