ASTANA – Kazakhstan is home to many ethnic groups that once were either forced to move to the great steppes or migrated of their own accord from neighbouring regions. The country’s German population is one of the groups that has travelled the greatest distance to end up here.
“Germans came to Kazakhstan in different years,” Alexander Dederer, chairman of the Public Associations of Germans in Kazakhstan, told The Astana Times in an interview. “Germans first visited this country during geographical research expeditions; for example, with such scientists and explorers as Alexander von Humboldt; [Adolph, Herman and Robert] Schlagintweit. … A lot of Germans, attracted by the possibility of obtaining their own patch of land, moved to Kazakhstan during the Stolypin reforms era [the 1906 – 1914 period of agricultural reform]. German settlers easily integrated into the existing community and were actively engaged in agriculture.”
However, Dederer said, Kazakhstan’s biggest influx of Germans came during Stalin’s rule, when Germans were forced to move for policy reasons and because of their nationality.
“Kazakhstan had been turned into one big concentration camp, the so-called Gulag, the centre of which was the city of Karaganda; to be exact, the village Dolinka. The Germans deported from the colonies of Ukraine, the northern Caucasus, Crimea and the Volga region were not simply deported: all the able-bodied population from 16 – 55 years old was forced to join the labour army (until 1957) and work in coal mines, construction sites and tree cutting. According to the decree issued in 1941, this deportation was organised once and forever, which meant that even after the war, these Germans were forbidden to return to their homes,” Dederer said. Thus, concentrated German populations appeared in Karaganda, Akmola, Pavlodar and Kostanai, and until recently the areas still held many German villages.
“These villages were well known in the country,” Dederer said, “for example, one of the chairmen of a collective farm, Jacob Goering, became known for outstanding achievements in administration, high levels of grain production, cattle breeding, well-built houses and paved streets, as well as for cleanliness and orderliness in the village.”
Laid out below are answers by Alexander Dederer to this reporter.
How many German ethnic and cultural centres are operating in Kazakhstan at the moment, and what projects are they engaged in?
In the country there are, all in all, 18 centres united under the Public Associations of Germans in Kazakhstan. The social self-organisation of ethnic Germans began with timid steps made by daredevils who tried to unite people, wondering how it was possible that thousands of innocent children, old people and women who had never been involved in any war crimes were subjected to this ethnic genocide.
Gradually, the public association expanded until it became one of the most popular public associations in the Soviet Union by 1990. The Revival Association of Germans aims to rehabilitate people who were punished without guilt by order of the government at that time. German people in Kazakhstan felt some relief after German-language newspapers, radio and television stations and the German Drama Theatre were created.
At the end of the 1980s, an emigration mood increased among ethnic Germans, a desire to return to their homeland. The 1990s were marked by mass emigration; there were periods when 130,000 Germans might leave Kazakhstan in one year.
People, goals and objectives were changing over the time of mass migration, but the structure of the Association of Germans remained the same. Now, we have German public associations in every regional centre of our country, which are active members of civil society, reliable partners of public authorities. These associations organise work in the interests of ethnic Germans concerning studying their own language, traditions and culture.
About 1 million of our compatriots live in Germany today and the Revival Public Association carries out a very important mission to link the two countries. The head of state, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has repeatedly said that the Germans who left Kazakhstan made a huge contribution to the development of German society and bring tangible benefits to the German economy. We consider our former compatriots to hold great potential for the development of partnership between our countries. Public authorities consider the German communities in their cities to be centres very closely linked to communities in Germany; many issues concerning the relationship between the two countries are solved with the support of our association. The Association of Germans implements initiatives related to establishing closer political partnerships between the two countries. One of the deputies in the German Bundestag is our compatriot from Chemolgan, Heinrich Zertig. Interacting with leading politicians, we are committed to forming a strategic partnership of trust between Kazakhstan and Germany.
The German House was opened with the support of the governments of Germany and Kazakhstan in 1994. A lot of meetings with German intellectuals, businessmen, members of the Brussels club, leaders of political parties and movements, trade unions and independent experts have been held here.
The jubilee scientific and practical conference, ‘German House and its role in social partnership in Kazakhstan,’ was visited by representatives of almost all political and social parties and associations [and] national cultural centres of Kazakhstan. They noted the importance of the Association of Germans in Kazakhstan and its relations with the governments of Kazakhstan and Germany and various international organisations. The Association of Germans takes part in the meetings of the Federal Union of European Nationalities, the Committee for the Protection of National Minorities of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the organising committee for the organisation of social partnership for sustainable development, Martin Luther-Bund and the Kazakh-German Intergovernmental Commission on issues of Germans living in Kazakhstan. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and President of Germany Roman Herzog visited the German House.
The Association of Germans supports the new agreement between Kazakhstan and Germany on humanitarian cooperation. This agreement is very important in the context of maintaining links between new generations growing up in Kazakhstan and Germany. The fact that immigrants do not lose touch with the former homeland is proven by the Kazakhstan-German Business Association, which was first established in 2004 and now unites more than 30 members, most of whom came from Kazakhstan. This association does important work in protecting business activities and helps to establish economic relations and business cooperation. From over one million Germans, only 200,000 are left today in Kazakhstan, still living in the places of their earlier deportation.
How does the Association of Germans participate in the activities of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK)?
As an active member of the APK, of course, we are engaged in the process of establishing dialogue between different ethnic groups in the country. We have a very friendly partnership with various ethnic communities: the Russian community, the Association of Koreans, public associations of Greeks, Chechens, Armenians, Belarusians, Ukrainians and others.
Creating interethnic peace and harmony is a cornerstone of the stable existence of civil society. In the framework of the APK, we discuss measures related to forming and developing the social model of our country. We must cooperate with the European Union and establish a partnership with the Federal Union of European Nationalities. In 2011, we held talks with representatives of the Federal Union of European National Minorities and the APK, which led to the signing of the agreement of intent, and today we are committed to ensuring that these intentions become a large-scale cooperation agreement.
Since 1992, the Association of Germans has been successfully implementing socially significant initiatives. Our regional coordinators implement social projects and conduct humanitarian actions, and provide necessary material, medical and moral support. We have established a network of social stations in the cities of Astana, Karaganda, Kokshetau and Kostanai, which provide comprehensive social and medical assistance and organise charity dinners. In Almaty and Karaganda, we have training centres where social workers can get professional advice and attain practical skills.
One of the main priorities of the Association of Germans is implementing the European model of social support in Kazakhstan, which has to be carried out jointly with the APK and supported by the Fund of the First President.
We have realised several projects, such as the scientific and practical conference, ‘The Study of the European Experience with Social Practices in Strengthening Interethnic Tolerance and the Development of Civil Institutions’ in 2010. In 2011, it was the Caring with Confidenceproject, which took first place at the Social Ideas and Projects Fair funded by the Fund of the First President of Kazakhstan. The project was designed to train social workers and employees of social departments to take care of patients and the elderly at home. …
With the support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Germany, the Association of Germans has established meeting centres and schools for extra-mural education for young ethnic Germans, the e-government website for ethnic Germans in Kazakhstan, social stations for people in need and disabled citizens, as well as a humanitarian pharmacy. We provide sanatorium therapy, schools for old folks, language camps, youth exchanges. The Kazakh government has supported our children’s Sunday schools, the German newspaper Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, as well as numerous other cultural and research projects, including ecological tourism.
What does it mean to be a German in Kazakhstan?
This is a fairly capacious, multifaceted feeling. Unfortunately, many have forgotten their mother tongue and it is a great loss. But I want to say that to be a German is, first and foremost, to preserve the best qualities of people: faith in justice, the pursuit of honesty and the ability to work hard. With these qualities, people tend to study their native language and traditions and call themselves Germans.
All ethnic groups are equal, and to be proud of belonging to a particular one is absurd. But to have a common destiny with your people, to share the historical consequences of what your ancestors have experienced, to not turn away – this is what is worth respect. It is important to be part of the nation. Sharing the misery and bitterness of defeat and the joy of success is an integral component of national identity. Every nation must preserve the bright colours of their identity and share it with other ethnic groups. Belonging to the German ethnic group in Kazakhstan is the responsibility to preserve our identity and represent us as a worthy part of the multicultural society of Kazakhstan.