Ethnic Germans encounter resentment in homecoming Ex-Soviet citizens seen as interlopers in Germany

March 24, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SOHREN, Germany - Emmi Schleicher arrived in Germany from her native Kazakstan six years ago and thought she had finally gone home to the land her ancestors left over two centuries before. Since then, she has learned a much more painful lesson.

As an ethnic German in Kazakstan, she said, she faced nationalist hostility among Kazaks who called her a foreigner. Now she confronts another kind of animosity from Germans who do not accept her as a German and who accuse her and others like her of receiving social benefits they do not deserve.

"In Kazakstan they said we were Germans and should go back to Germany," said Mrs. Schleicher, 32, who was a librarian in Almaty, Kazakstan, and now has a job collecting admission at a public swimming pool in this small town in western Germany. "Now we are in Germany and people here curse us as 'the Russians.' "

Since the late 1980s, in one of Europe's greatest population shifts since the end of the Cold War, more than a million ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union have taken advantage of German laws permitting them to reclaim full citizenship, and thus automatic access to a welfare system that provides unemployment pay, housing allowances and state pensions.

But their arrival has coincided with economic straits for many Germans facing record unemployment at a time when the abundance of social benefits is being called into question.

A result has been a greater readiness among Germans to attribute their woes to their ethnic kin, and an equal readiness among politicians to play to those passions for votes.

The animosity threatens Germany's social fabric with perhaps the most emotional collision of identities since neo-Nazis rampaged against foreigners, particularly the country's 2 million Turks, after reunification in 1990.

"Burning houses have shown that the readiness to accept people is not without limits," said Oskar Lafontaine, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, referring to attacks on foreigners elsewhere in Germany. He is campaigning for limits on immigration by ethnic Germans.

During the Cold War, West Germany made it a constitutional right for ethnic Germans to acquire full German citizenship.

But the opening of Eastern Europe's frontiers threatened Germany with an unchecked flow of poor migrants.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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