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"The Russian Academic Union in Bulgaria" was founded in March 2004 and was registered in the Sofia court as a community with non-profit activity. The Union is the successor of the "Russian Academic Union in Bulgaria", which existed between 1925 and 1944. Members of the Union are either physical persons - current or ex-citizens of USSR or Russia or their inheritors, who have been doing academic work on the territory of Bulgaria, or juridical, who help with the realization of the society goals regardless of their nation or registration places.

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I was told this story of the life of the post-revolutionary Russian emigrants by one of the successors of a White Guard officer, which he learnt from his father or friends of his father. It might either have come out in one of the numerous Russian papers and magazines published in the 1920s. My acquaintance does not remember for sure but this detail is not so important. It is the story, which is important.

What is it all about? There was a need of a person, who could communicate successfully in all countries that were about to be toured within a round-the-world trip with an ocean liner. They were searching for such person for a long time and finally found a White Guard immigrant. He alleged that he could communicate with anyone anywhere. They would not trust him and decided to verify his allegations. Indeed, he had no problems with the communication in any of the visited countries. They hired him. By the end of the trip they asked him how he could communicate freely given the diversity of countries, peoples and languages. He replied: Well, wherever we go, I first ask for a Russian immigrant. There would always be someone in place. For this reason, I have no problem either with communication or with being understood.

Seventy years have passed and it is again Russians (or, to be more precise, Russian-speaking people) that have been scattered across the world after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Now, one can hear Russian speech in many European cities. Anyone who travels abroad would get assured of this fact. This is very helpful in the implementation of the European project the project Steps Towards Active European Citiz?nship, which aims to study the current problems and find ways to resolve the immigrants integration problems.

Some time ago, we published coverage of the visits of Bulgarian Russians to Latvia and Finland as well as about the visit to Bulgaria of participants in the project from Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, Latvia and Finland in Russia Today, our media partner within the project.

The present story is about our impressions from the visits to Greece and Germany in the end of 2012.

Greece welcomed us with nice weather and cordial hosts. We stayed in Athens in the course of four days: from 11 October to 13 October. There was no problem with the communication given that the visit was organized by the Princess S.I. Demidova Union of Russian Emigrants in Greece, Chaired by Irina Zhalnina, and the fact that over 50,000 Russian compatriots are currently residing in this country.

On the first day of the conference the participants got familiarized with the history of the Russian immigrants in Greece and the operation of the Russian-language media. Fyodor Ignatiadis, Editor-in-Chief of the MK-Athens Courier paper, Inga Abgarova, editor of the Omonia paper and journalist Olga Stahidu made statements before the participants. Sergey Rozhkov, head of the Bulgarian delegation, wound up the working part of the day by a statement on: Problems of the integration of the Russian-speaking emigrants of the old generation in Greece and Bulgaria. Results of a public opinion poll.

On 12 October the members of the delegations were received by Mr. Kostas Kokoris, Mayor of the Glyfada Borough, city of Athens. The borough hosted a discussion with the participation of Maria Vouyukli, Chair of the Education Commission at the Glyfada Borough, Vanya Nedelcheva, advisor on the issue of immigrants employment at the Center for Factory and Office Workers, research associate Lambros Boltsonis of the Centre for Human Rights Protection, and Dimitris Yanatos, representative of the Centre for Psychological Support of Immigrants.

The issues of adjustment and integration of the Russian-speaking citizens, the ways of strengthening their social and labour activity as well as to identify the forms for the fulfillment of their personal, social and economic and cultural goals featured on the agenda of the discussions.

The programme of the International Conference in Athens was drafted in such a manner, so that the participants could get familiarized with the life of the Russian Diaspora and Greeces culture and history. 13 October was dedicated to the landmarks of Athens and the Peloponnese Peninsula as well as closer communication of the Russian-speaking delegations with the Russian emigrants in Greece. Historian Andrey Sadovnikov, a graduate of the M. Lomonosov Moscow State University, who currently resides in Greece, was the guide of the excursion.

We were equally pleased to hear our native language in the German town of Essen. After Greece, a four-day meeting (December 12-16) was held here the last for 2012 within the project.

We arrived in the evening and were able to have a walk through the town and have a look at its Christmas decorations. We were highly impressed with the Christmas bazaar, which was huge for this relatively small German town and welcomed us with its rich scents of punch, gluvine, German sausages, merry music and multi-colour fires.

On the next day there were new impressions and new acquaintances. The first session was held in the Catholic Public Centre in Essen. Invited to attend were Peter Rentzel, advisor on social affairs in the local municipality, Dr. Claus Eppe of the Ministry of Healthcare and Earth of the State of Nordhrein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Boern Enno Hermans of the Social Service of Catholic Women (SkF), Essen, Prof. Boris Lotvin of the Dignity in Old Age Society, Bochum and Igor Ventzel of the Con-Tact Public Centre, Essen.

We were impressed with the considerable work carried out by bodies of local self-government and public organizations in the sphere of social adaptation and support for immigrants. On the basis of serious research, a concept was developed and then a special urban programme on immigrants integration was implemented.

On the second day, the sessions were held in the building housed by the charity Catholic organization, Caritas. Surveys were again in the focus of attention. The head of the Bulgarian delegation, Sergey Rozhkov, delivered a report on: Russian-speaking Europe. Comparative characteristics of the communities of the old generation in the different countries and problems of integration. The report provoked high interest and discussions as it is based on an opinion poll carried out amongst the representatives of the Russian-speaking community in the partner-countries within the project. Dr. Dmitry Pitersky and Marina Ratchina delivered a report: Certain results of opinion polls among the population in Bergmannsfeld and Essen (2007-2010).

Marina Ratchina and Rozvita Paas outlined the social problems in the Bergmannsfeld microregion, town of Essen and their settlement.

The report of Michail Goldstein triggered high interest. He described the activity on the website of the Partner magazine involving the publication of memories of Russian-speaking immigrants. We were highly pleased to hear that because, in Bulgaria, we have been searching for and publishing memories of our compatriots for a long time. It should be noted, however, that the German Russians should occasionally be restrained to avoid flooding the site with information. At the same time, the Bulgarian Russians are passive, for which we could only be sorry.

It should be noted that there is a high number of organizations directly involved in the settlement of the immigrants problems: local self-government bodies, different public and religious organizations. It is interesting that, apart from them, separate persons are also involved in charity activity. People of age, who retire and are aware of the importance of working with their coevals, get actively involved in it and work as volunteers. In this context, we were impressed by the statement of Walter Muller, Head of the Council of the Issues of Elderly People in Essen. He, himself, works as volunteer at that Council and is aware that most people taking care of the elderly due this absolutely free of charge or for few money. Of course, this can be done only by people, who are in a steady situation or can rely on the help of the state or local structures, which is regularly provided.

The business sessions alternated with excursions, friendly talks and communication with the members of the other delegations.

The first excursion was in the very town of Essen. The rich deposits of coal and the advantageous economic and geographical location of the Ruhr Region, situated at one of Germanys road networks, quickly turned the town into a big centre of the heavy industry and mechanical engineering in Germany and the whole Europe in the middle of last century. This town was the centre of the Krupp empire. Regretfully, the bad weather did not allow us to enjoy the views of the town and its vicinities. Yet, as a whole, the excursion was interesting.

We were more lucky in Cologne with the weather, the excursion and the communication! As in Greece, the excursion was organized by one of the representatives of the Russian Diaspora, Michail Komarovsky. The Virgin Mary and St. Peter Cathedral in Cologne, included in the UNESCO world heritage list, the modern railway station next to it, the interesting legends about the town, the Cologne carnivals, the Farina House. This is but a part of what we learnt and saw in Germany as the last place was our most wonderful, brilliant and remarkable stopover.

If we make a review of the 2012 meetings within the project, we should note the great benefit from them. The project attaches priority namely to the exchange of experience in the integration of the Russian-speaking immigrants from the old generation into the local communities in the countries of the European Union. This experience is best shared through direct communication and contact with the representatives of the Russian-speaking community.

Even today, wherever you go and ask: Is there someone of our people?, you often get a positive reply. On the one hand, these are our people. However, they have already changed depending on the conditions in the country of their current residence. Yet, they have many things in common because they have emigrated from the same country. In any case you will understand them better as we are speaking the same language Russian. Sometimes, we even think in the same way.

Contact details:

Email : rasb@mail.ru

Tel: 00 359 2 9681835

Address: 1113, 12, Nikolai Haitov Str.,

Sofia, Bulgaria