Russian Cultural Studies: An Introduction

By Catriona Kelly; David Shepherd | Go to book overview

14
Russian Culture and Emigration, 1921-1953

CATRIONA KELLY

The defeat of anti- Bolshevik forces in the Russian Civil War began a diaspora radically different in scale and character to anything that had occurred previously in Russian history. Before the Revolution, the numbers of Russians living outside their country's borders were not large. The massive landlocked empire absorbed the energies that in other colonial countries -- France, Britain, Germany -- surged into the conquest of territory overseas. Indeed, during the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire's most prominent émigré community was made up of Poles displaced by the Russian Empire's territorial gains, rather than by Russians themselves. Granted, there were some vocal groups of political exiles -- Herzen in the 1850s and 1860s, Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks in the 1900s and 1910s -- but their numbers were small, and their efforts concentrated on preaching to soulmates inside Russia. And, though the European Grand Tour was a vital experience for many Russians from the late eighteenth century until the early twentieth, from Princess Dashkova and Nikolai Karamzin to Anna Akhmatova and Aleksandr Blok, the most stable and longlasting communities were those of expatriates rather than travellers or exiles -- the diplomats, absentee landlords, and refugees from scandal whose main aim was to blend with their fellows in their new, vocational homelands, rather than preserve their Russianness come what may.

By contrast, the population displacement after 1921 involved millions of Russians from all classes (peasants and workers, intellectuals

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