In May 2022, Tatarstan-born Igor Sukharev received a refusal from the Federal Administrative Office (BVA), which denied him the status of a late repatriate. In the statement of reasons the word "counter-confession" appeared and the distrust of the submitted documents was expressed. Igor is one of thousands of Russian Germans whose applications were rejected in 2022. We do not have the BVA's exact annual statistics for cancellations.
"I was very surprised by the rejection," recalls Igor Sukharev, who holds a doctorate in economics. "I meet all the requirements of the Federal Displaced Persons Act, speak excellent German. In this language my grandmother Aurelia Braun communicated with me. She introduced me to German culture. We lived in the same apartment until she died. I was 15 then."
"A discriminatory instrument"
During the First World War, Aurelia Braun's family, along with other German families of the Warsaw Governorate, was expropriated and deported to the interior of Russia. At that time Aurelia lost many relatives, including her father. Without waiting for deportation during World War II, she and her minor son Robert, Igor's father, fled to a remote Tatar village where no one cared about the Germans. For the labor army, the then 46-year-old was no longer fit for reasons of age.
Igor Sukharev began to gather the records of his German ancestors in 2013, after he realized that he was listed as Russian in the birth certificate of his eldest daughter. "I always thought the ethnicity column in the documents was a discriminatory tool," says Igor. "And I was convinced that with the disintegration of the Soviet Union the indication of nationality will be a thing of the past. But it turned out that it was not so."
Igor brought documents from the archives to convince the registry office to change the entry on the birth certificate. "There was no question of Germany then. I just wanted my daughter to have the choice later on. And, of course, it was also about our family history," says Igor.
"I had underestimated the German bureaucracy"
2020 matured the decision to move to Germany. Igor put together a large pack of documents. Among them were copies of archive entries from the 19th century. In the twentieth century with information about his ancestors up to the fifth limb. "Since the collected documents were sufficient for the Russian registry office and we did not have to go through the court, I was sure that they would also satisfy the officials of the BVA. But I had underestimated the German bureaucracy."
As it turned out, the BVA was not interested in anything except the column "nationality" in the personal records. "I was surprised that in Germany, where ethnic registrations are not legitimate, they are really obsessed with it. The law requires proof that I am German by such characteristics as origin, language, education, culture. There is not a word of entries on ethnicity there. But I am supposed to prove to the BVA that in the course of my life I was never and nowhere registered as Russian."
Igor submitted more than 30 proofs from the archives for all the required data, of course certified by the offices. However, the BVA accepts only the original documents. But information from the archive is always available as a copy. A vicious circle.
After that, Igor and his wife Oksana set about the intensive study of German laws. They also founded the society "Assembly of Germans Abroad" for those whose applications for recognition as late repatriates were rejected. Today, the society has more than 500 members. More than half of them had a "counter-acknowledgement" from the BVA and did not trust the submitted documents.
It refers to a ruling of the Federal Administrative Court of 26. January 2021. Accordingly, the mere acquisition of German B1 language skills is not sufficient to abandon an explicit commitment to a nationality other than German ("Gegenbekenntnis").
Davyd was born in Chelyabinsk in 1988. He was named in honor of his grandfather Davyd Kail, who was born in 1924 in the Rostov region. In 1941 he was deported from there to Siberia, in January 1942 he was drafted into the labor army. In 1949 he moved to Chelyabinsk. He, like all Germans, was subject to a special registration requirement. He got married, in 1951 his son Victor was born, the father of our Davyd. Kail, the elder died in 1999, the middle in 2013.
After the death of his father, the youngest founded a family. His first daughter Evita was born in 2015. The family was pleased with the quick issuance of the birth certificate at the clinic. The information came from the mouth of the child's mother. It was only when they discovered that the name of the child's father, Davyd Kail, was followed by the nationality "Russian" that they pulled their hair out. In 2019, the birth certificate was exchanged, since then Davyd is listed in it as German. But now this change is one of the reasons for the refusal to recognize Davyd Kail as a late resettler.
"Not a real German …"
Davyd has hired a lawyer in Germany and is in correspondence with the BVA. He must prove that he did not fill out the 2015 birth certificate himself and thus did not renounce the German people. Recently he received an answer from the BVA: they had consulted the German consul in Novosibirsk. According to the latter, the information for the birth certificate would be submitted personally by both parents. But this is against the Russian legislation. Davyd will inform the BVA about this through his lawyer.
"We have already submitted so many notarized deeds and Russian laws translated into German! I don't know what other arguments we should present so that the BVA will consider them valid. And then there was this undertone in the correspondence, as if all these certificates and documents were forged anyway," Davyd Kail says. In the meantime, he has spent around 100,000 rubles (approx. 1300 euros). "And that's not the end of the case," he adds. 1400 euros had to be spent on the lawyer so far.
"You get the impression that somehow we are not real Germans, but scroungers who want to infiltrate Germany," Davyd Kail says. Together with his wife, he has five university degrees and three daughters.
Irina Smirnova from Sochi submitted her application in 2018. She brought documents attesting to the fact that she was of the Martens' lineage. These are Mennonites who were born at the end of the 18th century. The family settled down on the Molotschna River at the end of the nineteenth century. She knows her roots and the tragic fates of her ancestors. Her grandmother Irina was sent to the Novosibirsk region as a German national in 1945. In 1947 her mother was born there, and in 1999 she received a certificate of her rehabilitation. Irina was already 21 years old.
The BVA answered after half a year. A counselor advised her to change the ethnicity entry on her children's birth certificates and on her marriage certificate. "This was not easy. Nobody rolled out the red carpet for me at the registry office, I had to prove my nationality," Irina recalls. But in the end, the registry office did enter the correct data.
At the beginning of 2021 the documents with the changes in the birth certificates of the three children, language certificates and notarized translations went to the BVA. "The folder weighed almost a kilo," says Irina, who, by the way, has a professional degree as a documentalist.
In January 2023 Irina received the refusal. It said she had not provided "any detailed information" that clearly identified her as German. Consequently, there is "no commitment to the German nationality" according to. §6 Abs. 2 BVFG before.
"I visit the meeting place for Russian Germans, I have many photos and letters of thanks, which confirm that I am connected with German culture and grew up in it. But none of that was required," reports Irina. "The employee of the BVA decided for his own motives what I feel like and whether I have the right to live as a German in Germany."
Irina Smirnova's case was handled by the BVA for almost five years. Now she has 30 days to appeal the decision.
Yelena Kisner (nee Konradi) from Khanty-Manssiysk said that there were "big problems with the documents" with her and her sister Natalya. Her father Ewald Konradi, also known as Iwan or Iwald, was born on 30. September 1941 born in a family of Volga Germans. "You understand what this means," says Jelena. "Deportation, train, a small village in the Omsk region."
When the family applied for a notification of admission in the mid-1990s, it turned out that the parents were not officially married and the first document Ewald received was the military passport (in the collective farms, the issuance of ID cards began later). In the military passport was written "Russian. In the ID card, Konradi then became German, of course, because both parents were German. But the name was misspelled: not Ewald, but Iwald.
He received a refusal. At the consulate in Novosibirsk, they suggested that he bring three witnesses who can confirm that he is German. However, these could have been only people who were long out of their teens. And since Novosibirsk is almost a thousand kilometers away from the Issilkul district in the Omsk region, where the family lived at the time, it was decided not to do so. In 2014 Iwald Konradi died.
"Out of ignorance"
In July 2020, Jelena Kisner filed a new application. In the BVA found the documents submitted at the time by her father, including her. It came to light that the parents were not officially married until 1996. In 1997, Jelena, who was already 28 years old, received a new birth certificate. Father's name was changed from "Ivanovna" to "Iwaldovna" and in the column nationality of the father "Russian" was changed to "German". In a certificate it is written that the errors that occurred were the fault of the corresponding employee of the village Soviet.
In any case, it can be read that the father may have been Russian – and may not have been the father at all. Lawyer declines to take case because establishing paternity can almost lead to exhumation. A Soviet certificate of paternity from 1969, on the other hand, is not an argument for the BVA. In December 2020, this application is also rejected.
"Out of ignorance we have made life difficult for ourselves", says Jelena Iwaldowna sadly. She is the chairwoman of the German National-Cultural Autonomy in Khanty-Manssiysk.
Is there an opportunity?
Refusals on the grounds of "counterconfirmation" have become more frequent since a new leaflet was published by the BVA in April 2022. According to the ideas of its authors, it should support applicants in the Spataussiedler admission procedure in proving their commitment to "German nationality".
Members of the "Assembly of Germans Abroad" exchange ideas on Telegram and WhatsApp and discuss ways to solve their problems. They find that a collective action in court can influence the course of each individual case. Once a month they meet online. On 4. February they have accepted a declaration of nationality (see right).
The initiators Igor and Oksana Sukharev explain it this way: "The law requires us to prove that we belong to the German nationality. If we enter "German" in the documents for nationality, we become Germans according to the legislation of the country of origin, which means that we fulfill all the requirements of the German law, para. 2 §6 BVFG. However, the BVA requires us to prove that we have never belonged to any other people."
"We will fight"
What are they hoping for? "Germany is a constitutional state. We are convinced that according to the law we have the right to be recognized as ethnic Germans," says Igor Sukharev. "We will fight for our right to go to Germany as long as our strength lasts"."
Can the ruling of 26. January 2021 to be challenged? "Theoretically yes, practically no," says lawyer Thomas Puhe, who has been dealing with the cases of ethnic German repatriates for 30 years. "It is unrealistic to expect changes in the interpretation of the law, which is negative for the Russian Germans. Correct the decision of the highest administrative court could the legislator. However, I am not aware of any parliamentary activities in this direction. In some cases, succeeding in fighting rejections by citing last-minute changes in national affiliation entries."
"We profess to be Germans in Russia …"
Olga Martens, vice president of the International Association of German Culture, believes that legislators' attention must be drawn to the idiosyncratic interpretation of the law. "Germany has been supporting the Russian Germans in Russia since the 1990s with a program aimed at strengthening their identity. In order to be able to participate in it, there is also a commitment to the German nationality. So, abroad, to be German, it is enough to simply come to our meeting place. Thus, the issue of counter-profession (even the word I find discriminatory) is not on the agenda of the German minority in Russia. We declare ourselves to be Germans in Russia and live with this declaration. Therefore, there is evidence and witnesses enough that we are Germans. The social organizations of the German minority in Russia can confirm this also for those who want to leave the country."
Olga Martens also points out that children born in mixed marriages are often automatically given the nationality of the parent who belongs to the titular nation by the registry office. And there were a number of other reasons not to be registered as German in the documents. "All this should be taken into account by the legislator in Germany."
"We are in a kind of chess game with the BVA," say Igor and Oxana Sukharev. "We have made a move. Now it's the BVA's turn. Whereby for the people there time does not matter. We, on the other hand, are running away."
According to the BVA, approximately 46,000 applications from Russian Germans for recognition as ethnic German immigrants have been received in the last three years. Of these, 21,500 were decided positively.