Staunton, August 31 – Seventy-three years after their republic was disbanded by Stalin and 24 years after the two Germanies were reunited, some of Russia’s remaining Germans have been inspired by the creation of a Crimean Republic within the Russian Federation to increase their efforts to restore a German Republic within Russia.
Given the radical decline in the number of Germans in the Middle Volga – there were more than 400,000 a century ago but only 1,400 remains – some in the city of Engels, which once was the capital of the German autonomy, are skeptical that anything can be done.
Dmitry Reshetov, the director of the Engels Regional Studies Museum, says there are today no places of “the compact settlement of Germans” and consequently little basis for a new republic. And Erna Lavrenova, a local resident, says she is certain that “no republic is needed here: the old Germans almost don’t remain and new ones aren’t coming.”
But others are equally convinced that the restoration of the autonomy is necessary as part of a broader and still incomplete effort to rehabilitate the Russian Germans, 1.2 million of whom were deported to Siberia and Kazakstan and 800,000 of whom were confined to the GULAG by Stalin.
Many Russians still believe that the Russian Germans deserved to be deported because of their supposed sympathy for and cooperation with the Nazi invaders. But archivist Elizveta Elina says that despite official demands that she and others find evidence for that idea, no such evidence has turned up, and she appears to be certain it won’t.
Supporters of the idea of restoring a German republic in Russia point out that 20 years ago, it appeared that the idea was of interest “only for specialists,” but then it turned out that not only ethnic Germans but representatives of the other nationalities among whom they lived came to believe that it would be a good idea.
“The number of such enthusiasts is becoming ever greater,” according to Aleksandr Bekker, the leader of the Engels German Rebirth Society.
Representatives of other nationalities are backing the idea, Elena Kashtanova, the head of the information office of the Engels District administration, “above all” because “it is our history” and because there is no reason “to divide peoples” any more.
She noted that her husband had grown up in a village called “USA” which stood for “the United States of Aleksandrovka.” It had a population of 1,000 and included Russians, Mordvins, Kazakhs, Ukrainians and Chuvashes as well as Germans. Representative of 35 different nationalities still live there, she added.
Nonetheless, some officials believe that after a few more censuses, there won’t be “even one German” in the region and consequently see no reason to press for a German autonomy. But one activist says that she and her colleagues “won’t allow” the Germans to disappear and will thus continue to press for institutions to keep that community alive.