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Germany

Court Rules Repatriates Must Speak German

For the past 12 years, 100,000 ethnic Germans have resettled in the country -- mostly from Russia's Volga region. This week, a court ruled they must speak German in order to be eligible to live here.

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Court to repatriates: Learn German or don't come

As the Berlin coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens strives to prepare a modified national immigration law, tougher regulations are already falling into place for ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union.

A regional administrative court in the state of Baden-Württemberg ruled earlier this week to deny a Volga-born German permanent residency on the grounds that his knowledge of the German language is insufficient. The court’s ruling was welcomed by many, as regional authorities face more and more difficulties trying to integrate ethnic Germans returning to their ancestral homeland.

2 million Volga Germans

Since reunification in 1990, Germany country has taken in more than 2 million so-called Volga Germans from Siberia and Central Asia, predominantly Kazakhstan. Though the ancestral Germans settled in Russia's Volga region 200 years ago, they were deported to remote regions of the Soviet Union in the early 1940s on the orders of Josef Stalin, who viewed them as traitors. There, they were isolated and deprived of a higher education.

During the past 12 years, Germany has allowed 100,000 ethnic Germans each year to repatriate and has set up extensive programs to help them find employment. But language integration has proved to be a major problem because only 20 percent of those who apply for permanent residence have sufficient communication skills. The result is that more and more are being turned down by the government, particularly family members who have no command of the German language at all.

Hence the overall number of incoming ethnic German immigrants from the region is shrinking. In 2002, about 91,000 Volga Germans returned to Germany as compared to some 98,000 in 2001. As word spread about tougher language requirements, the number of applications decreased steadily.

Integration impossible without language

If you don’t speak the language, says the federal government's commissioner for the affairs of ethnic Germans, Jochen Welt, integration in society here can be an insurmountable hurdle. The result is isolation, which he says breeds intolerance on the part of locals. Welt says the court ruling is a step in the right direction. Still, it has it's shortcomings.

"The verdict only has a bearing on the applicant, but not on family members," he says. "Under current regulations, they are not requested to pass language tests prior to coming to Germany. And family members account for 80 percent of ethnic German repatriates. This is where the problem lies, and we need to address this in our future immigration law."

How German are they?

Welt also believes that thousands of Volga Germans hoping to make it to Germany no longer have any tangible ties to their ancestral roots. Others disagree. Author Stefan Koch, who's been working with Volga Germans for years.

"They know their own history very well," Koch says. "They live in families with their grandmothers and parents who tell the stories. They are living in Russia and Kazakhstan with Kazahk and Chinese people as their neighbors and when they talk about their nationalities, they say, 'Ok, I am a German who is living in Russia and I am from a German family.'"

However, Koch does believe the Volga Germans could work harder to integrate into society after their arrival in Germany. "I think it's necessary to build up a new kind of neighborhood," he says. "It's important for these people to go outside of their families and to go to sport groups or cinema with other people. They shouldn't just be living together with friends they know from their own towns in Russia."

Today, the Russian-Germans make up around 60 per cent of the 2.3 million Aussiedler living in Germany -- repatriated Germans from Central and eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia, Poland, Rumania and Hungary. This number makes them a significant group in the German population, significant too in the elections. And some expect their integration to become a major issue in regional elections in February in the states of Lower Saxony and Hesse.

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  • Date 05.01.2003
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  • Date 05.01.2003
  • Author Hardy Graupner
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/36Jk