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A white émigré was a Russian subject who emigrated from Imperial Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, and who was in opposition to the revolutionary Russian political climate. Many white émigrés were participants in the White movement or supported it, although the term is often broadly applied to anyone who may have left the country due to the change in regimes.
Some white émigrés, like Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, were opposed to the Bolsheviks but had not directly supported the White movement; some were just apolitical. The term is also applied to the descendants of those who left and still retain a Russian Orthodox Christian identity while living abroad.
The term is most commonly used in France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. A term preferred by the émigrés themselves was first-wave émigré (Russian: эмигрант первой волны, emigrant pervoy volny), "Russian émigrés" (Russian: русская эмиграция, russkaya emigratsiya) or "Russian military émigrés" (Russian: русская военная эмиграция, russkaya voyennaya emigratsiya) if they participated in the White movement. In the Soviet Union, white émigré (белоэмигрант, byeloemigrant) generally had negative connotations. Since the end of the 1980s, the term "first-wave émigré" has become more common in Russia. In East Asia, White Russian (Chinese: 白俄, Japanese: 白系ロシア人, 白系露人) is the term is most commonly used for white émigrés, even though they are not all ethnic Russians.
Most white émigrés left Russia from 1917 to 1920 (estimates vary between 900,000 and 2 million), although some managed to leave during the 1920s and 1930s or were expelled by the Soviet government (such as, for example, Pitirim Sorokin and Ivan Ilyin). They spanned all classes and included military soldiers and officers, Cossacks, intellectuals of various professions, dispossessed businessmen and landowners, as well as officials of the Russian Imperial government and various anti-Bolshevik governments of the Russian Civil War period. They were not only ethnic Russians but belonged to other ethnic groups as well.
Most émigrés initially fled from Southern Russia and Ukraine to Turkey and then moved to the Eastern European Slavic countries (the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria), Czechoslovakia, and Poland. A large number also fled to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Iran, Germany and France. Berlin and Paris developed thriving émigré communities.
Many military and civil officers living, stationed, or fighting the Red Army across Siberia and the Russian Far East moved together with their families to Harbin (see Harbin Russians), to Shanghai (see Shanghai Russians) and to other cities of China, Central Asia, and Western China. After the withdrawal of US and Japanese troops from Siberia, some émigrés traveled to Japan.
During and after World War II, many Russian émigrés moved to the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia – where many of their communities still exist in the 21st century. Many, estimated as being between the hundred thousands and a million, also served Germany in the Wehrmacht or in the Waffen-SS, often as interpreters.
White émigrés were, generally speaking, anticommunist and did not consider the Soviet Union and its legacy to be Russian at its core, a position which was reflective of their Russian Nationalist sympathies; they did not tend to recognise the demands of Ukrainian, Georgian and other minority groups for self-determination but yearned for the resurrection of the Russian Empire. They consider the period of 1917 to 1991 to have been a period of occupation by the Soviet regime which was internationalist and anti-Christian. They used the tsarist tricolour (white-blue-red) as their national flag, for example, and some organizations used the flag of the Imperial Russian Navy.
A significant percentage of white émigrés may be described as monarchists, although many adopted a position of being "unpredetermined" ("nepredreshentsi"), believing that Russia's political structure should be determined by popular plebiscite.
Many white émigrés believed that their mission was to preserve the pre-revolutionary Russian culture and way of life while living abroad, in order to return this influence to Russian culture after the fall of the USSR. Many symbols of the White émigrés were reintroduced as symbols of the post-Soviet Russia, such as the Byzantine eagle and the Russian tricolour.
A religious mission to the outside world was another concept promoted by people such as Bishop John of Shanghai and San Francisco (canonized as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad) who said at the 1938 All-Diaspora Council:
To the Russians abroad it has been granted to shine in the whole world with the light of Orthodoxy, so that other peoples, seeing their good deeds, might glorify our Father Who is in Heaven, and thus obtain salvation for themselves.
Many white émigrés also believed it was their duty to remain active in combat against the Soviet Union, with the hopes of liberating Russia. This ideology was largely inspired by General Pyotr Wrangel, who said upon the White army's defeat "The battle for Russia has not ceased, it has merely taken on new forms".
White army veteran Captain Vasili Orekhov, publisher of the "Sentry" journal, encapsulated this idea of responsibility with the following words:
There will be an hour – believe it – there will be, when the liberated Russia will ask each of us: "What have you done to accelerate my rebirth." Let us earn the right not to blush, but be proud of our existence abroad. As being temporarily deprived of our Motherland let us save in our ranks not only faith in her, but an unbending desire towards feats, sacrifice, and the establishment of a united friendly family of those who did not let down their hands in the fight for her liberation
Organizations and activities
The émigrés formed various organizations for the purpose of combatting the Soviet regime such as the Russian All-Military Union, the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, and the NTS. This made the white émigrés a target for infiltration by the Soviet secret police (e.g. operation TREST and the Inner Line). Seventy-five White army veterans served as volunteers supporting Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Some white émigrés adopted pro-Soviet sympathies, for which they were labelled "Soviet patriots". These people formed organizations such as the Mladorossi, the Evraziitsi, and the Smenovekhovtsi.
One of the most notable forms of activities by Russian emigres was building monuments to Russian war dead of World War I, which stood in marked contrast to the Soviet Union, which never built any monuments to the 2 million Russians killed between 1914-17 as the war had been condemned by Lenin as an "imperialist war". Besides for the war dead, other monuments were put up. In Brussels, Seattle and Harbin, monuments were built to honor the executed Emperor Nicholas II while a monument was put up in Shanghai to honor Alexander Pushkin, Russia's national poet, and a monument to Pushkin would have been built in Paris had not a dispute arouse with the Ministry of Fine Arts over its precise location. The popularity of monuments for the war dead reflected not only sadness over the war dead, but also a way to bring together the often badly divided emigre communities shattered across Europe, Asia and North America. Monuments for the war dead were often a way to symbolically recreate Russia abroad with example at the monument for those Russians killed while serving in the Russian Expeditionary Force (REF) in France at village of Mourmelon-le-Grand having a hermitage built near it together with transplanted fir trees and a Russian style farm to make it look like home. To built community consensus around the war memorials, the design of the memorials were deliberately kept simple with no sculpture which could be given a symbolic meaning, thereby ensuring that no particular interpretation of the war could be put forward other than grief over the war dead. The design of Orthodox churches at the war memorials was done in the style of medieval Orthodox churches in Novgorod and Pskov as this architectural style was seen as politically neutral and hence able to bring the communities together better. Both left-wing and right-wing émigré who otherwise passionately disagreed came together to honor the war dead of World War I, which was virtually the only occasions when overseas Russian communities could all come together, explaining why such memorial services were so important to the émigré communities. The neo-classical style which typically adored war memorials in Imperial Russia was consciously avoided as building a war memorial in that style was viewed as expressing support for restoring the monarchy. The sense of loss was not only for those the war monuments honored, but due to the sense of loss caused by defeat with a columnist in an emigre newspaper in Paris writing about the dedication of a memorial to the REF in 1930: "We lost everything - family, economic situation, personal happiness, the homeland...Are our sufferings good to anyone? In truth-we have nothing, we have lost everything. Weep, weep". Such monuments were also a way of commanding respect from the host communities with an emigre newspaper saying in 1930: "Peoples honor heroes. To the living: care, to the dead: memory. We in a foreign land do not have a tomb of an 'unknown soldier', but we do have thousands of suffering people. They are our honor and our justification (opravdanie) before the world. Their wounds and suffering are for Russia. They remain true to honor and obligation. That is our Russian passport".
This was especially the case in France, the home of the largest overseas Russian community, where services honoring the events of World War I were a major part of French life after 1918, and where by honoring the Russian war dead allowed the Russian émigrés in France to take part in the ceremonials, letting the émigrés feel like a part of the wider French community. In 1927, the Orthodox Metropolitan Evlogii when he spoke at the war monument in Valenciennes: "Blood spilled on the soil of beautiful and glorious France is the best atmosphere to unite France forever with a Russia national and worthy". The fact that the crosses of the Russians buried in France were painted white-the color of the French war dead and allies-while the crosses of the German war dead were painted black was widely noticed within the Russian community in France as a sign that the French regarded them as allies. In Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, war memorials to the Russian war dead were presented in Pan-Slavic terms, as a symbol of how Russians had fought together with the Czechs and Serbs in the war. King Alexander of Yugoslavia was a Russophile who welcomed Russian émigrés to his kingdom, and after France, Yugoslavia had the largest Russian émigré community, leading to Yugoslavia to have almost as many war memorials to the Russian war dead as France. War memorials in Yugoslavia usually also honored both Serbian war dead and the members of the Czechoslovak Legions who died in the war, giving them a decidedly pan-Slavic feel. A planned Orthodox church to honor the Russian prisoners who died in an Austrian POW camp outside Osijek would have featured busts of the Emperor Nicholas II, King Peter I and King Alexander to emphasis how the Houses of Romanov and Karađorđević had been allied in the war, linking the Russian and Serbian experiences of the war.
Between 1934-36, an ossuary containing the bones of Russian soldiers killed all over the world was built in the Novo Groblje cemetery in Belgrade, which used to illustrate the theme of Serbian-Russian friendship, and which King Alexander contributed 5,000 dinars to meet the construction costs. When the memorial was opened in 1936, the Patriarch Varnava of the Serbian Orthodox Church declared in a speech opening it: "The Russians bore great sacrifices on our account wishing to defend Serbs at a time when powerful enemies attacked tiny Serbia from all sides. And the great Slavic soul of the Russians did not allow it to be looked upon with indifference that a fraternal Slavic people should perish". Karel Kramář, a wealthy conservative Czechoslovak politician and a Russophile worked together with Russian émigrés to build an Orthodox church in Prague which Kramář called in his opening speech "a monument of Slavic connection" and to "remind Russians not only of their former sufferings but also about the recognition on the side of the Slavs". A service at the Russian war memorial in Terezin in 1930 turned into "a Russian-Czech political demonstration in a manifestation of Slavic mutuality" with the theme that the Russians had died so that the Czechs might be free. Prague had a large community of Russian émigrés, and by constantly linking the Russian experience of World War I to the experiences of the Czechoslovak Legions was a way of asserting that the Russians had helped to make Czechoslovakia possible. In Germany, right-wing émigrés found much to their own frustration that right-wing German veterans shunned their offers to participate in Totensonntag ("Day of the Dead") as German conservatives did not wish to honor the sacrifices of those who had fought against Germany, and it was left-wing German veterans, usually associated with Social Democratic Party, who welcomed having Russians participate in Totensonntag to illustrate the theme that all peoples in the nations involved in the First World war were victims. In Germany, November 11 was not a holiday as no one wanted to honor the day that the Reich lost the war, and Totensonntag played the same role in Germany that November 11 played in the Allied nations, as the time to honor the war dead. The anti-war and internationalist message at the Totensonntag ceremonies organized by the SPD did not sit well with right-wing Russian émigrés found themselves rather out of place at these ceremonies.
The city of Harbin in China was founded by the Russians in 1896, becoming known the "Moscow of the Orient" due to its Russian appearance, and after the Revolution its Russian population was further reinforced by émigrés, through the majority of the Russians living in Harbin were people who had come before World War I. About 127, 000 people living in Harbin in 1920 came from Russia, making it one of the largest Russian-speaking cites in East Asia. Many of the Russians in Harbin were wealthy, and the city was a center of Russian culture as the Russian community in Harbin made it their mission to preserve the pre-war Russian culture in a city on the plains of Manchuria with for instance Harbin having two opera companies and numerous theaters performing the traditional classics of the Russian stage. The economic success of the Russians in Harbin often surprised foreign visitors who assumed that they should be poor, leading one visitor in 1923 to comment that Russian “ladies as well gowned as at the Paris races [who] strolled with men faultlessly garbed by European standards”, leading him to wonder how they achieved this "deceptive appearance". The extent of Russian economic dominance of Harbin could be seen that “Moya-tvoya", a pidgin language combining aspects of Russian and Mandarin Chinese which developed in the 19th century when Chinese went to work in Siberia was considered essential by the Chinese merchants of Harbin.
During World War II, many white émigrés took part in the Russian Liberation Movement. The main reason that pushed the Whites to support the German power with action was the concept of a 'spring offensive', an armed intervention against the USSR that must be exploited in order to continue the civil war. The latter was perceived by many Russian officers as an ongoing case that was never finished since the day of their exile. During the war, the white émigrés came into contact with former Soviet citizens from German-occupied territories who used the German retreat as an opportunity to flee from the Soviet Union or were in Germany and Austria as POWs and forced labourers and preferred to stay in the West, often referred to as the second wave of emigres (often also called DPs – displaced persons, see Displaced persons camp). This smaller second wave fairly quickly began to assimilate into the white emigre community.
After the war, active anti-Soviet combat was almost exclusively continued by NTS: other organizations either dissolved, or began concentrating exclusively on self-preservation and/or educating the youth. Various youth organizations, such as the Scouts-in-Exile became functional in raising children with a background in pre-Soviet Russian culture and heritage.
The white émigrés formed the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1924. The church continues its existence to this day, acting as both the spiritual and cultural center of the Russian Orthodox community abroad. On 17 May 2007, the Act of Canonical Communion with the Moscow Patriarchate reestablished canonical ties between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Russian Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, after more than 80 years of separation.
"White Russians" flooded into China after World War I and into the early 1920s. Most of the Russians went to Manchuria and treaty ports such as Shanghai, but a few ended up in Beijing. In 1924, the Chinese government recognized the government of the Soviet Union and the majority of White Russians in China who refused to become Soviet citizens were rendered stateless, thus subject to Chinese law unlike other Europeans, Americans, and Japanese living in China who enjoyed the principles of extraterritoriality. Nor were White Russians born in China eligible to be Chinese citizens.
Although some of the White Russians arrived with their fortunes intact, most were penniless and due to ethnic prejudices and their inability to speak English were unable to find jobs. To support themselves and their families, many of the younger women became prostitutes or taxi dancers. They were popular with both foreign men, there being a shortage of foreign women, and Chinese men. A League of Nations survey in Shanghai in 1935 found that 22% of Russian women between 16 and 45 years of age were engaging in prostitution to some extent. The percentage in Beijing may have been higher than Shanghai as economic opportunities were more limited.
The White Russian women mostly worked in the "Badlands" area adjoining the Beijing Legation Quarter on the east, centered on Chuanban Hutong (alley). The American explorer Roy Chapman Andrews said he frequented the "cafes of somewhat dubious reputation" with the explorer Sven Hedin and scientist Davidson Black to "have scrambled eggs and dance with the Russian girls." An Italian diplomat condemned the White Russians: "The prestige of the white face fell precipitously when Chinese could possess a white woman for a dollar or less, and Russian officers in tattered uniforms begged at the doors of Chinese theaters."
Notable "first-wave" émigrés
Statesmen, religious figures
- Vassily Balabanov
- Viktor Chernov
- Georgy Lvov
- Georges Florovsky
- Vladimir Frederiks
- Alexander Guchkov
- George Ignatieff
- John of Shanghai and San Francisco
- Alexander Kerensky
- Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich
- Vasily Maklakov
- Mother Maria
- Pavel Milyukov
- Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
- Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich
- Alexander Schmemann
- Peter Struve
- Metropolitan Vitaly Ustinov
- Mikhail Rodzianko
- Boris Savinkov
- Sergey Sazonov
- Konstantin Rodzaevsky
- Alexander Lvovich Kazembek
- Nikolai Yevgenyevich Markov
- Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter
- Nikolai Avksentiev
- Vladimir Zenzinov
- Alexander Halpern
- Boris Vasilchikov
- Aleksandr Stishinsky
- Alexander Krivoshein
- Aleksandr Naumov
- Aleksei Aleksandrovich Bobrinsky
- Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Rittikh
- Anton Denikin
- Pyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel
- Nikolai Yudenich
- Yevgeny Miller
- Mikhail Diterikhs
- Alexander Dutov
- Stanisław Bułak-Bałachowicz
- Pavel Bermondt-Avalov
- Pyotr Krasnov
- Alexander Kutepov
- Mikhail Kvetsinsky
- Anatoly Lieven
- Viktor Pokrovsky
- Alexander Rodzyanko
- Grigory Semyonov
- Andrei Shkuro
- Mikhail Alexandrovich Kedrov
- Mikhail Berens
- Ivan Yermachenka
- Alexander Lukomsky
- Anatoly Rogozhin
- Mikhail Skorodumov
- Boris Shteifon
- Constantine Kromiadi
- Vsevolod Starosselsky
- Nikolai Baratov
- Vasily Gurko
- Dmitry Shcherbachev
- Vladimir Kislitsin
- Sergei Wojciechowski
- Boris Smyslovsky
- Konstantin Petrovich Nechaev
- Viktorin Molchanov
- Pavel Pappengut
Historians and philosophers
- Mark Aldanov
- André Andrejew
- Yul Brynner
- Michael Chekhov
- Ivan Bunin
- Aleksandr Kuprin
- Yevgeny Zamyatin
- Boris Zaytsev
- Igor Severyanin
- Arkady Averchenko
- Alexandra Danilova
- Serge Diaghilev
- Tamara Karsavina
- George Balanchine
- Vaslav Nijinsky
- Michel Fokine
- Anna Pavlova
- Mathilde Kschessinska
- Oleg Cassini
- Gaito Gazdanov
- Dmitri Nabokov
- Vladimir Nabokov
- Leonid Pasternak
- Olga Preobrajenska
- Sergei Rachmaninoff
- Vladimir Rosing
- Feodor Chaliapin
- George Sanders
- Igor Stravinsky
- Konstantin Korovin
- Wassily Kandinsky
- Marc Chagall
- Alexandre Benois
- Léon Bakst
- Natalia Goncharova
- Zinaida Serebryakova
- Vladimir Tretchikoff
- Ivan Shmelyov
- Vladimir Antonov
- Marina Tsvetaeva
- Nina Berberova
- Marina Denikina
- Zinaida Gippius
- Dmitry Merezhkovsky
Scientists and inventors
White émigré organizations and entities
Orthodox Church jurisdictions:
- Orthodox Church in America (АПЦ, Митрополия) – not entirely founded by White émigrés but includes a significant percentage of émigré parishes.
- Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe (Парижский Экзархат)
- Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (РПЦЗ, Зарубежная Церковь)
Military and semi-military organizations:
- Russian Liberation Movement
- Russian Liberation Army
- Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia
- Russian Corps Combatants (Союз Чинов Русского Корпуса)
- Association of Cadets (Объединение Кадет Российских Корпусов за Рубежом)
- Don Cossack Host
- Kuban Cossack Host
- Russian All Military Union (РОВС)
- Terek Cossack Host
- Brotherhood of Russian Truth
- Shanghai Volunteer Corps
- Constitutional Democratic Party
- Union of October 17
- Socialist Revolutionary Party
- Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
- Congress of Russian Americans
- High Monarchist Union (Высший Монархический Совет)
- National Alliance of Russian Solidarists (НТС)
- Russian All National Popular State Movement (РОНДД)
- Union for the Struggle for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (СБОНР) – was founded by the "second wave" emigres but also included many White emigres.
- All-Russian Fascist Organisation
- Russian Fascist Organization
- Russian Fascist Party
- National Organization of Rangers (or "Knights") (НОВ, Витязи)
- National Association of Russian Explorers (НОРР)
- National Organization of Russian Scouts (НОРС)
- Organization of Russian Young Pathfinders (ОРЮР)
- Russian Fascist Party
- Orthodox Organization of Russian Pathfinders (ПОРР)
- Russian Christian Students Movement (РСХД)
- Russian Sokol (Русский Сокол)
- Russian Nobility Association in America
- Society for the Relief of Czarist Exiles
- The Tolstoy Foundation
- 新疆文史资料选辑: 第三辑[Z]. 乌鲁木齐: 新疆人民出版社, 1979. 25.
- For a detailed examination of their identity, motivation and numbers, see Wladyslaw Anders and Antonio Munoz, "Russian Volunteers in the German Wehrmacht in WWII" at .
-  Oleg Beyda, «'Iron Cross of the Wrangel's Army': Russian Emigrants as Interpreters in the Wehrmacht.» Journal of Slavic Military Studies 27, no. 3 (2014): 433.
- Cohen 2014, p. 628.
- Cohen 2014, p. 632.
- Cohen 2014, p. 637.
- Cohen 2014, p. 638.
- Cohen 2014, p. 636.
- Cohen 2014, p. 639.
- Cohen 2014, p. 640-641.
- Cohen 2014, p. 641.
- Cohen 2014, p. 642-643.
- Cohen 2014, p. 648.
- Cohen 2014, p. 646 & 649.
- Cohen 2014, p. 647.
- Cohen 2014, p. 643.
- Cohen 2014, p. 644.
- Cohen 2014, p. 645.
- Karlinsky 2013, p. 310-311.
- Karlinsky 2013, p. 311.
- Karlinsky 2013, p. 314-315.
- Karlinsky 2013, p. 312.
- Karlinsky 2013, p. 313.
- Dickens, Mark (1990). "The Soviets in Xinjiang 1911-1949". OXUS COMMUNICATIONS. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
- O. Beyda, ‘“Re-Fighting the Civil War”: Second Lieutenant Mikhail Aleksandrovich Gubanov’. Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Vol. 66, No. 2, 2018, p. 247.
- Shen Yuanfang; Edwards, Penny, eds. (2002). Beyond China (PDF). Canberrra: Australian National University. p. 75-87.
- Ristaino, Marcia Reynders (2001). Port of last resort : the diaspora communities of Shanghai. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. p. 94.
- Andrews, Roy Chapman (1943). Under a Lucky Star. New York: Viking Press. p. 164.
- Boyd, Julia (2012). A Dance with the Dragon. London: I. B. Tauris. p. 138.
- Cohen, Aaron "'Our Russian Passport': First World War Monuments, Transnational Commemoration, and the Russian Emigration in Europe, 1918-39" pages 627-651 from The Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 49, No. 4, October 2014.
- François Bauchpas, L'émigration blanche, Paris, 1968
- Karlinsky, Simon Freedom from Violence and Lies: Essays on Russian Poetry and Music, Boston, Academic Studies Press, 2013.
- M. V. Nazarov, The Mission of the Russian Emigration, Moscow: Rodnik, 1994. ISBN 5-86231-172-6
- Karl Schlögel (ed.), Der große Exodus. Die russische Emigration und ihre Zentren 1917–1941, München 1994
- Karl Schlögel (ed.), Russische Emigration in Deutschland 1918–1941. Leben im europäischen Bürgerkrieg, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag 1995. ISBN 978-3-05-002801-9
- Michael Kellogg, The Russian Roots of Nazism White Émigrés and the Making of National Socialism, 1917–1945, Cambridge 2005
- Wallter Laqueur, Russia and Germany: A Century of Conflict, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1965