A walk through the German streets of Georgia. Photo provided by Alexander Feldmaier
Where only today do not reside the descendants of the Germans who moved at the invitation of Catherine the Great in the distant XVIII century to the Russian Empire. More than two thousand of them are the German minority of Georgia, once famous for German colonies, among them Marienfeld, Elizabethtal, Katharinenfeld and others. According to Alexander Feldmayer, vice president of the German Association of Germans, it is hardly possible to name any branch or sphere of life in which the Germans would not have made their special contribution. And today, despite their small numbers, Georgian Germans are working for the benefit of their multiethnic homeland, while maintaining their ethnic identity and language.
- Alexander, the delegation from Georgia arrived in the German House of Almaty to learn the experience of the project work, as well as share their vision of preserving the native language and national identity. What are the main tasks now facing the self-organization of the Germans in Georgia.
- The German Einung Association of Georgia was founded at the dawn of independence in 1991. At that time, many structures of the Germans of the post-Soviet space took the name "Wiedergeburt", we chose "Einung". This is an old German word, which even in Germany not everyone knows, translated into Russian means unity, union.
We work on a voluntary basis, in the interests of the German diaspora in Georgia, we receive support from the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany.
In order to preserve the native language, we regularly conduct courses, naturally, we study it not as a foreign language, but as a native language. I am glad that representatives of different generations, from children to the elderly, show interest in the German language. We pay special attention to cultural projects - we have a group of artists, musicians, photographers. Today, according to official statistics, about 2,600 ethnic Germans live in Georgia, but at the moment we are re-registering, as recently someone moved to Germany as late settlers, while others, remaining citizens of Georgia, leave for Europe to work.
- In 2017 200 years of the creation of German settlements in the South Caucasus were celebrated. Settled in Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Germans left a notable mark on architecture, developed viticulture and winemaking. Have these achievements remained in the people's memory?
- Last year was a jubilee for us, we marked a significant date - the
200th anniversary of the Germans' arrival in the South Caucasus, which according to the Manifesto of Catherine II from 1763 came to the Russian Empire. In Georgia, the Russian Empress with German roots some affectionately called Katenka.
Most of the settlers who arrived in the South Caucasus concentrated in Georgia, where they lived compactly. In Tbilisi there were small settlements, from which today only small streets with old typical German buildings have been preserved. Unfortunately, at the moment they are in a deplorable state, but one of the funds in Georgia, headed by Oliver Raizner, our partner and friend, is trying to find funding for their recovery.
Not far from Tbilisi is the village of Elizabethtal, today its name is Asureti, where elements of the German atmosphere are still preserved - from classical architectural structures with beams and half-timbered roofs, the German kirkhi to the old German cemetery. Almost every German family living in Elizabethtal, including my ancestors, had their own wine cellars. The church is now also in desolation, only four walls, our dream is to restore the historic building, reviving its former beauty. In Elizabethtal and lived my German ancestors, there is preserved the grave of my great-great-grandfather and the house where he lived with his family.
Another German settlement, Katharinenfeld, was one of the largest, in the forties it was renamed Bolnisi.
Of course, the German Einung Association of Georgia is working to the best of its ability to ensure that the contribution of the Germans does not sink into oblivion, in honor of the jubilee date, we organized a number of events. One of them hosted the visit of Hartmut Košik, then the German Federal Government Commissioner for Migrants and National Minorities. The German delegation was struck by the beauties of Georgia, the contribution that the Germans made to the formation of a number of industries, as well as the direction of our work. After all, in comparison with other organizations of German minorities, the German Germans Association is a small structure, but, nevertheless, active and not only in the life of its ethnic group. Representatives of our organization are members of the National Group under the Ombudsman of the country, we are also trying to defend the rights of victims of political repression,
It should be noted that our Association is a member of the Working Group of German Minorities (AGDM) under FUEV. Headed by our association is Dr. Harry Augst, who made a huge contribution to the development of the Association, each member of the board is responsible for a specific direction - children's, youth's, language. We have only one branch in Rustavi, which is headed by Yulia Tolikova. After Tbilisi, this is the second city by the largest number of residents of the German diaspora.
- The future of each people for young people, what kind of work are you doing in this direction?
- Three years ago together with the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad (ifa-Institut, Stuttgart) we organized an international youth camp on the Black Sea coast together with the youth of Ukraine and Azerbaijan, which studies the German language. We plan to continue this kind of projects.
Of course, our youth movement is experiencing a number of problems, the guys are growing up and often withdraw from the social life of the diaspora. And this is understandable, the complex social and economic situation in the country affects when they need more time to devote to their families and work. But a new generation always grows up, which we try to interest in the framework of the project activity.
Meeting with the club of German youth | Photo: Anastasia Koroleva
Being here in the German House of Almaty, we have adopted a colossal experience with regard to children's and youth work, sincerely grateful to our Kazakhstan colleagues. After all, we have great potential in this area. Without children, there really is no future. And this is not only work with children, but also with parents.
We look with great hope in the future, we hope that everything planned will come true - and the organization of youth clubs and children's groups. Then we could participate in some joint projects with our compatriots abroad, including Kazakhstan.
- Alexander, what does national identity mean to you, and are the Germans of Georgia interested in their roots?
- Certainly, but, first of all, we are proud of our multinationality and the diversity of cultures, nevertheless, we strive to preserve our ethnic identity. Under the notion of national identity, I mean first of all the knowledge of native German. The older generation saved it well, the young tries to teach. Like many, my family was mixed, my grandfather was German, his mother wore the sonorous German name Feldmeier-Bauer. Grandpa avoided the fate of deportation due to the difficult condition of his mother, who was not transportable.
Our ancestors came to Russia at the invitation of Empress Catherine II, the great-grandmother was born in 1888 already in Georgia, as we assume her parents too. The family lived in one of the German settlements of Elizabethtal, where it had large vineyards, wine cellars, its infrastructure. And today their house has survived, as well as an ancient German cemetery, on which a memorial is established with the assistance of the Lutheran Church.
Every time I go to Elizabethtal, I feel overwhelmed with a sense of pride for my ancestors who worked for the benefit of this region. Historians are studying this period of the Germans' stay in Georgia. Not all points have been studied, only a drop in the sea. I think the most interesting is yet to come.
- Thank you very much for the interview, I wish you every success in your work.