Russians outside Russia: The Emigre Community in Czechoslovakia, 1918-1938

By Zekulin, Gleb | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Russians outside Russia: The Emigre Community in Czechoslovakia, 1918-1938


Zekulin, Gleb, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Elena Chinyaeva. Russians outside Russia: The Emigre Community in Czechoslovakia, 1918-1938. Veroffentlichungendes Collegium Carolinum, Bd. 89. Munchen: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2001. 280 pp. Biographical Appendix. Bibliography. Index. Cloth.

Elena Chinyaeva's book is an important addition to the study of Russian post-revolutionary emigration. Based mainly on her 1995 Oxford dissertation, it goes beyond the study of the Russian interwar emigre community in Czechoslovakia and, compared to other works on this topic, it covers general theoretical aspects of exile, emigration and forced population movements (Chapters I and II passim). This gives her a solid background and a deeper understanding of the special case of the Russian emigre community in Czechoslovakia. The book is a thorough scholarly work, which comprises a mass of unpublished and published sources-see twenty pages of bibliography and twenty-three pages of clearly organized indices with appropriate subheadings. The work is further helped by the interest for the subject shown after 1989 by contemporary Czech scholars who have compiled impressive biographical and bibliographical data of Russian and Ukrainian scholars, intellectuals, politicians, and social activists and artists who left their mark not only on the emigre community but also, to a certain degree, on Czech life between the wars; in addition, a number of studies and articles were published on specific aspects of the emigres' life and Czech-Russian relations which complemented the great output of studies by the emigres themselves. This aspect gives the case an exceptional character, which has not been encountered by Russian emigres in any other country of the diaspora (Chapters II, III, V passim).

Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic, and Karel Kramar, its first prime minister, the leading politicians from 1880 onwards, both saw after 1918 the Russian emigration as an important factor in the political futureof the young republic. Masaryk hoped that by giving an opportunity to young Russian emigres to acquire tertiary education atCzech educational institutions a closer relationship would be created between the Czechoslovak Republic and Russia after the imminent collapse of the Bolshevik regime, while Kramar, an enemy of Bolshevism, wanted to give the Russian youth the means to liberate Russia and thus establish in Europe the balance of power and guarantee the future of Czechoslovakia. These contradictory early views of the role of Russian emigration gave rise to the establishment of the so-called Russian Action.

The history of Russian Action has been thoroughly studied and its development is well known. From 1921 to 1934, 6,818 Russian and Ukrainian students were given a chance to study at the institutions of tertiary education, fully supported financially in various ways, and thus enabled to build promising professional lives. The original aims of the Action had unexpected and highly specific consequences. Since the students who, hearing about the opportunity to study, flocked to Czechoslovakia from around the world-some from as far as Africa, East Asia and South America-had difficulties with the language, it became necessary to invite Russian professors who quickly founded a plethora of learned institutions, such as the Russian Free University, the Kondakov Institute of Byzantine Studies, the Economic Cabinet of Professor Prokopovich and a number of subsidiary institutions, such as the Historical Archive, the Linguistic Circle (the forerunner of the Prague Linguistic Circle), the beginning of the Slavonic Library, the Comenius Pedagogical Institute, the Institute for Agricultural Cooperatives, the Russian Academic Group, the Russian Student Union; this enabled the Czech historian Jan Slavik to bestow upon Prague the name of "Russian Oxford. …

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