Who are “die Russen” currently living in Germany?

After the fall of the Soviet Union Germany emerged as one of the primary countries of Post-Soviet migration – with at least 2.6 Million Russian speaking migrants living in Germany at the moment (conservatively estimated). Putting this into perspective, there were 6 751 002 registered foreign citizens residing in Germany 2006 – about 8,2% of the total population of 82 348 399. The largest immigrant group are Turkish citizens (1 764 041) followed by Italian (540 810 – numbers taken from Kiss, A, & H Lederer, Migration, Asyl und Integration in Zahlen, 14 edn., Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, Referat 124 – Geschäftsstatistik, Nürnberg, 2006). While this statistic does not include naturalized migrants it shows that the Post-Soviet migrants (taking naturalized Turkish citizens into account) make up the second largest group of immigrants in Germany. When talking about the migration from the former Soviet Union to Germany the emigrants are often referred to as Die Russen (The Russians). This is, however, not quite correct – the migrants who arrived after 1990 actually consists of three major groups: Spätaussiedler (Ethnic Germans, aka Russlanddeutsche and Wolgadeutsche), Jews and “real” (in other words, ethnic) Russians, Ukrainians etc. I have a discussion of these groups in my dissertation, but the long version had to be chopped out due to place restrictions. Instead of relegating it to the waste bin, I thought it might be better off here – there must be somebody besides me interested in Post-Soviet migration to Germany: 😉

Ethnic Germans (Spätaussiedler)

The so called ethnic Germans are descendants of Germans who in the 18th and 19th century emigrated to inter alia Russia (especially along the Volga), Rumania, Hungary and the Ukraine. After Nazi Germany’s invasion in 1941 many of the Volga Germans were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. These migrants were not only marked linguistically as a minority in Russia, but also religiously, being predominantly Lutherans, Catholics and Mennonites. This is also reflected in the statistics of those who moved to Germany after 1990: Religiously the ethnic Germans who moved to Germany in the period 2000 to 2002 primarily consisted of Protestant (144 161) followed by Roman-catholic (52 702) and Russian-orthodox (43 388) belivers (Der Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Aussiedlerfragen und nationale Minderheiten, Deutsche Aussiedler – Zahlen Daten Fakten, ed. J Welt, Bundesministerium des Inneren, Bonn, 2003, p. 18) – this was the only available statistic on religion I could find). Ethnic German also includes Germans dispersed due to the second World War. Their repatriation is based both on the perceived blood-lineage with todays Germany as well as the persecution of ethnic Germans in former Eastern Europe.

Legally the ethnic Germans have their return guaranteed in the German constitution, Article 116 from 1949 which states:

Art 116 (1) Deutscher im Sinne dieses Grundgesetzes ist vorbehaltlich anderweitiger gesetzlicher Regelung, wer die deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit besitzt oder als Flüchtling oder Vertriebener deutscher Volkszugehörigkeit oder als dessen Ehegatte oder Abkömmling in dem Gebiete des Deutschen Reiches nach dem Stande vom 31. Dezember 1937 Aufnahme gefunden hat.

This return is also anchored in the Federal Expellees Act (Gesetz über die Angelegenheiten der Vertriebenen und Flüchtlinge / Bundesvertriebenengesetz – BVFG), originally from 1953 which since 1993 provides the sole definition (and thus the legal basis for immigration) of who is an ethnic German as mentioned in the constitution:

§ 4 Spätaussiedler (1) Spätaussiedler ist in der Regel ein deutscher Volkszugehöriger, der die Republiken der ehemaligen Sowjetunion nach dem 31. Dezember 1992 im Wege des Aufnahmeverfahrens verlassen und innerhalb von sechs Monaten im Geltungsbereich des Gesetzes seinen ständigen Aufenthalt genommen hat,

They are administered through the Federal Office of Administration (Bundesverwaltungsamt) and receive the German citizenship with their repatriation certificate (Federal Ministry of the Interior, Immigration Law and Policy, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Berlin, 2005, p. 80). In the period 1991 to 2005 1 931 083 Spätaussiedler moved to Germany (Kiss, & Lederer, Migration, Asyl und Integration in Zahlen, p. 65).


Initially facing resistance by both the German and Israeli government Jews were accepted due to Germany’s eminent role in the extermination of the European Jewry. While being a symbolic gesture of asking for forgiveness it also aimed to rebuild and strengthen the strongly decimated Jewish communities in Germany. Ironically, due to different perceptions of what it means to be Jewish, it has had the opposite effect to the point of almost splitting Jewish communities with the German Jews feeling outnumbered and pushed aside by the Post-Soviet Jews.

The Jewish migrants were granted stay through the Act on Measures in Aid of Refugees Admitted under Humanitarian Relief Programmes (Gesetz über Maßnahmen für im Rahmen humanitärer Hilfsaktionen aufgenommene Flüchtlinge). This act, also known as the Quota Refugee Act (Kontingentflüchtlingsgesetz), was originally established 1980 to admit refuges from South-East Asia (e.g. Vietnamese Boat People) as humanitarian refuges (R Ostow, ‘From victims of Antisemitism to Post-modern Hybrids: Representations of (Post)Soviet Jews in Germany’, European Judaism vol. 36, no. 2, 2003, pp. 110-117; B Dietz, ‘German and Jewish migration from the former Soviet Union to Germany: background, trends and implications’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies vol. 26, no. 4, 2000, pp. 635-652). Accepting the Jews as refuges was also one of the reasons of Israel’s protest since Israel argued that Jews are not refuges: they have a home land – Israel – they can return to. As of 2005 the Quota Refugee Act has been replaced with the stricter Immigration Act (Zuwanderungsgesetz, also called Gesetz zur Steuerung und Begrenzung der Zuwanderung und zur Regelung des Aufenthalts und der Integration von Unionsbürgern und Ausländern).

After applying for (and receiving) a German visa at Germany’s diplomatic missions the Jewish migrants are administered through the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and the German Federal States. They can apply for citizenship once they become eligible, normally after 8 years of residence in Germany (Federal Ministry of the Interior, Immigration Law and Policy, p. 56f). As of December 31st, 2005 205 645 Jews from the former Soviet Union had relocated (the numbers are based on Kiss, & Lederer, Migration, Asyl und Integration in Zahlen, p. 68 which covers 1993 through 2005. This number also includes 8 535 Jews who immigrated to Germany before the procedures of the Quota Refugee Act were adopted November 10th, 1991 – Federal Ministry of the Interior, Immigration Law and Policy, p. 58).

Other Post-Soviet migrants

Besides the ethnic Germans and Jews there are other Post-Soviet migrants living in Germany (students, professionals, asylum seekers and spouses): about 185 931 Russian, 130 674 Ukrainian and 18 037 Belorussian citizens in 2005 (Statistisches Bundesamt, Bevölkerung und Erwerbstätigkeit – Ausländische Bevölkerung – Ergebnisse des Ausländerzentralregisters 2005, Statistisches Bundesamt, Wiesbaden, 2006, p. 39.) and 187 500 Russian and 129 000 Ukrainian citizens in 2006 (Statistisches Bundesamt, Statistisches Jahrbuch 2007 für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Statistisches Bundesamt, Wiesbaden, 2007, p. 48). The problem with these numbers is that they include Jewish emigrants, which do not automatically receive the German citizenship on arrival.

11 thoughts on “Who are “die Russen” currently living in Germany?

  1. Hi, there are indeed others that are interested in Post-Soviet migration to Germany. I’m in fact writing a dissertation about it — or rather about how migrants to Post-Soviet Russia, the reunited Germany, post-colonial England and Norway from the nineties until today are describing their lives in works of fiction, and more specifically, the novel genre. Do you know of any such authors with (Volga) German background migrating to/ living in Germany in this period of time?

    Nice blog!

    1. thank you for the comment 🙂 you raise a good question – at the moment i can’t think of any ethnic germans writing novels (i primarily explore music in my dissertation). the only really successful writer from the former soviet union who writes in german (and whos writing is sort of autobiographic) is wladimir kaminer – but he is jewish and from moscow. if i come a across something i’ll let you know. and good luck with your dissertation – the topic sounds very interesting!

  2. Thanks for trying!
    Do you by the way know Rock in the reservation : songs from the Leningrad Rock Club 1981-86 by Yngvar Bordewich Steinholt?

    1. Yes, Yngvar and I know each other from his (and my) days in Bergen – he commenting on my hovedfagsoppgave and i on his dissertation – one of the reasons why i am doing research on popular music from st. petersburg (with yngvar as one of my advisors) 😀

    1. han hilser han også 🙂
      back to english 😉 i asked a german friend about wolga deutsche and literature and he could also not think of any authors. one reason could be that those who left after 1990 are either still very young or those older have had to learn german in germany and thus are not writers… you could check the clubs/organizations for aussiedler (e.g. http://www.hafen-der-hoffnung.de – they promote a book on their homepage which might be interesting: http://www.hafen-der-hoffnung.de/alexander_prieb.php) and write to them and ask – they should know if there are any writers amongst them. another possibility (if you want to check other forms of literary production) would be song lyrics of ethnic german groups, e.g. the bands at pi-rock (http://www.pi-rock.de).

  3. Hi there, haven’t seen your comment before now. Thanks a lot for the link, I will definitely contact them. Their history is quite harsh. I’m at this point limiting myself to novels, so the rock part will have to be done later. 😉 Thanks again! /A

  4. Hi, I am also interested in post-Soviet migration to Germany. Dew, can you give a couple of references where I could find info about the categorisation of ‘Russen’ into Spätaussiedler, Jews and ‘real’ ones? The issue is very relevant to my forthcoming dissertation 🙂

    1. thanx for your comment. what’s your dissertation on? anyway, i would – besides my dissertation 😉 – recommend
      – Darieva, Tsypylma. 2004. Russkij Berlin – Migranten Und Medien in Berlin Und London. Münster: Lit Verlag.
      – Dietz, Barbara. 2000. German and Jewish Migration From the Former Soviet Union to Germany: Background, Trends and Implications. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 26 (4): 635-52.

      good luck with the dissertation!

  5. Thanks a lot, Dew! My dissertation will be on the choice of languages by ‘real’ ones in Germany

  6. Hi Dew, your article would be my reference for my final thesis soon. Thanks a lot buddy!

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