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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 096-116-E
Division Number: V.
Professional Group: Newspapers
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 116.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

New Russian-Language Newspapers in Berlin

Walter Andreesen
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
Berlin, Germany


1. Readers in Berlin/Brandenburg

V. Karjagin, in an article in Mezdunarodnaja zizn (1997, no.3, pp.54ff.: Berlin. Vpecatlenie priezzego), passes on the impression that the Russian language is «present everywhere» in Berlin. Indeed, again a «Russian scene» develops in the future German capital, not to the degree and the intellectual potential of the 1920s when the emigration found a refuge from the Russian revolution, but nevertheless of remarkable quality, and still growing. The House of Russian Culture - originally a meeting place in the context of GDR-Russian relations - gains importance. This holds true also for new clubs and establishments on a private basis.

About 12,000 people, including dependents and family members, are in the service of the Consular Department of the former and future Russian Embassy, of Russian official institutions and enterprises and units registered with the Embassy. The Russian-speaking Jewish community amounts to 12,000 former Soviet citizens, and their relatives and guests etc. who do not live in Berlin permanently. Finally there are appr. 1.5 million Soviet immigrants of German descent, and the younger generation is more at home in Russian than in German. While these immigrants settled almost exclusively in Western Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this changed after 1990, and a considerable part remained in Brandenburg. There are also not a few Russian students in Berlin as the Free University concluded a cooperation agreement with St. Petersburg University quite a long time ago.

In addition there is an unknown number of Russian speakers from Belarus, the Ukraine and other CIS countries. The Berlin daily Tagesspiegel (June 26, 1997) mentions one million Russians (more correctly Russian speakers) in germany. We do not have any reliable figures for Berlin and Brandenburg but following Mezdunarodnaja ziznn; we may assume 200,000. But even if the correct numbers of Russian speakers who live permanently or temporarily in Berlin and Brandenburg should be lower, there is a sufficient reservoir to guarantee the commercial success of at least some periodicals in Berlin.

As to the «third wave of emigration» (1) it is to be stated with regret that major intellectual potential of this emigration passed Berlin by. Speaking of «three waves» of emigration, the first wave was the consequence of the Bolshevic revolution in Russia and it set off a veritable migration, and one of its major centres was Berlin in the 1920s; the second was a result of World War II, and the third was an outcome of the repression in the USSR, with a high tide in the 70s and 80s. Renowned writers then left the USSR. One has to keep in mind that on account of international pressure mainly Jewish citizens were allowed to leave the USSR. Also people of German descent, who were permitted to leave on the basis of a family reunion program, emigrated to germany in large numbers. One might speak of a fourth «wave» when people left their home countries for whatever reasons (mainly however economic), when the borders were opened during recent years. Such movements exist all over the world, and it is legitimate to seek better living conditions.

As already mentioned, the «famous names» passed Berlin by, among them Viktor Nekrasov, Aleksandr Solzenicyn, Vasilij Aksionov, Valerij Tarsis, Andrej Sinjavskij, Vladimir Maksimov, Vadim Krejd, Eduard Lomonov and many others who settled in France, Israel and the USA. For Berlin we may just mention the name of the writer Gorenstejn.

The readers of Russian newspapers and periodicals in Berlin are therefore a mixed lot. Few people from the first emigration wave are still alive, the second wave and their offspring stayed mainly in Paris and the USA, on account of the War, the post-war events and the special political situation of Berlin. Thus the major groups of readers of the newspapers and their targets are:

Russians who did not leave Germany after the collapse of the GDR, including some members of the armed forces

These potential readers are, with very few exceptions, not eminent personalities of Russian culture but mostly average citizens, not rarely with a university education. As to the people of German descent they are more craftsmen or from the agricultural field.

Thus a comparison should not be made between Russian Berlin in the twenties when the city was a cultural centre of the whole Russian intellectual life abroad. At that time there were appr. 75 Russian publishers and bookshops in Berlin. The leading newspapers were Nakanune, Rul', Dni, Nas vek and Novoe Slovo. Nakanune (1922-July 1924) among whose literary collaborators was Aleksej Tolstoj was the forum of the smenovechovcy (Change of directions) who believed in an approach [understanding] to the then Soviet Union, gradually accepted the October revolution and trusted in a harmonization between emigration and USSR. There were rumours that Nakanune was financed by the Soviet Union. Rul' on the other hand was the publication of the Russian Constitutional Democrats (Cadets), edited I. Gessen, V. Nabokov (father of the well-known writer) etc. The paper was published until 1931 owing to the financial support from Ullstein publishers.

Dni (oct. 1922-June 1925 in berlin, afterwards in Paris). The paper was socialist, or social revolutionary, on a «firm democratic foundation»; original goal was the «fight for the renaissance of a free Russia»; for some time Kerenskij, the only freely elected prime minister of Russia, was among its collaborators. Nas vek was published from Nov. 1931 till April 1933. The paper was anti-Soviet, relatively far rightist, nevertheless still on democratic ground; it fought the Bolshevik system in Russia.

Finally there was Novoe Slovo, a weekly published in Berlin from 1933 to 1944, a rightist paper which leant towards the Nazis, without, however, alleviating their distrust of the Russian emigration.

2. The Russian press in present-day Berlin

The current publication of Russian newspapers - 4 newspapers and 2 journals - cannot be compared to the periodicals of the twenties:

The following papers are, or were published in Berlin:

Let us look at the contents of a given issue:

Another Russian newspaper has been published since 1996:

The third Russian paper is

Three «journals» are published in Berlin:

There are two papers of the Jewish communities in Berlin and Potsdam:

This is true even more for the only recently established paper of the Jewish Community of Berlin, which is published in German and Russian:

Besides Alef-Bet I know of one other Jewish paper in Russian:

A supraregional paper on a high level. It covers Jewish life worldwide; the same is true for

These Jewish Russian language papers compete with the major US Jewish papers with an international circulation, namely Alef. The only Jewish ---- in Russian worldwide. New York 1981- and Russian Forward. Forverts. Vpered. New York 4/1987-

So far there are no papers in Berlin and Brandenburg targeted at immigrants of German descent from Russia and CIS countries. Readers depend on papers published in other parts of Germany:

These papers especially catering to German immigrants also offer political news to a small degree, but on a rather low level. Reports on juridical and social adjustment problems are dealt with in detail, the same goes for entertainment, daily life and advertisements, oriented towards the interests and needs of immigrants who have familiarise themselves with new political, social, cultural and last but not least language surroundings. A part of the papers is bilingual, German and Russian. The papers also cater for readers of non-German descent and are accepted by them, as far as I know, whenever other papers are not available; that applies mainly for small towns and rural areas.

The question is why there are so many papers of this kind. To my knowledge the reason are subsidies by the home ministry for such immigrants. From a strictly commercial point of view so many papers for a limited audience would not be able to survive.


The Russian language newspapers published in Berlin (and in Germany in general) do not compare favourably with the international (traditionreich) papers Russkaja mysl' (Paris) and Novoe Russkoe Slovo (New York) as far as the intellectual level, the political statements and the potential audience, with regard to its intellectual literacy, are concerned. The mentioned two papers were genuine emigré papers: they contributed to finding the political and cultural truth, and they had a clearly defined function towards the repressed papers in the Soviet Union, or Russia, respectively. The German Russian-language papers, on the contrary, are just papers for Russian readers abroad - they may be emigrés of the third wave but also any of the other mentioned groups of readers. There is no clear political profile. Dealing with recent history and critical reporting on the dubious political situation in Russia would qualify as one of the tasks of the Russian foreign press. Within Russia these questions are mostly unsolved. The juridical preconditions for researching Russia's terrorist past are given: the juridical reality looks sad, however. Rehabilitations of victims have happened, also some journalistic processing of documents from the old centres of power, albeit rather hesitatingly. Not a single case of punishment of delinquents is known and there has been hardly a change «in the substance of the power elite». (3) The papers published in Berlin have not taken over such responsibility, or only in an insufficient way. Therefore the Russian speaker - if he knows foreign languages which is not as often the case as one would assume - will have to form his opinion by reading German or English language or continue reading Russkaja mysl' or Novoe russkoe slovo. The reluctance of improving communication by learning new languages seems to be one of the few parallels between the situation in the twenties and now. In my opinion, it corresponds with the behaviour of former members of an imperial super power.

The future development will depend on several factors. The most important one: the political move of Russia towards a functioning democracy which would not need a critical exile press, only information media for expatriates or foreign editions of Russian papers. Another factor is the growth of still rather provincial Berlin to a real capital and cosmopolitan city. It seems that at least the nucleus of a resuscitated Jewish cultural centre is noticeable in Berlin. German Jewish bourgeoisie was eradicated by the Nazis, and not much of the tradition was left. What is developing in Berlin now (Museum, Centrum Judaicum, central archives, Jewish community with library and cultural activities) is a slow growing cultural bud. It receives its intellectual potential mainly from Eastern Europe, especially the Russian language area. When the «well-known names» will no longer pass Berlin by, this might be a force to fill press with new life. On the other hand, it is quite normal that the editors make the best use of their business opportunities.

The Berlin State Library is not a legal deposit library but nevertheless sees the responsibility of acquiring the Berlin Russian newspapers as complete as possible, in order to preserve source material. One aspect is the tradition of the twenties - and the library has considerable respective collections - the other to provide a documentation of today's Russian language scene. Newspapers belong to the most sought after sources, and to provide materials and services we consider our responsibility.


  1. Cf. a.o. Wolfgang Kasack: Die dritte Welle der Emigration. In: Kasack: Die russische Schriftsteller-Emigration im 20. Jahrhundert. München: Sagner 1996, 30ff.

  2. Cf. Peter Hübner: Pressefreiheit in Rußland. Das Recht auf freien Zugang zur Information. Köln: BOIS 1997. 38 pp. (Berichte des Bundesinstituts für ostwissenschaftliche und internationale Studien.43.)

  3. Cf. Assen Ignatow: Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung in der Russischen Förderation. Köln: Bundesinstitut für ostwiss. u. internationale Studien 1997. (Berichte des Bundesinstituts für ostwissenschaftliche und internationale Studien.42.)