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German, Russian flag against cloudy sky
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T.Brakemeier

Germany's Friedrich-Ebert foundation in Russia row

Mikhail Bushuev | Nikita Jolkver
December 21, 2017

A Russian teenage boy's speech in German parliament provoked an outcry in Russia. Russian politicians blame the Moscow branch of Germany's Friedrich-Ebert Foundation.


Nikolay Desyatnichenko is so upset about the wave of rage directed at him that the already slim boy has lost seven kilograms, claims the governor of Siberia's Yamal province. Nikolay's desire to promote peace and reconciliation was met with rage and threats. In a nearlythree-minute speech, he told the German Bundestaghow much he was moved by the story of a Wehrmacht soldier. While working on a German-Russian student project, he found the grave of Georg Johann Rau, a soldier who died in World War II. "It deeply saddened me, because I saw the graves of people who died innocently, many of whom wanted to live in peace and did not want to fight," he said.

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But Russians interpreted Nikolay's speech as "unpatriotic pity," "treason," and lacking in knowledge about the history of the "fatherland." According to reports, the Russian student was confronted with a wave of anger and threats on social networks. Many famous Russians harshly criticized his speech. Authorities launched an examination into the tenth grader's high school in Novy Urengoy. The school's principal received a warning and Nikolay's German teacher was asked to resign.

Nikolay Desyatnichenko in Germany's Bundestag
Nikolay Desyatnichenko spoke in Germany's Bundestag in NovemberImage: Deutscher Bundestag

Friedrich-Ebert Foundation a target

Russian media claim that Germany's Social Democrat-affiliated Friedrich-Ebert Foundation (FES) funded the student project. One member of Russian parliament, Evgeny Fyodorov, believes that FES has led many young Russian students to discredit the Red Army's victory in World War II and that the FES supposedly wrote Nikolay's speech.

Fyodorov demanded the German foundation be classified as an unwanted organization in Russia. He submitted a request for an investigation with the Russian public prosecutor's office. A result is expected at the beginning of next week at the latest. If Fyodor's request is met, then the German foundation will stop its work in Russia.

Meanwhile, Kurt Beck, chairman of the FES, explained that his foundation had nothing to do with the student project. "The Friedrich-Ebert Foundation was in no way - neither financially, organizationally nor logistically - involved in the speech held by the young Russian Nikolay Desyatnichenko on November 19, 2017 in the German Bundestag," he stressed.

Cause for concern in Germany

The German Foreign Ministry is concerned about the Duma member's request to put the FES on the list of unwanted organizations and the "excessive accusations against the foundation, meaning the intensified rhetoric in this case."

Rossoshka memorial cemetery
Remembering German soldiers: The Rossoshka Memorial Cemetery near VolgogradImage: VDK e. V./Uwe Zucchi

Rainer Breuel from the German Foreign Ministry told DW that he views the student exchange programs and joint studies on the history of the two countries as important elements of Russian-German relations and embraces this type of work. In this respect, work done by the German War Graves Commission is also very important.

The war graves organization - and not the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation - initiated the project involving the group of Russian and German students. For years now, the war graves organization has supported projects like the one that entails research into the lives of soldiers from different countries who were killed in the World War. II Travel expenses for the students and one teacher from Novy Urengoy to Berlin were covered by the War Graves Commission.

Nikolay's mother helped him write the speech for the Bundestag. The German chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, insisted that neither German nor Russian students on exchange programs are told what to say.

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"The ideologically and racially motivated war of annihilation originated in Germany. It led to immense cruelty, murder and destruction. That is clear. Events like the hour of remembrance in the German Bundestag are supposed to ensure that these crimes are not forgotten," explained Seibert.

Both the German government and the War Graves Commission do not understand how the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation has been implicated in this story. But it is nothing new that Russian authorities have put pressure on German political foundations in the past. In 2013, the FES office and the Christian Democrat-affiliated Konrad-Adenauer Foundation office in St. Petersburg were the target of a search - but without any consequences.

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