Can we increase participation through political and cultural education? These and other complex questions were the focus of the second regional forum held by Otto Benecke Stiftung e.V. (OBS). Just under 60 guests gathered at the MKFFI (Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees and Integration) in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia at the invitation of OBS to enjoy the exciting presentations and discussions about political engagement among Germans from Russia. The regional forum opened with a welcome speech by Heiko Hendriks, a representative of the state government responsible for the needs of German displaced persons, emigrants and late repatriates; he made it clear that “one of the state government’s central concerns is to promote political education for the Germans from Russia.” His welcome speech was followed by a lecture by Dr. Ursula Boos-Nünning, professor emerita.
The main focus of the regional forum was introducing the “Model Project to Test Inter- and Intracultural Education Offerings in North Rhine-Westphalian Organizations for Germans from Russia” (IKuDaR), which was launched in August of 2018 by the Verein zur Integration von russlanddeutschen Aussiedlern (Association for the Integration of Russian German Emigrants, VIRA e.V.) and OBS in partnership with the NRW State Committee for the Association of Russian-German Immigrants (LmDR). The project’s main priorities are political and cultural education offerings, which are intended to inform and ultimately increase the target group’s participation in political processes. “It’s not easy,” said Christian Sprenger from the LmDR in Düsseldorf, “but visiting the Haus der Geschichte museum in Bonn, for instance, can help spark a joint discussion about issues like voter turnout and different ways to participate.” This practical approach was confirmed by Tatjana Weber from JSDR, which focuses on innovative offerings for children and young adults. “Our experience shows that young people are especially interested in this topic when it is presented in the context of recreational or sporting events and seen in a more global way – in keeping with the motto, ‘Home is where the wi-fi is.’”
One central issue remained unresolved, namely to what extent the target group can use existing structures to influence political processes and decisions in a self-aware, responsible way. “Social unity requires political participation, and we want all citizens to actively help shape the development of society,” says Alexander Kühl from VIRA e.V.
Another thing that the IKudaR project reveals: we need to find ways to speak to, inform and motivate each individual. In particular, participation increases the acceptance of political decisions, helps people take more responsibility, increases identification, and in the end significantly reduces the distance between citizens and politicians. In the discussion with representatives of the NRW State Parliament, for instance, it became clear that the thesis about AfD’s being the favorite party of Russian Germans was not empirically true. “A certain degree of political frustration is probably a general societal phenomenon, and nowadays there are no simple solutions to these complex issues in our lives,” said Dr. Lothar Theodor Lemper, the Managing Chair of Otto Benecke Stiftung e.V., “However, here, too, it is important to confidently defend the highest values of our democracy in Germany against right-wing attitudes. Let’s get it right rather than moving to the right!” said Dr. Lemper in his closing statement.
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