"By train from Europe to Asia"
ARSP Volunteers in Russia

Russia is a vast country, and so the twelve Action Reconciliation Service for Peace volunteers who are active there can only experience a small part of it – although they do so very intensely. ARSP’s project partners are located in the European part of the country: in Moscow (which also houses the ARSP branch office), Petersburg, Wolgograd, Perm and (since 2007) Voronezh.

In Moscow, ARSP volunteers work in the archive of Memorial, at the Centre for Orthopaedagogy (a project for children and adolescents with disabilities) and at Hope, a centre for education and integration that works mainly with the children of Chechen refugees. ARSP volunteers also work with the partner organisation Sostradanije, where they care for survivors of the Stalinist Terror and their relatives, as well as for survivors of National Socialism.

The human rights organisation Memorial is ARSP’s partner organisation in St. Petersburg. One of the goals of this internationally renowned human rights organisation is to support the victims of Stalinist persecution and alter the discourse on Stalinism in Russian society.  ARSP volunteers assist Gulag survivors and their relatives in their everyday activities and provide translation assistance to Memorial. Volunteers also work for the Jewish Prisoners' Association, caring for older people in their homes. Moreover, they teach at an elementary school in Leningrad Oblast that is attended by children from Roma families. ARSP volunteers in Volgograd perform youth work in the Sarepta Protestant Parish and care for persons forced to perform forced labour under National Socialism.

Visitors to Russia encounter extreme poverty as well as ostentatious displays of wealth. Communication skills contribute enormously to solving numerous everyday problems and facilitate the acquisition of Russian language skills. Willingness to experiment, flexibility and the ability to cope with stress are vital requirements for spending a longer period of time in Russia.

Overlapping Memories

The Soviet Union was explicitly mentioned in the 1958 ARSP appeal. Contacts were established as early as the 1960s and despite the Cold War. In the early 1970s, these contacts led to the organisation of ARSP study trips to Minsk, St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) and Wolgograd (formerly Stalingrad). Due to the political situation, ARSP volunteers were only able to spend extended periods of time in the Soviet Union towards the end of perestroika. In 1990, the first ARSP volunteers travelled to Moscow and Leningrad, where they worked at the hospital for veterans of the “Great Patriotic War” and in a home for people with disabilities.

The Soviet culture of remembrance persists in contemporary Russia. The victory over fascism achieved in the “Great Patriotic War” continues to be a fixture of national identity. To this day, the persecution of certain population groups – such as Soviet Jews – that occurred during the era of National Socialism is hardly mentioned in the official discourse of remembrance.

It is impossible to speak about how the history of National Socialism is engaged with in post-Soviet states without being thrust upon the culture of remembrance, or rather non-remembrance. ARSP’s partner organisations, the human rights organisation Memorial in particular, number among those who work actively to promote genuine remembrance. This provides ARSP volunteers with an opportunity to observe how debates on issues relevant to the entire society develop first-hand.

Russia is part of ARSP’s international programme for volunteers from Germany.