White émigré

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Russian flag used by White emigres after the Russian Revolution.

A white émigré was a Russian who emigrated from Russia in the wake of the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, and who was in opposition to the contemporary Russian political climate.

"White émigré" is a political term mostly used in France, the United States, and the UK. A less politically oriented term used in the same countries by the immigrants themselves and by the native population is First wave émigré (Эмигрант первой волны). In the USSR in 1920s–1980s the term White émigré (Белоэмигрант) generally had negative connotations. Since the end of the 1980s the term "first wave émigré" has become more common in Russia.

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 of them, like Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, were opposed to the Bolsheviks but had not supported the White movement; some were just apolitical), as well as to the descendants of those who left and still retain a Russian Orthodox Christian identity while living abroad. The term "white émigrés" (белоэмигранты, белая эмиграция) was much more often used in the Soviet Union, where it had a strong negative connotation, than by the émigrés themselves, who preferred to call themselves simply "Russian émigrés" (русская эмиграцiя) or "Russian military émigrés"(русская военная эмиграцiя) if they participated in the White movement.

Most white émigrés left Russia from 1917 to 1920 (estimates vary between 900,000 and 2 million), although some managed to leave during the twenties and thirties or were exiled by the Soviet Government (such as, for example, philosopher 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 eastern European Slavic countries, such as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. A large number also fled to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Persia, 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, Shanghai and other cities of China, Central Asia, and Western China. After the withdrawal of US and Japanese troops from Siberia, some émigrés traveled to Japan. Many White émigrés in Asia met a tragic fate at the hands of the local Japanese Secret Service under Kenji Doihara as part of his machinations in China.

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.

Ideological inclinations

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, Georgia and other minority groups for self-determination but hankered 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 emigres 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.

White émigrés fought under the Soviet Red army during the Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang and the Xinjiang War (1937)[citation needed].

During World War II, many white émigrés took part in the Russian Liberation Movement. On the other hand, a significant number participated in anti-Nazi movements such as the French resistance. 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 Russian scouts in exile became functional in raising children with a background in pre-Soviet Russian culture and heritage.

The white émigrés, acting to preserve their church from Soviet influence, 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 May 17, 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 eighty years of separation.

Notable "First Wave" Émigrés

Political and military figures:

Religious figures:

Historians and philosophers:

Artists, i.e. actors, authors, composers, musicians:

Scientists and inventors:

Other figures:

White Emigre organizations and entities

Orthodox Church Jurisdictions:

Military and semi-Military Organizations:

Political organizations:

Youth organizations:

Charitable organizations:


  • François Bauchpas, L'émigration blanche, Paris, 1968
  • 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

External links

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