Thursday, February 11, 2016

How the refugee crisis made Germany rediscover its "Russians"

Typically, the first thoughts when you think about the common history of Russians and Germans go to the 20th century with its two World Wars and the separation of Germany into a Western allies and a Russian (or Soviet) controlled East.

And you wouldn't necessarily be aware of the fact that some 6.5 million people (out of a total of just over 80 million) in today's Germany have roots in the countries of the old Soviet Union.

So, what's their story, and why are the German media and politicians all of a sudden getting worried about the group of people whom you can all the country's biggest quiet minority?

The history of Germans and Russians mixing and mingling goes back more than 1000 years, but we'll focus on the time between 1763 and the present. 1763 marked the year in which then Russian Empress Katherine II (the Great), herself German, officially invited settlers from what is now Germany into her country. She offered freedom of religion, no obligation to do military service, independent local administration with German as the official language, a settlement cash bonus and thirty years of no tax obligation.

Needless to say, this was a great offer, made even more enticing for people in areas that had been ravaged by the 7 Year War.
Fast forward to the turn of the 20th century and World War I. Nationalist Russian circles began warning of a Germanization of Russia, and World War I saw the Germans branded as "the enemy within", with the requisite persecution and such. After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, large scale deportations to the East took their toll on those who had survived the Revolution, the subsequent "Civil War" (which really was an international war), the famines and Stalins rule.

While some ethnic Germans managed to leave at the end of World War II, the vast majority continued to live in the Volga region, in Kasachstan and around Novosibirsk. With the end of the Soviet Union, the number of ethnic Germans from Russia and Kasachstan surged, making the 1990s the decade when most of the current "Russian" population arrived in Germany.

Legally, the ethnic Germans from the East were German citizens from day 1 if they could show their ancestry and spoke "some German".

As far as the "indigenous" population went, they were considered foreigners, much like the Italians or Greek migrant  workers of the 1960s or refugees from other countries.

The "Russians" found themselves in smallish towns and saw their new neighborhoods called "Little Kasachstan". Even in 2016, a native politician told Russians that the Germans made a big effort 20 years ago to "integrate" them - and was immediately confronted with: but are Germans!

There were all the expected issues when the numbers of new arrivals grew: an uptick in juvenile delinquency - nicely explained by politicians, as opposed to any real or imagined uptick among the recent refugees. The old new Germans learned to live with the label Russian, and went too work. So, official Germany forgot about them.

This all changed for the media and the politicians when Russian state TV recently broadcast the story of a girl named Lisa and alleged she had been held captive and been raped by Arab refugees. According to police, she was not.

All of a sudden, German news outlets reported of demonstrations of ten thousand Russians in Germany against the refugee policies of the current German government. The fake story of the rape off Lisa is given as the cause.

The number is wrong. There were small protests, even in front of the Chancellor's office in Berlin, but even if you add them all up, you probably won't get to 10 000 total.
Yes, there were posters of solidarity with Lisa, but if you listen to the "Russians", things become much more complicated and very unfavorable for German politicians and media.

As it turns out, before the actual latest violence of some refugees against women, there was Ukraine.

As one said: Ukraine and the refugees crisis have turned the situation upside down. If you indicate that you have even the slightest understanding for Putin, you are immediately told: Then go home.

And about TV: older folks watch Russian TV for entertainment. They know there is some propaganda, but Western TV also keeps some things under wraps.

Only now is local police engaging with "the Russians" to inform them about rumors of refugee crime. And politicians?

They was to start explaining to "the Russians" that Russia Today is by no means as objective as the German media.

What does the immediate future look like?

Police efforts to dispel myths and rumors will probably work.

On the other hand, the media and the mainstream politicians will almost certainly fail - they will focus on the refugee crisis but ignore the issues of Russia, the sanctions, and Putin and the role of German media.

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