Soviet-German "Rehabilitation" and the Ethnic German
Nationalist Wiedergeburt in the USSR and CIS, 1987-1995
By Eric J. Schmaltz
Master of Arts Thesis, Department of History
Graduate Faculty, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, 1996,
180 leaves. Germans from Russia DK34.G3 S347 1993. (not available
on interlibrary loan).
After 1955, the Soviet Germans and other Soviet minority groups
struggled to preserve their ethnic identities. The Stalin years
had witnessed the abolition of the limited territorial, political,
and cultural concessions provided by Lenin. The most opportune moment
for them to act politically was during the Gorbachev and Yeltsin
Inspired by post-Stalinist "rehabilitation" policies, the Germans
established the Wiedergeburt ("Rebirth") nationalist movement
in 1989. Claiming to represent the ethnic Germans' national interests,
the Wiedergeburt made demands that rested on Lenins notion
of self-determination--namely, a people's right to determine its
own political status. Formerly a peasant people, many ethnic Germans
during the Soviet era began articulating radical democratic and
nationalist demands in the wake of their own socio-economic modernization
and growing political awareness.
The Wiedergeburt was an unintended outgrowth of Soviet
nationalities policies. Originally attempting to provoke an international
socialist revolution, the Soviet Union based its nationalities'
policies on Marxist-Leninism, an ideology advocating political equality
and socio-economic modernization. Soviet nationalities' policies
had politicized ethnicity to the point of breaking up the Soviet
The regime failed to live up to its ideological principles by
refusing to grant autonomy to the Soviet Germans, and the Wiedergeburt
was unable to unify the ethnic German community. The Germans' political
and regional antagonisms, the differences of opinion between German
progressives and traditionalists, and German mass emigration also
adversely affected this ethnic group's chances for autonomy in the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Soviet-German elite
and its supporters were the last best hope for an ethnic group that
has lived in the East for more than two hundred years. Tragically,
at the very moment the Soviet Germans achieved political consciousness,
the ethnic German community and the Soviet Union were disintegrating.
After an unsuccessful struggle for self-determination, the ethnic
German community must acknowledge that it still lacks the two major
prerequisites for an independent nation-state: territory and people.
Without a modern state, the ethnic German community will inevitably
perish within the next generation. Socio-economic modernization
and political integration, initiated by the Soviet system, will
erode the last traces of German ethnicity in the CIS.
With the Rebirths' political decline, the ethnic Germans must
either emigrate to the ancestral homeland of Germany and assimilate
into `West' German society, or they must assimilate into the post-Soviet
republics. For the German minority staying in the East, its current
assimilation into the non-Asian republics will be the preferable
solution to national self-determination. The realistic decision
to adopt a new homeland or nation-state, either in Germany or the
CIS, will improve their long term socio-economic and political prospects
as national citizens.
(Abstract reprinted with permission of the author.)
Eric J. Schmaltz received his Bachelor of Arts in History and German from Saint Olaf College, Northfield, MN, in 1994 and his Master of Arts from the Department of History, Graduate Faculty, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, in 1996. He completed his graduate studies in the field of history with a Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. During the summer of 1994 and 1995, he was employed at the North Dakota State University Libraries working with the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.
In June, 1995, Eric Schmaltz completed an oral history interview
in the German language with the Most Reverend Joseph Werth, Bishop
of Siberia, Russia. The 1995 interview was published in 1996 in
the English, German, and Russian languages.
The published interview
of Bishop Joseph Werth by Eric J. Schmaltz is available for
purchase from the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU
Libraries, P.O. Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105-5599, or the Germans from
Russia Heritage Society, 1008 East Central Avenue, Bismarck, ND