On the Difficulties of Venturing into Politics
Eisfeld, Dr. Alfred. "On the Difficulties of Venturing into Politics." Volk
auf dem Weg, May 2009, 6-9.
This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
Dr. Alfred Eisfeld
Political systems, that is, states and nations, can not exist without the participation of their population. The role of the people, their opportunities to make known their interests and to let these flow into the policies of the State, are what characterize the form of the State. In this regard, particularly during the 20th Century, the German-Russian had a multiplicity of experiences, and most of these were negative ones.
During the period prior to the 1917 Revolution, their participation in local politics (at the community or county level) and in the administration of the Gouvernements (gubernskoye zemskoye pravlenie), itself with few powers, in the Russian Parliament, and the national Duma shows the emergence of numerous personalities who exercised their abilities to the benefit of the overall population. In various elections they found support not only from the German population, but also from the majority non-German populace.
These experiences benefited them well in associations and their activities, and also in political participation after the Revolution, even after the civil war that had brought great losses to the Germans population. The lesson in those days was that for one's important affairs one must engage oneself personally.
On the subject of efforts toward autonomy, which would also use these experiences to its benefit in various parts of the country, this can be checked out in several articles in the 2008 Heimatbuch der Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland. Then, too, there are several publications concerning the Mennonite "Association of Citizens of Dutch Origin" in Ukraine, available in German, English and Russian. Not to be forgotten, either, are the associations for aid to famine victims that were founded in many places during the 1920s.
For all politicians during this period, a professional career and legitimization through elections were important characteristics. They were, in the eyes of the people as well as in in those of the government, legitimate representatives of the interests of association members.
The build-up of Soviet power and the subordination of the populace under the dictatorship of the Communist Party caused the emergence of the professional politician type whose most important characteristics were loyalty to the Party and absolute obedience.
Although Germans in the Soviet Union were represented in the Party apparatus, in the Communist Youth organization (Komsomol), in other Soviet organs, etc., to a relatively smaller proportion than the overall populace, one cannot overlook the fact that German functionaries would hold no scruples in the persecution and destruction of members of the populace.
One specific exception was Dr. Peter Letkemann, now of Canada, in regard to the behavior of functionaries in the Chortitza region during the 1930s. In an article he prepared for publication he writes, "things could have been worse." The proportion of Mennonites of this area, many of whom were de-kulakicized, exiled or arrested, was below State-provided data. For the Volga Republic the reverse can be said, especially even during the Stalinist cleansings between 1937 and 1939.
Following World War II it took many years until Germans would take part in public life again. True, during the war there were Germans in the positions of leaders of collectives or department managers in industrial concerns of North Kazakhstan and Siberia, but nothing was said in public about their ethnic origins.
The situation changed by the summer of 1955 and following the lifting of severe restrictions on where one could settle. To avoid mass migration away from the places of exile, the Communist Party had ordered heavier quotas on the work of those who had been politically resettled. During the initial phase of making these policies happen, the intent was that Germans were to be drawn to membership in the Communist Party, to be employed to a greater extent as propagandists, and to be recommended for leading positions.
This strengthened support of the national ethnic group led to the fact that in 1973 two Germans were nominated, for the first time, to represent the "Bloc of Communists and of those without party," that is, from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in an election to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and they were indeed elected, but because no competition was put forth in their election districts. During subsequent elections to the Supreme Soviet of the Union Republics, a number of Germans were again chosen. They would be recognized as being part of the same "nomenclature" as other mandate holders.
In contrast to these early token Germans, the time between 1960s and 1980s saw the formation of at least three groupings which, although not officially recognized as politicians, were solidly active in politics.
One of these groupings was the activists of the autonomy movement. A number of Volga-Germans, and also Germans who in pre-war times had resided in other settlement areas, early during their time in the forced labor camps and under the regime of the special settlements had written personal letters and even sent petitions to the government. They supported the lifting of the state-ordered and state-executed repressions against innocent members of the populace.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a movement emerged from all this that, despite impediments put up by the State security service, would send delegations to Moscow to negotiate with State and Party leadership.
These delegations were legitimized through signatures from Germans of various regions of the country, and the State, nolens volens willy-nilly, even recognized them as representing the German population.
In January of 1965, a delegation of Germans from the Soviet Union was received by A. Mikoyan, the then government head, and in June of the same year a delegation was received for discussions with representatives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Even though their self-imposed goals were not achieved, the delegations still were able to exercise some influence on the policies regarding nationalities. However, neither the Party nor the Soviet government were prepared to engage in real dialog. Not until 1988 was the next delegation able to get to Moscow unhindered.
Between these delegation trips, in the 1950s especially, an emigration movement and a broadly based movement that called for permission to reestablish church communities were forming. During discussions between the German government's delegation under Konrad Adenauer and the Soviet delegation in September of 1955, the number of those willing to emigrate, 130,000, was brought up several times. This number arose from adding the number of letters directed to the German Red Cross in search for relatives and other family members.
A specific organization of those willing to emigrate was unthinkable at the time. The Soviet government, however, recognized the significance of the number mentioned above and continued to put up strong opposition against it until it opened its borders in 1987.
Still, even in the 1970s, people wishing to emigrate from various Republics an in regions of the Baltic Sea, Central Asia and Siberia did succeed in coordinating their activities and, in May of 1973, in submitting a petition signed by 35,000 persons. In several places in the Baltic area and in Moscow, demonstrations and sit-down strikes were conducted. The largest demonstration took place in Karaganda on September 30, with 400 people taking part.
For their re-emergent faith, many of the faithful took severe risks, and some had to endure multi-year prison or camp sentences. They acted not only on their personal behalf, but also in the name of newly arising communities. This is shown in the support of the families of the persecuted by their brothers and sisters in faith, and by the build-up of communities and churches, including Baptists, Ev.-Lutheran churches and Catholic dioceses. I assume the author is here speaking of organizations in the West. Tr.
To a great extent, the emigration movement as well as the religious rebirth, did achieve their goals. More than 2.5 million German-Russians and their family members would eventually emigrate to Germany. In some locales within the CIS Russian Federation there were churches with nearly complete membership ending up emigrating.
The autonomy movement was able to constitute itself officially in March of 1989. How many hopes were bound up in it! The entire Soviet Union was in the process of breaking into a new future, including tens of thousands of Germans hoping for a better future and justice. It was now possible to express freely one's thoughts and wishes. Resolutions were drafted, and programs were outlined. Politically, German-Russians were being taken seriously, and they began to become active in politics.
In order that developments achieved the desired results, the Communist Party and the State actually turned helpful. Regional Party committees entered "constructive elements" from the ranks of the Germans into the autonomy movement. A dozen higher officials discovered within a short time their solidarity with the people. With their military careers often at an end, officers of the army, the air force, the navy and the tank corps were attending conferences of the "Wiedergeburt" "Rebirth" organization. Without question, it was an extraordinary experience to witness officers, some in uniform, criticizing the State whose service they were still in!
Those still in the Party, or delegates of those who had been until recently, were tirelessly drafting plans and freely giving interviews to the press, inside and outside of the country. Unfortunately, their words often did not agree with the facts!
How exciting when in March of 1991 a Council for the Reestablishment of the German Volga-Republic was formed! The first decision of this Council, however, was not to travel to the Volga region, and to refrain from activities for the time being. Well, given that, who would still believe in any sort of success? And who would pay credence to an offer that proposed trading houses of Germans in Siberia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere for the barracks in Germany that were being emptied by the Soviet army returning home, particularly when these barracks were already owned by the German Federal Government, and when care for officers and regular soldiers to Germany, including housing, was being paid for from the Federal budget?
The Federal Government was then put under pressure by threats that emigrants from the CIS were actually to head for Argentina instead of Germany. But Argentina's willingness to accept these emigrants was lacking, and no one actually asked those eager to emigrate whether they really wanted to move to Argentina.
Changes in course by German associations, which seemed to shoot up from the ground like mushrooms, became commonplace, and each claimed to be representing hundreds of thousand, or even millions.
The press, inside and outside of the country, found this worthy of reporting, but only temporarily. Anyone who lived in Moscow, spoke German, and was available, would be interviewed often.
But when it came to the point of preventing unanimity within the autonomy movement, "competent organs" of the press would magically conjure up, as if in the circus, presidents of associations whom no one had known before. New ideas (whose!?) (e.g., a German autonomous region in the Kaliningrad area) made the rounds and in reality crippled the autonomy movement.
Something of this sort would never happen to the Crimea Tatars. They knew where their home was. For the Germans, surprising changes in opinion were possible, not in the least due to the fact that hardly any of them were familiar with the history of their own people. Another reason must certainly be found in the fact that none of these activists was truly free and independent. Pressures from the authorities, but also real economic need and temptations from inland and foreign "sponsors" made many occasionally (?) forget their principles (?).
About the Current Situation
A not so minor portion of the so-called leaders of those days would finally end up in Germany, for what could they possibly find in a country that would never give them any autonomy, anyway? However, in their new home country, which they dubbed their historical home country, they did not receive any preferential treatment, either. Integration and the building up of a new life and future are certainly not an easy undertaking, and not everyone accomplishes this very easily.
Perhaps this may have been the basis for a demand published in 1998 in Russian-language newspapers, to the effect that "We are entitled to twelve to fourteen seats in the federal lower house!" A further demand was that each and every federal ministry should have a department directed by a German from Russia, one that would coordinate that ministry's policies directed toward Eastern Europe. Who, besides the drafters of such unrealistic expectations, would seriously believe in these expectations!?
The CDU and CSU Christian Democratic Party and Christian Socialist Party were not willing to offer the new political superstars any prospect-rich spots on election slates, where upon some threats were voiced to the effect that they might wander over tot he SPD (Socialist Party of Germany. But nothing came of that, either. During the last ten years, our political vagabonds variously supported the "Schill Party" and at times the "German Party." All without success. In the meantime, some of them have landed at the Left, some even with the NPD the extremely right-wing National Party of Germany - Tr..
An attempt to use the Landsmannschaft as a stepping stone to prepare for entry into big-time politics also has been tried for at least a year now. A small group of self-appointed New Politicians simply declared itself a majority and were baffled when the Landsmannschaft membership was unwilling to follow their leadership. Could it have been because no one explained to the members where they were aiming to go?
Attempts at misuse of the well-meaning or the naivete of the Aussiedler recur ever so often. Two examples of this, which used the preservation of the Russian language as their pretext follow.
The Russian-language newspaper "Evropa Express" cited its publisher in its 40th issue in October of 2002 as stating that during the previous week a founding assembly had taken place in Berlin for a group called "Association of Russian Countrymen in Germany," and that the Association was planning to become the cultural and information agency between Germany and Russia and thereby, so to speak, to open up for Russian-language speakers a new window to Germany.
The demographic changes in Russia and the already acute lack of qualified specialists, and also the unabashed attempt to use emigrants from Russia to exercise influence on recipient countries, led to the issuance of a program by the Russian President Putin called "sootetchestvenniki" (coutnrymen). No further explanation by the author. Tr.
Among these countrymen, and with strong participation by politicians, church representatives, business people, and other representatives of Russia, several new associations were founded, and congresses were held. For example, one was held in Cologne in June, 2007, and another in Nuremberg in July, 2007. And because all of this seemed a good thing, there came welcoming speeches and congratulatory messages from representatives of all political parties.
The attempt was to quickly recognize and organize the 2.5 millions Aussiedler in Germany as Russian countrymen. Active support was being promised by Aleksandr Karachevzev, the Russian General Consul in Munich, for "the interests of Russia-originating coutnrymen had to be protected, and quite resolutely.".Sergei Antufyev, deputy president of the Russian National Duma's Committee for matter of the CIS and connections with its countrymen, summarized this task as follows: "Russia must 'lobby' for the interests of Aussiedler," as one could read in the July, 2007 issue of the newspaper "Moskovskiy komsomolez Germaniya."
At the World Congress of Russian-language Speakers, which was held in Moscow in early November of 2008, of eight delegates from Germany not a single one represented the Landsmannschaft. The female president of the Center for Russian Culture MIR in Munich noted this facts with regret. By her estimate, of the five million Russian-speaking people in Germany, at least three million were in Germany, and they were not represented. Additionally, of course, none of their suggestions had been accepted to become part of the official resolution issued by the congress. She surmised that this resolution may well have been drafted before the congress ever took place.
Well, one can in fact love Russian classics and be aware of present conditions without having to become a member of any association that is directed from Moscow. That is the way most Aussiedler view this point. Anyone who views it differently of course has the option of becoming a member of such associations. But if that is the case, please do for your personal benefit, not as representative of all Aussiedler.
Since last fall, a new nightmare has arisen, namely, Germans from Russia as members of the NPD! What is really annoying is the fact that whereas just a few years back the NPD considered Aussiedler from the CIS as undesirables, it now wishes to exploit them as a source of votes.
There is more. In May there is to be a common demonstration between the NPD and a dubious "German-Russian Peace Movement" in Friedland. Allegedly this demonstration will be on behalf of peace. But the most important aims of this association that is influenced by Russian Neo-Nazis are Germany's exit from NATO, support for Russian policies in the Caucasus region, etc. The NPD shares these goals. Do the Germans from Russia do so? Possibly not very likely!
The publisher of the infamous periodical "East-West-Panorama," in the April issue, also plays himself up to be the protector of all Germans. His solution for all problems is this: ban all parties and elect representatives directly. If things were to go his way, the basis of parliamentary democracy would be eliminated. But with his demand for banning all parties he places himself among the ranks of opponents of the constitution. Living in Germany while steadfastly opposing the existing system of rights and laws -- that is supposed to be the way to salvation? It is to be hoped that this will turn on a light in the minds of his readers.
Participation in the public and political life of one's country is a right of every Federal citizen. One should not let this be taken away either by extremists from one's own ranks or by those from far away. It is therefore to be wished that Germans from Russia do become politically engaged, with ideas and a willingness to act on behalf of the entire population of Germany. To them belongs the leadership of opinions, not to political vagabonds and swindlers.
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.