White émigré

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The Imperial Russian tricolour used by White émigrés after the Russian Revolution, later restored as the flag of the Russian Federation.

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 contemporary 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 Japan, "White Russian" (白系ロシア人 or 白系露人) term is most commonly used for white émigrés even if they are not all 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 20s and 30s or were expelled by the Soviet government (such as, for example, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 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.


Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, Essonne, France, near Paris, is a necropolis of White Russians.

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,[1] also served Germany in the Wehrmacht or in the Waffen-SS, often as interpreters.[2]

Ideological inclinations

White propaganda poster, c. 1932

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[citation needed] 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:

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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:

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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

Emblem used by white émigrés volunteers in the Spanish civil war.

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).[3]

During World War II, many white émigrés took part in the Russian Liberation Movement. 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.

Notable "first-wave" émigrés

Statesmen, religious figures

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Military figures

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Historians and philosophers

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The arts

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Scientists and inventors

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Other figures

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White émigré organizations and entities

Orthodox Church jurisdictions:

Military and semi-military organizations:

Political organizations:

Youth organizations:

Charitable organizations:


  1. 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 [1].
  2. [2] 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.
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  • 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