Moscow Can't Face Up to Issues Centenary of White Army Exodus Raises,Yershoff Says
Staunton, November 15 – For many, the Russian civil war ended 100 years ago this week when 150,000 soldiers of Baron Wrangel’s White Army embarked on ships in Crimea and sailed into emigration; but even on this round anniversary, Moscow has kept largely silent because it cannot effectively respond to the challenges those who left still pose, Yegor Yershoff says.
(In fact, although many anti-Soviet writers, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn don’t admit, the Russian civil war did not end in 1920. In the Russian Far East, it continued for several more years; across Russia, peasants continued to revolt, and in Central Asia, the anti-Soviet Basmachi movement extended into the 1940s. On Solzhenitsyn’s denial, see Yury Srechinsky, How We Humbled Ourselves (in Russian, Canada, 1974).)
This year, there have been a few events in Russian-occupied Crimea, including the erection of monuments stressing that the Whites and Reds in the current understanding were both fighting for Russia (ritmeurasia.org/news--2020-11-15--chernoj-propastju-mne-pokazalas-za-bortom-golubaja-voda-.-k-100-letiju-russkogo-ishoda-51891).
But they have not echoed at the official level in Russia itself, Yershoff, a commentator for the Riga-based conservative Russian portal Harbin, says, a pattern that is in no way surprising given Putin’s view of the Russian past, a view that he has used the power of state media to impose on most Russians (harbin.lv/russkiy-iskhod-sto-let-spustya).
“Besides passive ignorance,” he continues, “which affects the majority in practically any society, we observe [in Putin’s Russia] a consciousness unwillingness to study history even among a significant part of the fully politicized population.” And those few who do pay attention often fall into one of two traps.
On the one hand, some view those who left Crimea in 1920 as the last remnants of the exploiters of tsarist times and use the Red Army’s victory over them to claim that “’we can repeat this’” if need be. On the other, even those who reject that view, treat the exodus as the death and burial of “historic Russia.”
To do either, Yershoff observes is to ignore what Baron Wrangel was doing at the very end of the civil war in Crimea. To be sure, he came to command too late to transform the situation in his favor; but what he did manage should never be forgotten by Russians because it undermines the Soviet and post-Soviet view that all the White Russians were the same.
Wrangel allowed the peasants who had seized land to keep it. He moved away from the much-ballyhooed White Russian attitude about “a single and indivisible Russia” by working with Ukraine and helping the Poles to defeat the Red Army’s invasion of their country by staging an advance that forced the Bolsheviks to divert forces away from the Vistula.
Baron Wrangel declared that “Russia can be freed not by a triumphal march from Crimea to Moscow but by the establishment even on a small portion of Russian land such order and such conditions of life which would attract to it” all those who have been deceived and suffer under the communists.
“In essence,” Yershoff says, “White Crimea was a never to be realized Russian Taiwan.” Wrangel came too late to achieve that, but he understood the challenge: the Bolsheviks were reactionaries, and he was the true revolutionary who wanted to change Russia so that its peoples could flourish rather than continue to live under the knout.
A Russian Taiwan was not created, although the idea of it continues to echo, in such books as Vasily Aksyonov’s 1981 novel, The Island of Crimea. But it is clear why the Putin regime doesn’t want to draw attention to this idea and to the notion of the agency of the Russian people rather than the Russian state.
And there is another reason that Moscow plays down this anniversary: White Russia did not surrender; it withdrew; and in Wrangel’s words, continued the struggle in new forms, including the Russian Council and ROVS, the Russian military union abroad. The originators of those organizations have died; but the ideas they represented have not.
Because that is so, Yershoff says, today is “a sad date” but also one that opens a path to a better future. It is “the day of the completion of the first stage of the Russian liberation movement against Bolshevism but in now way a day on which it humbled itself” before the Reds.
As a result, “we remember! We are proud! And we will win!”