“People are more willing to believe the bizarre”

The case of Lisa shows: Russian-Germans often do not trust German media and authorities. An expert on the Russian-German community explains why

After a report on Russian television about the alleged rape of 13-year-old Lisa from Berlin-Marzahn by refugees, many Russian Germans and Russians took to the streets in Germany. The police and the public prosecutor's office had stated that from their point of view Lisa was neither kidnapped nor raped on that questionable night. But many demonstrators believed neither the German authorities nor the local media. Their anger was directed sweepingly at supposedly violent refugees. Edgar Born, Resettlement Officer and Director of Studies at the Villigst Protestant Academy in Schwerte, observes with concern the political attitudes of some Russian Germans. As a pastor, he has been to the Soviet Union and its successor republics several times and likes to refer to the Russian-German parishioners as "my people.

Please don't judge too quickly: Not every Russian-German is a Putin fan.

fluter.de: Mr. Born, were you surprised by the reactions to the Lisa case?

Edgar Born: No. Since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, many Russian Germans get their information exclusively from Russian television. In the Soviet Union, people used to joke: "In 'Pravda' you can read anything but Pravda."(Editor's note: once a Soviet, now a Russian daily newspaper; the title translates as "Truth").) After their resettlement, this has now changed in certain groups. This assumption is transferred to the Western media, which supposedly want to cover up the truth.

However, there are studies that show that media use is far from being so one-sided.

This does not contradict our observations. The Russian Germans are a very heterogeneous group. It is not simply a dull mass of people directed from the Kremlin. We are dealing with very many different milieus and educational standards. The people who inform themselves on both sides do not go to such demonstrations, but are rather frightened by them. But there are also plenty of people, especially in less educated classes, who are not used to differentiating and verifying information.

But then why do they tend to believe the Russian media?

We need to analyze the reasons for this in more detail. It is certainly related to the language. Of course, it is much easier for Russian native speakers to understand the Russian media. They also work with very descriptive means and create simplified images that are accepted as reality.

Why is the anger coming out now of all times?

Here you suddenly have the name of a 13-year-old Russian-German girl. Emotions crystallize from this concrete fate. Even if the case did not take place in the way it was portrayed in the Russian media, a long-held unease is still attached to it. It is about their place in German society, about which some Russian Germans still feel uncertain. Many of them think they have been unfairly portrayed in the German public sphere. They resent the German media for reporting on the criminal youths from the former Soviet Union and disregarding the special immigration history of the Russian Germans and their integration efforts. Now they have a concrete reason to articulate their dissatisfaction. The reports on Russian television about the alleged abuse of a girl from their own ranks by refugees then fell on open ears.

"It has been suggested to them that in the Federal Republic everything boils down to this Germanism."

Now right-wing extremist groups and parties like the NPD are trying to exploit the uncertainty for their own ends.

I have been observing this for some time, that these groups are mainly interested in middle-aged and younger men. The love for their original homeland, for a special kind of being German is addressed there. It is fatal that the admission procedure on the basis of the Federal Expellees Act of 1953 was aimed precisely at proving that one has German ancestry, has fully committed oneself to German nationality, has cultivated the German language, German culture and German education. Terms, by the way, which all originate from the language of the Nazi era. It has been suggested to them that everything in the Federal Republic of Germany boils down to this Germanism. Now the Aussiedler find such terms on the right-wing political fringe and think it's okay.

Does this mean that they are particularly receptive to right-wing extremist speeches?? Representatives of the Russian-German community always emphasize that there is no closeness of people to extremist positions.

That is difficult to answer. They come to Germany with the idea of living as Germans among Germans. They wanted to belong, but were often not accepted as their equals by the host society. The idea of not really being welcome has become entrenched. A parallel can be drawn here, because the right-wing extremists flirt with being marginalized by middle-class society. They are now using this to gain sympathy. What frightens me most is that the xenophobic slogans that many Russian-Germans had to endure after their arrival, they use almost the same words themselves against the refugees at the demonstrations.

Where do these prejudices against the current immigrants come from?

In the USSR there have been no real socially relevant models of integration. Minorities were more likely to be excluded. The organized coexistence of peoples and cultures was proclaimed by the Soviet leadership, but did not really take place. A positive experience of foreignness was not learned. In addition, there is a feeling that they are now in a fight for the penultimate place in society. For some, who see themselves as losers of the resettlement, this reflex certainly jumps up. Thereby the foreign is perceived abstractly as a possible danger. Positive experiences with concrete people of other nationalities in the neighborhood, at school, at work or in the military have naturally occurred over there and also here. This is not even experienced as a contradiction.

How do you evaluate the integration of ethnic German immigrants in general??

As far as professional and educational integration is concerned, there has been great progress. It's really great. The young people are making their way. They have good degrees, are successful in their professions, as athletes or artists. The Russian-German origin then hardly plays a role anymore. The question is whether everyone has really arrived in our political system. There is certainly a need to catch up. Many do not understand the political system or the values associated with it.

How do you experience political discussions in the community??

A certain part is no longer accessible for political education. It is often as if you are talking to sectarians or fanatics: an unshakable faith against which reasonable argumentation has no chance. One is ready to believe the bizarre rather than the probable. Half-knowledge counts more than thoroughly thought-out opinions. Unfortunately, I also often feel the tendency to use many cliches. And to take everything personally, instead of soberly and respectfully accepting other opinions. Other opinions are perceived as threatening and dangerous. You wouldn't believe how many have already tried to convert me for "their" truth.

The interview was conducted by Andreas Pankratz. He himself is a Russian-German and came to Germany in 1990 as an eight-year-old with his family. Today, he lives and works as a freelance journalist in Cologne.

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