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The Conception of the Program of Ethnic and Social Revival and Development of German Minority in Ukraine: The First Congress of Ukrainian Germans

"The Conception of the Program of Ethnic and Social Revival and Development of German Minority in Ukraine: The First Congress of Ukrainian Germans." Deutscher Kanal, November 1996, 44-45.


I. A short historical note on Ukrainian Germans

Mass colonization of the Azov and Black Sea regions by Germans started to take place under the rule of Katherine II, following the similar process in the Volga Region. According to the well-known Queen's proclamation dated July 22, 1763, citizens of Western European countries were invited to settle the vast regions of Russian Empire. As an incentive the Queen offered the immigrants free land. In addition the settlers were relieved of military and financial obligations to the Throne for a period of 10 years. The freedom of religion was guaranteed, as was the freedom to keep the national traditions and native languages. Many Europeans responded to the Queen's offer, notably the Swedes, the Greeks, the Bulgarians. The bulk of the new migrants, however, were the Germans, which can be attributed to their trust in the German-born Russian Empress as well as to the major economic crisis that gripped German Empire at the time. It is also known that religious freedoms were being threatened in Germany at that time. These as well as other factors lead to a century long period of migration. During that time Russian rulers followed the policies established by Katherine II. From 1764 until 1864 nearly 500 colonies were established in various regions of Russia. Most of these colonies were populated by the Germans. At the same time almost 200 German colonies were established in southern Ukraine. By 1919 some 500 to 930 thousands ethnic Germans populated Ukraine according to different researchers.

The first occurrences of mass repressions against ethnic Germans took place during the World War I. Certain laws passed in 1915 specifically called on government agents to take away land as well as material possessions from Germans living near the Russian-Finish border.

The stage for the next level of repressions was set with passing of the law on 02/06/1917 which called for forced relocation of ethnic Germans from the European region of Russia. History, however, took a different turn. Soon thereafter Nikolai II was himself a victim of dramatic events in Russia.

Bolshevik revolution brought a lot of suffering to the peoples living in Russia. None, though, suffered as much as did the ethnic Germans. According to historical documents at the time of communist revolution Germans were economically better off then most other ethnic groups. Consequently they were hit the hardest.

New Russian rulers decided to establish German colony in the Volga Region. This decision was prompted by a relatively high density of German population there. By the time WWII started there were seven major German colonies in the Volga region. They were coordinated by the Central Committee on Germans in Ukraine. There were up to 440 German villages, 630 German schools, were ethnic Germans were instructed in their native language. According to the 1926 census, the literacy was highest among the ethnic Germans (80%). There were 12 German newspapers published in Ukraine, including 2 that were distributed throughout the Ukraine - "Das neue Dorf", and "Die Saat", as well one magazine, "Neuland".

The war between Russia and Germany had severe consequences for the ethnic Germans living in the Soviet Republics. Yet again the Germans were suffering more than other ethnic groups, this time due to their background.

II. Current state of German minority in the Ukraine

In 1989 there were 37.8 thousand Germans in the Republic of Ukraine, according to the census. Those are the few how made their way back from Siberia, Kazakhstan, and other remote regions in Asia. Since 1989, another 3600 Germans moved back to Ukraine, assisted by the efforts of the first Ukrainian President Kravchuk.

Today, it is difficult to analyze the size of German population in the Ukraine due to the large number of mixed marriages. The majority of children in German-Russian and German-Ukrainian families considers themselves to be German. That opens to them the possibility of emigrating to Germany. Assuming that about 90 percent of Germans live in mixed families and that an average family has two children the 1989 census numbers suggest there are about 100,000 Germans living in Ukraine today.

The increase in the estimated number of Germans that currently live in Ukraine is also due to the fact that many ethnic Germans that had to hide their national origin for many years as a result of genocide and repression are now reaffirming their ethnic identity. This process was greatly aided by democratic reforms as well as by legislative amendments passed by the government of Ukraine that deal with minority groups.

The degree of overall assimilation of the German minority in the Ukraine is significantly higher than that of Germans in other former Soviet Republics. Statistics show that only 23.2% of Germans in the Ukraine consider German to be their native language, whereas in other places this number may be as high as 50 percent.

The process of legal and social rehabilitation of Germans in the Ukraine is lagging behind similar developments in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kirgizia where ethnic Germans receive compensation for repressions and deportation.

Prior to the beginning of democratization in the former Soviet Union there was little community organization among Germans in the Ukraine. Since the summer of 1989 a number of unions was organized in various regions of Ukraine. One of them, Wiedergeburt, was founded in 1989 and currently has over 5000 members. According to this group's representatives, some 82% of its members filed the paperwork necessary for emigration to Germany. This does not mean that all of those people are ready and willing to emigrate. Some just want to have that as an option in case of unforeseen cataclysmic events in the Ukraine.

III. Analysis of measures undertaken by the governments of Germany and Ukraine to foster socio-economic development of ethnic German minority in Ukraine

Deportation of Germans from their homesteads in 1941 followed by a period of repressions and discrimination that lasted until the collapse of the Soviet Union brought about significant assimilation among ethnic Germans. Yet a certain amount of ethno-political potential and national identity is preserved in the Germans that live today in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Thus these people strive for an opportunity to develop their ethnicity.

Germany and Ukraine are actively involved in developing a solution to the problem of social development of German minority in Ukraine. Ukraine's position may be summarized as follows:

1. In the late eighties, when the Ukraine was still a member of the Soviet Union and was itself striving to regain its national identity, its attitude towards ethnic Germans was for the most part passive but positive. At that time the government of the Ukrainian Republic was not involved in any sanctions against German national union, Wiedergeburt. The founded assembly of the union took place in Kiev in 1989 and was soon followed by a number of similar regional assemblies. During the period from 1988 till 1991 there was no organized government opposition to German ethnic rehabilitation.

2. In 1992 and 1993 Ukrainian government was actively involved in assisting German ethnic movements. In January of 1992 President Kravchuk announced the readiness of the government to help some 400,000 ethnic Germans relocate to Ukraine from Kazakhstan, Siberia, and other remote regions. Soon thereafter a special Ukrainian-German Fund (UGF) was established to address financial needs of relocation initiative. Mr. I. Gofman was put in charge of the fund.

The governments of Germany and Ukraine also established a joint committee to oversee the resettlement process. In 1992 the fund was given 505 million in Ukrainian currency.

3. From the summer of 1993 and on the government of Ukraine displays a very passive in not slightly negative attitude towards German ethnic movements. This change in attitude was signified by opposition with which Germany's initiative with respect to aforementioned resettlement was met during the 1993 summit. President Kravchuk announced his government's willingness to accept only those ethnic Germans that resided in Ukraine before the deportations started as well as their children. This approach means that only a small percentage of all the Germans who may potentially want to relocate to Ukraine will be allowed to do so. German government was upset with this decision. It immediately took action by freezing funds that had already been appropriated for aid to those planning to resettle in Ukraine. The clash in German and Ukrainian policies resulted in a standstill. For over two years now German activists are trying to resolve the dispute with Ukrainian government that prohibits them from gaining access to funds that had previously been made available to them. At present these funds are being used by the general director of the UGF, Mr. Peer, in ways that may be entirely inappropriate.

In the beginning of 1996 German community in the Ukraine and many other places were looking froward to a summit between President Kravchuk and Counsellor Kohl that was initially scheduled for March of that year. It was later postponed and after a brief period of uncertainty the two leaders met in September. To the dismay of the German community, however, many significant issues, including the relocation program that had encountered major obstacles due to Ukrainian government's current policies, were not on the agenda.

The summit resulted in signing of a document titled "The Agreement between Germany and Ukraine on joint efforts on behalf of ethnic germans in Ukraine". It is very unfortunate that, despite repetitive urges by German groups' officials to be included in the process of preparation of this document, no such invitation was forthcoming.

In general the attitude of Ukrainian officials towards the German minority as well as all other minority groups with exception of Crimean Tatars can be characterized today as guardedly passive. There is no official ethno-social policy as such. Lately all the major political parties carefully avoided ethnic issues. The new Ukrainian Constitution leaves all the details of ethnic policy to be determined of regional level.

Germany's policy regarding the German minority in Ukraine is, in the contrary, well formulated and quite specific. It reflects compassion and solidarity. Yet it is tied up in international politics.

In a letter addressed to the Ukrainian government Councillor Kohl expressed great interest in ethnic policy of Ukraine, in particular with regard to the limitations that were recently imposed on the number of ethnic Germans that will be eligible for relocation to Ukraine in the near future. Up to now there was no official response to this letter.

Since the summer of 1993 Germany has taken several initiatives towards assisting families arriving in Ukraine from Kazakhstan, Siberia and other regions. A small village - 40 houses, a school and an outpatient center - has been built in the Odessa region through the efforts of a German company, "Coalition for Technical Cooperation".

Still the efforts to create a comfortable atmosphere for ethnic Germans in Ukraine are apparently failing to a large degree, judging by the overwhelming majority of those who applied for immigration to Germany. This lack of success is a complex phenomenon, but primary responsibility is with the Ukrainian officials.

IV. The conception of the program of ethnic and social revival and development of German minority in Ukraine

This conception was developed by the Organizing committee of the First Congress of Germans in Ukraine. It provides the guidelines for the development of the program that will be worked out in detail by the delegates of the Congress sometime in 1997. The program encompasses a solution of a wide spectrum of ethnic and social problems.

The importance of this program is determined by the necessity for the Ukraine to come up with a solution to its ethnic problems in order to continue integration into the European community as well as by the German minority's push towards the realization of its ethno-social potential in the interests of both Ukraine and Germany.

The main objective of the program is the revival and development of the German minority in Ukraine. In this respect the following steps must be taken:

1. Legal rehabilitation of Germans in Ukraine; 2. Financial compensation for the persecutions carried out on the based of ethnicity; 3. Creation of educational network for german children by the Ukrainian national authorities or through international cooperation; 4. Establishment of commercial bossiness structure with tax credits for the German minority groups.

Legal aspects of the program

The program encompasses development of a number of legal measures geared towards complete rehabilitation of German minority. In particular it calls for prompt legal action to rehabilitate ethnics groups that were deported.

Language and education

One of the most important problems for the German minority in the Ukraine is the lack of an educational network for the children. It had been proposed in the past to set up summer schools for German children where they would be instructed in their native language. This plan is yet to be implemented.

Culture and traditions

Revitalization of German culture and traditions among ethnic germans in Ukraine is another important part of the program. Again, the solution depends heavily on the national and international cooperation and assistance.

History of Germans in Ukraine

It would be difficult to overestimate how important it is for the Germans in Ukraine to know the history of their people. With regard to that a number of organizations, in particular, the Bavarian House in Odessa, are working to bring this knowledge to the people. These efforts must be increased greatly, however, if success is to be achieved.

Business Self-organization of Germans in Ukraine

Business organization of Germans in Ukraine is very important since in many respects it is also a key to the development of German culture, language, educational and historical programs. Bossiness self-organization can be achieved through a combination of international subsidies and tax credits to businesses affiliated with German ethnic organizations. These bossiness would donate part of the profits to the educational and other programs.

Solidarity of Germans in Ukraine with other ethnic minorities

Ethnic Germans in Ukraine as well as in other countries of the former Soviet union have always had good neighborly relations with other minority groups. Today we are proud of this history and are working hard to ensure that in the future these relations will be sustained.

Translation from Russian to German by Natalya Kornfeld, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo.

Reprinted with permission by Deutscher Kanal, Kiev, Ukraine.

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