By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin’s rehabilitation of the repressed peoples of Crimea and his statement that his goal is to create a situation in which “every people and every citizen [in Russia] can feel at home” has prompted a long-time leader of the Russian Germans to call on Putin to complete the rehabilitation of that people and restore a German Autonomous Republic.
In an appeal released on the 74th anniversary of Stalin’s abolition of the German ASSR and the deportation of ethnic Germans from the Middle Volga, Hugo Wormsbecher argues that the time has come to resolve this longstanding issue once and for all (nazaccent.ru/content/17375-pod-lichnyj-kontrol-prezidenta.html).
The “’rehabilitation’” issue has been on the table since the moment Moscow deported the Russian Germans, Wormsbecher suggests. He points out that Stalin took this action because he had been told, without any evidence, that the ethnic Germans inside the USSR included “tens of thousands” of spies and agents.
The working age population among them were put in “a labor army,” and then after the war, they and all the other ethnic Germans became exiled special settlers. “In 1957, when the other repressed peoples restored their republics, the Germans were not allowed to,” at least in part because the regions and republics to which they had been sent did not want to lose such good workers.
Those restrictions, Wormsbecher says, were lifted in 1965 when Soviet officials acknowledged that Stalin’s charges were baseless. Then, in 1972, the prohibition against returning home was also annulled – with one exception, the Germans were not allowed to go back to the places from which they had been exiled.
Seven years later, without consulting the Kazakhs, Moscow decided to create a German autonomy in Kazakhstan, but that only provoked “harsh anti-German actions.” Even worse was to come in 1989 during perestroika when Moscow decided to restore a German ASSR in the Middle Volga. People there responded with slogans like “Better AIDS than a German autonomy.” That killed the project for the Soviet period.
After 1991, Boris Yeltsin proposed that the Germans settle on a military base after picking up the mines. Perhaps, he said, “Germany will help” do that. In 1992, Moscow and Berlin signed a cooperation protocol which anticipated the formation of a commission to examine the restoration of the German autonomy. But now, 23 years on, nothing has happened on that front.
“However,” the German activist says, “Russia has all the same awoken from its coma, freed itself a little from external and internal ‘consultants,’ restored its ability to life and its authority in the world,” and that, he suggests, means that the hopes of the Russian Germans for justice may now be closer to realization.
Wormsbecher points in particular to Putin’s decision to create a Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs and his promise to end all the consequences of deportation for the formerly repressed peoples of Crimea, yet another way that Moscow’s intervention there is having a blowback effect within the Russian Federation.
Russian Germans hope that this time, Moscow will go beyond adopting a law on rehabilitation and then declaring that “no republic ‘will ever be,’” that it will not keep saying “the population is against” the idea, and will not say there are too few Germans either in the region or in the country to form an autonomy after doing what it could to drive them out.
Is it really the case that there are too few Germans remaining to have an autonomy? Wormsbecher asks rhetorically. There are at least 400,000 – and that is more than the German autonomy had before being suppressed. Adding to that figure the number of Germans in other CIS countries and the understatement of their number in censuses, there are “at a minimum” 1.5 million Russian Germans.
Moreover, some Russian Germans who went to Germany may want to return, he says.
“Is it not time for President Putin to take under his personal supervision the issue of the rehabilitation of Russian Germans? And to get involved in that process not those ‘Germans’ who for years have made a business by opposing rehabilitation but rather those who really are for it in the interests of the country?”
If that happens, Wormsbecher says, “then Russian Germans will be able at last to again return to their role as the trusted third ally of Russia, comparable in importance to its army and fleet, in the construction of the unity of its people. A unity, without which, as history shows, even the army and the fleet are not able to save the country from catastrophe.”