Do Russians identify themselves as Slavs

Russian Germans

Jannis Panagiotidis

Dr. Jannis Panagiotidis (born 1981) is junior professor for the migration and integration of Russian Germans at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) at the University of Osnabrück. He received his PhD from the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence in 2012. His main research interests include contemporary migration history, with a thematic focus on the comparative analysis of migration regimes and a geographical focus on Germany, Eastern Europe and Israel. He is currently working on a German-language monograph on the history of emigrant emigration.

"German", "Russian", "German-Russian" or "Russian-German": Who are the people with a Russian-German migration background? What significance do questions of ethnicity, identity and nationality have for you? Jannis Panagiotidis gives an overview of empirical studies that examine questions of origin, self-image and image of others in the mirror of Russian-German migration across generations.

Follow-up to a workshop by Merle Hilbk and Helena Goldt at a symposium on "Russian Germans" at the Federal Agency for Civic Education. License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)

Since the beginning of their massive migration to the Federal Republic of Germany since the late 1980s, the identity and identifications of Russian Germans have been a topic that preoccupies sociological, anthropological, cultural, educational and psychological research. The starting point is the elementary identity conflict that many Germans from Russia had to go through after they came to Germany from the (former) Soviet Union and which is often summed up in the sentence: "There we were the Germans (or: the fascists), here we are the Russians . "

"Being German" in the Soviet Union was defined on the one hand by a common fate as a collective of victims, on the other hand by the "institutionalized ethnicity" in the Soviet system. The central memory of the collective storytelling is the deportation of the Volga Germans in 1941 and the experience of forced labor and exile, and consequently persecution as Germans. [1] In the multi-ethnic Soviet Union, every Soviet citizen was also assigned a certain ethno-nationality (in Russian: nacional’nost ‘). This was noted in civil status documents and was hereditary. Thus, a Russian-German was also identified as a German if he or she was no longer able to speak German. The latter was increasingly the case after the Second World War: deportation, forced labor and the associated separation of families had already led to a loss of language among the younger generation; even after being released from the "Sondersiedlung" in 1955, there was a lack of opportunities to learn the German language in school. Mixed national marriages, in which Russian served as the lingua franca, reinforced this tendency. In addition, the Russian language was the vehicle for social advancement.

In Germany, the use of the Russian language by the (late) repatriates, coupled with the ignorance of the West German population about the history of the Russian Germans, then again led to foreign identification as "Russians" by the host society. After living as "Germans in Russia", this ascription of a Russian identity led to a "double experience of exclusion" [2], which ran counter to the claim to be able to live "as Germans among Germans" in the Federal Republic. Various authors have tried to typologize the different identity designs that Russian-German (late) repatriates developed in the Federal Republic to cope with this conflict of identity resulting from the divergence of self-perception and perception of others.

Based on thirty interviews, mostly conducted in Russian, the Russian social geographer Maria Savoskul identified three different types of identifications among ethnic repatriates in a qualitative study published in 2006, depending on factors such as age and time of immigration. [3] According to their findings, those who came to Germany before the mass resettlement in 1988, who were fully linguistically assimilated and who also did not pass the Russian language on to their children felt themselves to be "real Germans". According to Savoskul, however, "Russian Germans" are consciously bicultural: they learn German, but also retain the Russian language and do not break off contact with the former Soviet Union or with other Russian Germans. In the Soviet Union they mostly lived in ethnically mixed urban milieus. The third group, whom Savoskul calls "Russaki", have a harder time with their "being in between" and suffer from a lack of acceptance as Germans in Germany. Their integration is particularly problematic, they are often socially isolated. According to Savoskul, this type was the most common at the time of her study and comprised different generations: pensioners who went to Germany for the future of their children but did not find a connection themselves; Adults between 30 and 50 who experienced social downgrading and loss of status in Germany; but also "worn out" children and young people who withdrew into self-ethnic cliques.

The cultural scientist Olga Kurilo undertakes a very similar categorization with other terms: [4] the "real Germans" are called "Germans in Russia", people who lived in Russia but hardly assimilated there. The "Russaki" call them "German Russians", people of German origin who grew up in Russian-speaking milieus. Kurilo calls Savoskuls "Russian Germans" "Russian Germans", people of hybrid cultural affiliations. In contrast to Savoskul, however, she describes this type as the most common.

The social scientist Svetlana Kiel, on the other hand, constructed a more nuanced typology of self-identifications based on intergenerational interviews with a total of seven families selected on the basis of their different characteristics (academically and non-academically educated, religious, ethnically mixed, etc.), which is more based on generational differences as well as factors such as religion and education received. [5] The first type are (late) repatriates who feel that they are "not really German". These are mainly members of the grandparents' generation who saw themselves as Germans in the Soviet Union, but now see this identity being questioned in Germany and are thus forced into a negative self-definition. The second type, Germans with "Russian glamor", often have an academic background and, much like Savoskul's "Russian Germans", see their biculturalism as an advantage. Germans "with flaws", on the other hand, tend to come from non-academic backgrounds and see biculturalism and mixed origins as a problem or even a stigma. According to Kiel, the devout Russian-German (late) repatriates who are organized in Baptist or Pentecostal congregations identify themselves as "true Germans" who, due to their conservative values ​​and strict beliefs, see themselves as "German" than the locals. And finally, as a fifth type, Kiel mentions the "Soviet people", members of ethnically mixed families, for whom even after the resettlement there is no need to be exclusively German.

These three structurally relatively similar typologies obtained through qualitative studies thus result in a picture in which (late) repatriates from the former Soviet Union position themselves in different ways about their origins or their position "between two cultures". Your own hybridity is rarely in question. An empirical study by the social geographer Bernhard Köppen showed that the majority of the 188 Russian-German (late) repatriates he interviewed in writing chose between the options "German", "Russian", "Russian German" or "Neither nor" for the option " Russian German "decided, and this in all age groups except those over 46 years of age. [6] The self-designation as "Russian Germans", which implies a continued existence as a minority, thus represents a collective identity strategy in order to cope with one's own experience of foreignness in Germany. [7] The hybridity is assessed differently by those affected - whether the majority are positive or negative, the qualitative studies cited cannot give a definitive answer to this.

The Boris Nemzow Foundation carried out a study in 2016 with a claim to numerical representativeness. It is a survey of 606 post-Soviet migrants in Germany who were selected using an onomastic sampling process - that is, according to typical Russian-German, Russian and Russian-Jewish name combinations. 78% of those questioned stated that they had entered the country as repatriates, which corresponds to their share in the immigration statistics since the opening of the Soviet Union. In this research design, there was no pre-selection of respondents based on ethnic origin and / or family history, as was the case with the qualitative studies cited. However, there were predefined possible answers to the question about personal identity. Of all interviewees, 44% identified themselves as German, while 21% said they were one of the major East Slavic nationalities (18% Russian, 2% Ukrainian, 1% Belarusian). 19% opted for the supranational category "Europeans". It is interesting to observe that language skills do not influence these identifications as strongly as one might assume: of those who spoke German as their mother tongue or fluently (64% of all respondents), 49% identified themselves as German and thus only five percentage points more, than in the whole group. 13% described themselves as Russian or Ukrainian, 20% as European. Of the 35% who speak mediocre or hardly any German, 34% still identified themselves as German, 32% as Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian, and 18% as European. Such a classification naturally leaves questions unanswered, especially since "Russian German" was not among the given answer categories. Some people who did not want to choose between German and Russian apparently opted for the "European" category, which was also very popular with Jewish quota refugees (30% of all respondents). Others probably belonged to the 11% who could not identify with any of the given categories (7%) or did not want to answer at all (4%). The given answers to a survey always shape the result to a certain extent.

Furthermore, it is not clear what the situation is with the younger generation - in the Nemtsov study all respondents were over 18 years old. Only 18% belonged to the age group of 18-34 years, which is primarily socialized in Germany. A survey of 2,730 young Russian-German (late) repatriates in 2011, reported by Waldemar Vogelgesang and Luisa Kersch: 45% of the respondents saw themselves as "something in between", 42% described themselves as "German", 13% as "foreign". [8] It is interesting to note that in comparison to a previous study in 2000, the proportion of those who clearly describe themselves as "German" (2000: 32%) and of those who see themselves as "foreign" (2000 : 5%). These apparently contrary developments are also shown in qualitative studies, which show that there are very different positions in the "Generation 1.5", i.e. the Russian-Germans who emigrated to Germany as young people, ranging from a strong orientation towards their own Russian-German group to German-national ones Attitudes to a conscious return to the explicitly Russian part of one's own heritage range. [9]

For the second generation, born and socialized in Germany, the justified expectation can also be formulated that they will be affected differently or not at all by the difficulties their grandparents, parents and possibly older siblings have with their own identity, precisely because they do not experience double exclusion have gone through and in Germany usually do not represent a "visible minority" in terms of language, name or phenotype. The interviews conducted for a thesis at the University of Osnabrück with members of the second generation from Russian-German families showed that the hybrid term "Russian-German" hardly has any meaning for them. [10] Rather, they feel comfortable in the nationally clearly designated categories "German" or "Russian" (partly exclusive, partly parallel). The memory of the Russian-German "community of fate" with pronounced minority awareness has not carried over into this generation in the cases examined. The ancestry played no role in the self-identification of the respondents. For their identification as "German" they have other reference points at their disposal, such as their birth in Germany and the accent-free command of the language. And to the extent that this form of national affiliation becomes a matter of course, other identity resources also come to the fore, for example educational status.

But here, too, one should warn against generalizations. In general, various external and internal factors are relevant that can influence the self-identification of the next generation: Does a person grow up in a strongly Russian-German environment, or does socialization take place in a more mixed environment? Does the person experience stereotypical external attributions, e.g. due to their origin from a "Russian-German" district? Are memories of their own origin and history and / or certain cultural practices cultivated in the family that maintain awareness of their own particular identity? Is it possible that "symbolic ethnicity" (Herbert Gans) will develop that exists independently of cultural practices or ethnic networks? The reproduction of ethnic self-awareness in strongly religious milieus of Russian-German (late) repatriates is likely to proceed quite differently, even in the second generation. Here, the common religion offers an identity resource that creates a community beyond the origins of the former USSR, which are moving further and further into the background. Ultimately, it is always necessary to point out the heterogeneity of the Russian-Germans in Germany, which allows very different, individual developments and positions beyond the collective victim identity that still shaped the war generation.

In conclusion, it should be noted that all of the studies cited provide a basically static picture of ethnic self-identification in which the examined persons can be clearly and permanently assigned to certain categories. Phenomena such as situational identity or ethnicity - i.e. the changing (ethnic) self-identification depending on the context - cannot be captured in this way. The same person could, for example, sometimes identify as "Russian-German", sometimes as "German" and sometimes also as "Russian" - quite apart from non-ethnic identifications, for example through their occupation, place of residence, etc. In an increasingly heterogeneous "post-migrant" society, such differentiations are becoming more and more important.