Russian Communities Abroad

By
Jennifer Giglio

In order to understand what is going on within Russia's borders, one must be aware of Russian communities abroad," stated John Glad, former director of the Kennan Institute, at a Kennan Institute lecture on 3 May 1999. Glad spoke in detail about his systematic study of this topic, which covers both the tsarist and Soviet periods.

Glad divided the ebbs of Russian emigration into three distinct waves. The first wave, which was primarily aristocratic in nature, occurred during the 1920s and 1930s. This wave consisted largely of members of the Soviet army who believed that they would return to Russia soon after their displacement.

The second wave of emigration followed shortly thereafter, the majority of whom were less educated peasants. They brought along with them pessimism and disillusionment. Their arrival abroad followed the beginning of the cold war.

Glad argued that since intellectual and artistic dialogue was so severely restricted during the Soviet period, only the Russian communities abroad could provide a thorough understanding of the deep undercurrents of Russian culture and politics. This became especially apparent during the height of the cold war, when the third wave of emigration was beginning to take shape. This emigration, beginning in the 1970s, was largely an economic emigration--Russians were leaving their homeland in search of money. The Soviet government attempted to maintain relations with these emigres through publications and broadcasts, but the regime's main interest was to keep track of the emigres' activities.

While there has been a continuous presence of Russians abroad for centuries, there has been a lack of continuity within the emigration. Second-generation writers have been virtually non-existent, and the expatriates and emigres of one generation have known very little of their predecessors abroad. Russian emigres have quickly assimilated into the cultures of the countries of their new residency.

Glad stated that there has been a fluctuating but ever-present hostility between the emigres and the dissidents who stayed at home. Russians have a very communal sort of philosophy--they want to be physically and mentally close to each other and, according to Glad, the stay-at-homes could not help but resent those who deserted their homeland.

With the collapse of the USSR, Russians abroad now find themselves in a more or less "normalized" situation, in which they can travel freely to and from Russia, much as Russians were able to do prior to 1917. Glad compared the status of Russians who live abroad today to that of Americans who live outside of the United States. They are thought of more as expatriates than as emigres or exiles. Exile is no longer an issue, Glad said, and interest in Russian emigre culture is rapidly declining. At the same time, new problems are arising; most importantly the issue of Russians located in the former Soviet republics, also known as the "near abroad." During the Soviet era, the populations of these republics were largely Russified. Now that the republics are independent, nationalism has surged. Russians who never considered themselves emigres are now viewed as foreigners in their own communities.

Glad's study covers Russians all over the globe, including those in China who had first arrived to service the Chinese Far Eastern Railroad. Many more later arrived to settle in Harbin, which for some time was virtually a Russian city. When the Japanese occupied Manchuria, the Russians moved on to Shanghai and remained there until the communists came to power in the late 1940s. At that point the Russians were evacuated to Tubabao, in the Philippines, and later were dispersed all over the world.

In addition, Glad discussed the Russians who settled in Yugoslavia. Some 73,000 Russians arrived there via Turkey after the Crimean evacuations. They were received warmly by the Serbs because of their historic ties, but abruptly were forced to flee the country at the end of the war since they had largely sided with the Germans during the occupation.

Russian settlement in Israel was also discussed. Glad described the conservative nature and the identity crisis of the Russian emigres there and the large role they now play in the current Israeli government. Glad also mentioned that a formal request was presented by the Israeli government to the United States in 1987 asking that Soviet Jews be denied political refugee status in the United States so that they would be forced to emigrate to Israel where the Israeli government contended they belonged.

The past decade has witnessed the emigration of Russians to every corner of the globe. Glad pointed out that the experience of Russian pilgrims to the Holy Land read like adventure novels, and that the tsarist government would never have been overthrown without the intense activities of the emigres, who later formed the first Soviet government. Today, Russia has a positive emigration balance. Despite the current flow of emigres, there are more people entering Russia--mostly from the former Soviet republics--than are leaving. Barring any drastic events in the near future, Glad predicted a continued normalization of conditions for Russians abroad.

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