Do not Sell Your Identity Below its True Value, a Speech by the Representative for Aussiedler
Verkaufen sie Ihre Identitaet Nicht Unter Wert, Rede des Aussiedlerbeauftragten
Bergner, Dr. Christoph. "Do not Sell Your Identity Below its True Value, a Speech by the Representative for Aussiedler." Volk auf dem Weg, July 2007, 6-8.
This translation from the original German-language
text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder. Colorado
The speech by the Parliamentary Secretary and Representative for Aussiedler
Affairs, Dr. Christoph Bergner, advanced to an emotional and political
high point of the Bundestreffen. The speaker first conveyed greetings
from Federal Chanceloress Angela Merkel and from the Minister of the
Interior, Dr. Wolfgang Schaeuble, and then he cited as the basis for
his activities the Coalition Agreement of the Federal Government:
"Again, we pledge our adherence on a continual basis to responsibilities
toward those people who, as Germans in Eastern and Southern Europe
as well as in the Soviet Union underwent great suffering and wish
to remain in their current homeland, but also to those who wish to
come to Germany. This applies especially to those Germans in the successor
states of the Soviet Union, for whom the post-war consequences have
lasted the longest."
Following is the text of the greater part of his further remarks.
You have heard the clear statements contained in the Coalition Agreement.
My task as representative for Aussiedler Affairs and national minorities
consists in engaging myself toward realization of these intentions
and declarations. This is not always a simple matter. After more than
60 years since the war's end, public attention prefers to look elsewhere.
But if one wants to do right by the Germans from Russia, one must
be prepared to continue even today to think about their problematic
post-war fate and after-effects, as much with a view toward the Germans
from Russia who seek to find their way into the nation's society,
as well as toward the Germans in Russia, those German-Russians within
the Russian Federation and in the other CIS States, who live there
|Dr. Christoph Bergner (r.)
in conversation with Prof. Michael M. Miller during the Partnership
Conference following the Bundestreffen
After-effects of problematic post-war fate - how do these manifest themselves
today? Let me mention three such after-effects that, given my experience,
seem especially important.
First there is the problem of poverty, which we here in our prosperous
society are barely able to grasp, but which I observed again and
again during visits to former Trud-armyists and their relatives
in Barnaul, in Pavlodar and in other places. To this day, Germans,
as a result of deportation and post-war destiny, continue to live
in deplorable poverty and certainly are in need of our assistance.
Therefore, humanitarian support must remain even in the future to
be part of our assistance policies.
Secondly, there are the consequences of exclusion from participation
An article in your Association's publication, "Volk auf dem
Weg," printed last year, still gives me pause. It consisted
of an overview depicting the varying levels of educational attainment
among different nationalities in the former Soviet Union and comparing
them at various successive points in time.
While during the 1920s Germans (along with Jews) were still among
the most educated peoples in the Soviet Union, their level of educational
attainment dropped following the repression toward the end of the
1930s and especially following World War II. Forty years after the
very first comparison year, they ranked last among the 18 nationalities
that were compared.
Suppression and discrimination took from the Germans exactly that
which had earlier enabled their participation in Russian society,
that is, education, training, and development of skills in business
and in public life.
To be sure, there are by now specific examples of highly qualified
German-Russians in outstanding positions, but the consequences of
legal incapacitation and constant humiliation that are still recognizable
in the formerly Communist Greater Russia affected none of the nationalities
in such a sustained fashion as they did the German-Russians.
For me, too, overcoming the post-war problems means that we must
engage ourselves toward cultural emancipation of the German-Russians.
I am grateful to any and all who contribute to that end: the Landsmannschaft
der Deutschen aus Russland, the IVDK and other associations who
remain active in the successor states of the Soviet Union.
But I must also express criticism of the study by the Nuremberg
Institute of Job Market Research, IAB, that has been cited in detail
in speeches we have been hearing. I suspect that the statistics
used as its basis are defective. We shall deal with this aspect
further in the expanded Aussiedler Advisory Council. The matter
that angers me most is that the IAB study spreads discriminating
judgments to the public without even beginning to take into account
the complex base conditions the German-Russian Spaetaussiedler have
to deal with, and with headlines such as "Joblessness much
higher for Aussiedler than the norm" it calls into doubt the
very virtues these same German-Russians have kept up during years
of suppression, that is, their diligence and the will to work.
I now come to my third after-effect of the fateful post-war conditions
that I wish to discuss, it is the loss of the German language.
Among the most irksome prejudices concerning Germans from Russia
which, by the way, are present even among some of the Laenders ministers
of the interior, is the opinion that the considerable loss of German
language skills among Germans from Russia is a result of indifference
or lack of concern toward one's linguistic past. That is simply
wrong! Losing German-language skills is clearly the result of suppression.
For all those who are still incapable of grasping this, I am happy
to recite a poem by the German-Russian poet Erna Hummel, which depicts
a declaration of love and a story of suffering in relation to one's
own language. May I cite a few verses of this poem [loosely translated
To my Mother Tongue
Through you I once lost my family home,
Humiliated, I was forced to go out into the world...
Yet, those true melodies of your songs
I allowed to sink into my soul.
Lying in the dust, on your account,
It was you that gave me renewed strength.
And even when I was derided on your account
I still crowned you with my love.
And as death made its stealthy way through the ranks of our people,
When grave upon grave opened up on your account,
You remained close to me, I loved you,
You were, for me, may grandest song.
And now let me cite the final verse of this poem:
As I was lying in the dust on your account,
You remained my strength, which gave renewed hope,
And even when I lost hope a thousand times because of you,
Praised be the great fortune that I was given through you!
Thus the poem by Erna Hummel, which indicates how German-Russians
fought for their mother tongue and suffered for it. This might also
remind some of those who, given this land of comfortable multi-language
conditions, might be given to a more lax use of language, and to
remind them of the value of their own mother tongue.
To me it is a fatal situation that knowledge of the German language
has, through legal enactment, become the pre-condition for qualification
for Germans from Russia (and their kin) as Spaetaussiedler, for
loss of German-language knowledge is clearly the result of the consequences
of their post-war treatment, which should justify exceptional response.
To be sure, I envision no possibility of redoing these decisions,
but I feel obliged to address openly the problems connected with
them. The belated introduction of ever higher acceptance hurdles
through ever tighter language criteria has led at least in part
to bitter family separations, of which I learn in nearly every discussion
hour, from the descriptions by those who are directly affected.
I would at least like to assure you that I am looking for ways of
how one can try to resolve at least some of the worst of these separations
in the future.
Even more fatal to the reception of German-Russians as Spaetaussiedler
is an entirely erroneous image of these Germans from Russia, which
stems directly from inappropriate insistence on prerequisite standards
of language skills and expresses itself usually thus: "They
are not at all or insufficiently capable of speaking the language,
therefore they are not Germans." These and similar statements
represent a wide-spread mistake. This mistaken idea leads to even
more false, and even insulting concepts regarding what to call your
ethnic group: "German Russians," "Russians"
or, until recently, wording that is part of the federal refugee
act, "Non-German descendants of German Spaetaussiedler,"
-- what is that supposed to mean?!
You are Germans! In any case, you are Germans if you wish to be
such. Your families have suffered much because of their ethnic German
nationality. A glance at history, particularly at least some measure
of respect for this suffering should prohibit any doubt of your
membership in German ethnicity.
Therefore, do not allow your membership in German-ness be denied!
Do not allow yourselves to become victims of superficiality, which
in Germany is unfortunately wide-spread, at lest with regard to
questions of national conception and history.
Moreover, do not permit that this kind of superficiality might
gain ground among yourselves.
Above all, this means: do learn and keep up the German language!
Here in Germany, in Russia, in Central Asia, in Ukraine.
I am aware that this declaration comes with a cultural dilemma,
which I wish to describe by means of two statements:
1. "The Russian language is great and powerful" - I read
in Turgenyev, and he is right. The Russian language is a splendid
language, but so is the German language. Therefore, no one needs
to forget the Russian language in order to prove his membership
in German ethnicity.
2. The second statement, heard last week during the Heimatfest
of Banat Schwabians from Romania, is equally powerful: "when
your own language is lost, your ethnic group disappears."
This latter statement originates with Adam Mueller-Guttenbrunn,
a poet who resisted the magyarization attempts of Banat Schwabians
by Hungarian regimes and thereby helped to preserve the cultural
uniqueness of his ethnic German nationality group.
"When one's own language is lost ..." I believe that
Mueller-Guttenbrunn is right. If one wishes to preserve one's identity,
if one wishes to maintain and preserve cultural connections, one
must preserve one's own language, which, after all, is at the center
of cultural connectedness.
If you, a German from Russia, do not wish to lose your cultural
identity in the future, for which your families suffered so much,
if you do not wish to allow, right now, that this identity become
victim of superficial disparagement, then you will need a connection
with the German language: in Russia and in the CIS it is a minority
language, but here in Germany it constitutes a regained mother tongue
In this context, I wish to convey expressly to the Landsmannschaft
der Deutschen aus Russland my gratitude for continuing to publish
its publication "Volk auf dem Weg" in German, even if
this decision in favor of an exclusively German-language publication,
in the face of the immigration of many Germans from Russia with
only minor [German] language skills, must certainly have been a
difficult one. You thereby provided a clear sign. One that deserves
respect, for in the final event, is a matter of the preservation
of German-Russian identity.
Do not sell your identity below its true value!
What do I mean by that?
A certain concept has made the rounds that seems to me fraught
with problems. It is the idea of a "Russian-language Diaspora."
This designation is becoming ever more prevalent when speaking about
people who have come here from the former Soviet Union. I find this
concept a non-fit, even an undignified one, if one thereby implies
the 2.3 million German-Russian Spaetaussiedler. There is a categorization
going on here without regard to actual history! I believed it would
not be good, and not commensurate with your history if you allowed
yourselves to be relegated into a the role of cultural vagabonds
that seems, at least for me, to be the case when this classification
into an amorphous bucket called Russian-language diaspora is used.
Throughout the multiplicity of ethnic German groups, you deserve
a respected and emphatic place! No other German ethnic group lived
through such close encounters and cultural experiences in social
dealings with the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, but also with peoples
in Central Asia and Siberia.
This cultural experience constitutes an enrichment for German culture
as a whole.
Among the lists kept by travel agents while sending adventurous
tourists to many parts of the world, travel destinations in the
country with the largest area in the world, the Soviet Union or
the CIS countries figure hardly at all. Even among citizens of former
East Germany, interest and opportunity for getting to know that
large country in the East were more limited than we might have expected.
The actual base for "civil-societal contact" that were
agreed to at German-Russian summit meetings and via governmental
consultation during recent years is much smaller than the signatories
to these agreements were aware.
It is the German-Russians - rooted in German culture and informed
by Russian history - could be particularly helpful in creating civil-societal
bridges between countries.
I am therefore rather proud that during we have succeeded via recent
mutual government commissions to be able to agree that German-Russians
in Russia and in Germany would increasingly be included in the "Petersburg
In that vein, they will meet tomorrow at a partnership conference
that exists under the motto "Pillars of Bridges." During
this conference your Landsmannschaft will sign a mutual agreement
along with other major German-Russian associations.
Mr. Fetsch, you know how much I welcome this. It is fully in the
interest of a continuing development of Germans from Russia, and
we should also be able to make a contribution that is beneficial
for the relationship between our states. We desire civil-societal
contacts, and there are now multiple efforts to improve these contacts
between the CIS States and Germany.
One of the most authentic and natural civil-societal bridge is
embodied by the Germans from Russia. So let us make use of this
chance so that we may make a contribution to understanding between
I thank the Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland for this
and other initiatives, for your support in the integration of Spaetaussiedler,
and I thank you for your contribution toward the preservation of
the identity of the German-Russian ethnic group, an identity whose
preservation and maintenance is significant for all of us.
In your continued efforts, my wish is for every success for your
ethnic group, here in Germany and in the countries where our Spaetaussiedler
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation
of this article.