Interview: “This is not my Putin”: German-Russian talks about hating everything Russian
Natalie Paschenko is the executive director of the Landsmannschaft of Germans from Russia in Hesse: Since Putin’s army invaded Ukraine, Russian Germans like her have been held co-responsible for the war. The education officer observes rising black-and-white thinking and warns, “This will only make this terrible war bigger.”
FOCUS Online: Mrs. Paschenko, you are Russian Germans, living in Kassel. In the last few days we have heard a lot about hostility towards Russians and people of Russian origin in Germany. Can you confirm?
Natalie Paschenko: Unfortunately, yes, it started on the second day after the war in Ukraine began. I went to the gym as usual. What does your Putin think? I was asked. At first you are just annoyed, the station understands. Ours, my Putin? I have lived in Germany for 22 years and have never been confronted with such issues. I would never have dreamed that I would ask my husband: Let’s we speak better German outside our apartment. We review this consistently. We certainly do not want the next justification situation.
Russian-German Paschenko on hatred in everyday life
When you say it “started” in the gym: what else have you experienced?
Pashenko: Shortly after, it was International Women’s Day. That day I was in the center with the Frauen Union to hand out flyers. A few nice words, congratulations to the outgoing women personally. “Thank you, your Putin has already congratulated us,” said an elderly lady. I then explained to her that, as representatives of the national team of Germans from Russia and the interest group of Germans from Russia in Hesse, we clearly distance ourselves from this war and that we ourselves are deeply shocked. “You all say that,” said the woman. First, you wave it and say to yourself: An extreme position. But with each new experience and especially when looking at the social networks, it becomes clear: Within a very short time, the open, curious questions from people around me have become stigmatized.
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How were you met before the war?
Pashenko: Curious. What does it really mean, Russian-German, people would know. I often told them what it was like in Kyrgyzstan back then. That’s where I grew up. For many there we were always “the Germans” and not necessarily in a friendly sense. No wonder: Germany had started World War II. For a long time, my identity fluctuated between obscure and vague, but then was very loose. I left Kyrgyzstan after graduating from school, studying German, English and German as a foreign language in Kassel and finally settled here permanently. I am politically active and volunteer, helping to shape things is important to me. Suddenly I seem to many just like the “Russian”.
Who calls you that?
Pashenko: If my impression is correct, then obviously half of the neighborhood. A few days ago, at half past ten in the evening, my daughter wanted to sleep and there was loud music in front of the house. I went down, three men had made a bonfire. They immediately apologized and said they would be quieter. We got to talk together, actually quite nice. But then suddenly someone said: Oh, so you’re the Russian?
Divisions across families over war
… That so many talk about?
Pashenko: Yes exactly, I thought so too. But there was more. After a short pause, it was then: Yes, yes, the evil Russians. That should probably be considered ironic. But you have to justify yourself again. Many Russian-Germans and Russian-speaking people are totally overwhelmed, not only in relation to the contact with people from Germany in general. Russian-Germans are not just people from Russia, but from all the successor states of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine.
Are there tensions in the group?
Pashenko: Occasionally yes, sometimes to the point where splits occur that run through families or friendships. On the whole, however, we are experiencing great solidarity with each other these days. Hugs are often spontaneous or people just look at each other with tears in their eyes. For example, recently, when this fake video circulated in which a Russian woman reported that a young woman she knew had been killed by Ukrainians. I felt a particularly strong need for solidarity. By the way, many Germans from Russia are totally apolitical.
Like many Germans.
Exactly. I try to support these people, to prepare them for situations where they suddenly have to quarrel complexly. Do not feel personally attacked, I tell them. I also try to give comfort to especially the elderly who suddenly have to let go of as much as they have become happy with.
What should you let go of as a person of Russian origin?
Pashenko: It starts with little things like eating. Pelmeni, which are salty stuffed meat pockets, are especially popular. There are people who feel bad when they eat their favorite food now. Or already when they go shopping in a Russian store. It is hardly better to go to the German supermarket where several Russian products have been taken off the shelves. Often with the comment: ‘permanently not available’. It hurts to read something like that. On the other hand, there are, of course, relatively small problems. It is the children who are really suffering from the current situation.
You mean, like, saltines and their ilk, eh?
Pashenko: Unfortunately, as a training worker, I see this first hand. Only recently was I back in touch with an affected family. The son is in sixth grade and has recently been called “you, shitty Russians”. Also from children with whom he was formerly close friends.
Russian-Germans are asking for more tolerance
How do the teachers react?
Pashenko: That’s just it. Instead of de-escalating, even one seems to be put on top. Because of all the tension, the boy had a migraine and wanted to go home. But they did not let him. Comment: What the people of Ukraine are experiencing is nothing compared to your headache. My letter to the school management has not yet been answered. After all, a teacher is said to have apologized to the boy. And that’s the good news: How many people positioned themselves reflexively at the beginning of the war, it seems, things are moving at least here and there.
You just mentioned school as an example. Where do you still distance yourself from the flat friend-enemy pattern?
Pashenko: You hear a lot there. There are reports of restaurants where initially no Russian-speaking people were served spontaneously. I have also heard of doctors’ offices where Russian people were denied treatment. Now it is said that the restaurants and practices have taken it back.
One can probably only shake the head of the former.
Pashenko: To be honest, I can even understand it to some degree. They want to show solidarity with Ukraine, will set an example. It is, in principle, something to be welcomed. I do not want to feel sorry for my situation, it would certainly be too much to ask. But a little more foresight would be appropriate. Being in solidarity with the Ukrainians does not have to mean being against the people of Russia or against Russian-speaking people in Germany. It only makes this conflict bigger.
Winter is back with its icy cold and white snowflakes – the snow line drops to zero