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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.

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