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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Emigrants to Germany Lured Back to Volga

Russia may be on the verge of an economic crisis, but as far as Maria Konusevich is concerned it is still better than Germany.

Konusevich emigrated to Germany with her husband and children only to discover that life in the West was not all it was cracked up to be. Now, she has returned to her home in Russia.

"We want to settle down in a village near the town of Marx," she said. "The social benefits we were receiving in Germany were not enough for the whole family."

Konusevich is one of 400 ethnic German families who emigrated to their homeland in search of a better life, but who returned this year to Russia and are being resettled in the Volga region and in western Siberia.

"The families failed to adapt themselves to German life, they found themselves in difficult economic circumstances and could not settle properly. Some felt homesick," said Vladimir Schneider of the Nationalities Ministry.

He said about 200,000 ethnic Germans had emigrated to Germany between 1990 and 1995. The Germans originally came to Russia in the 18th century and briefly enjoyed their own autonomous republic from the 1920s until World War II.

Officials said the language barrier and mixed marriages in which only ethnic German immigrants could enjoy Germany's welfare benefits were the main reasons for their return.

"I studied German for six months, but I failed and decided to return," Alfred Grossman said in a telephone interview from the town of Marx in the Saratov region.

The returnees appeared undaunted by Russia's severe economic crisis, which leaves millions of workers waiting many months for generally paltry wages.

Alexander Zhavoronsky, deputy head of international relations in the Saratov regional administration, said the authorities were expecting more ethnic Germans to return.

He said there were plans to reinstate an autonomous German district in the Volga region.

"The local population's attitude to the ethnic Germans is absolutely normal. The idea of forming a German district in some parts of the Saratov and Volgograd regions exists," he said.

"It only demands the will and determination of the Russian and German governments," Zhavoronsky said, adding that the returnees were mainly settling back in the countryside to work as farmers.

But some Russian officials were critical of the returnees.

Boris Abel, who heads a German cultural center in the Marx district, said the returnees had expected an easy ride in Germany, where living standards were much higher than in Russia.

"They have the consumer mentality of people expecting only to receive without giving anything in return," he said.

Officials said more ethnic Germans were now arriving in Russia from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

"Only the difficult economic situation in Russia prevents us from resolving the issue of reviving the autonomous republic of the Volga Germans," Schneider said.

Empress Catherine the Great signed a decree in 1762 setting up a privileged German settlement on the lower Volga for German subjects imported to work for the government.

In 1918 Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Soviet state, ordered the formation of the Region of the Volga Germans, which in 1924 became the autonomous republic of the Volga Germans.

But after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, dictator Josef Stalin ordered the forced resettlement of all ethnic Germans to more remote regions of Siberia and Kazakhstan.

Many died in exile and the former German autonomous republic's territory was divided between the neighboring Saratov and Volgograd regions. The ethnic Germans were only fully rehabilitated by the Soviet authorities in 1974.