Staunton, Feb. 10 – Most countries don’t pay a great deal of attention to emigrations, typically viewing them as both lost to their native lands and no threat to the future of their countries. But Russia has long been different. Indeed, it has been obsessed by those who leave for political reasons because of fears that they will return and overturn the existing system.
The roots of that obsession are to be found in the distant past, but the reason that such fears continue to live in the minds of Russian rulers – and it should be said in the minds of many political emigres – lie in just one case: that of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 who came out of nowhere to take power.
In January 1917, Lenin headed a small party of no more than 20,000, most of whose members were either in prison, exile, or emigration; and he himself expressed the view that as a member of the older generation, he might not live to see a revolution in his homeland. But 11 months later, he and the Bolsheviks were in power there.
Most historians would say this reflected a remarkable confluence of events that has never been duplicated and is unlikely to be duplicated again. But the very fact that it happened once means that a large number of Russians, especially among those who support the current regime, fear it could happen again.
Typifying this fear are articles like Vera Zerdeva’s in Svobodnaya pressa about the plans of Russians who were earlier elected to political office in Russia but now live abroad to organize a Second Congress of the Peoples Deputies of Russia in Poland later this month. (The first took place there last November.) (svpressa.ru/politic/article/361945/).
She is dismissive of what she calls “our ‘former people,’” a term many Russians have used for more than a century to those attached to a regime that has been overthrown or who have fled an existing regime to live abroad and one that suggests such people should either be ignored or perhaps destroyed.
Moscow’s contempt for such people has often been shared by people in the West who view Russian emigres as at best Don Quixotes without any real prospects; but because the Russian authorities are so obsessed with them, they are more than that and thus deserve more attention and possibly more support than they typically attract.
After all, Russian writers like Serdeva may use dismissive terms in discussing such people and their activities; but discuss them they do – and that gives those who want to see Russia change a genuine reason for paying at least as much attention to such “former people” as the Kremlin does.