Will Current Russian Emigration Matter? Maybe Yes, Maybe No – OpEd


A debate has broken out among Moscow commentators as to whether those Russians now living abroad will matter to the country’s political future or whether they will not have that impact, a disagreement that reflects both Russia’s past experience with emigrations and the obsessions of many Russians to this day about them.

Many Russian commentators argue that the Russian political emigration of today will have an enormous influence on the future of the country when its remembers return home (theins.ru/opinions/vladimir-milov/266170). But others, like Konstantin Sonin, are more skeptical (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6543D45DBDDF6).

The first Russian emigration after the Bolshevik revolution, he says, shows why this debate is taking place and also why it is so difficult for anyone to see what role anyone in the new emigration will play in the future. Sonin sums this up in this way: “For every Wrangel, who did not play any role after he left, there is a Lenin who played one after he returned.”

The emigration of a century ago had some of the country’s most prominent intellectuals, artists, military figures and politicians, many of whom left their mark on the world both before and after they left their homeland, the commentator says; but they did not have a political impact even when they returned.

With one notable exception: Lenin and his band of émigré Bolsheviks who came back and turned the country upside down. That is why the debate is happening and why Russians are still so obsessed with the emigrations, even though most of those in each of the emigrations did not play any serious role at home.

Today, Sonin says, “it is difficult to see” how the emigration or a part of it will play a role in politics at home “just as it was difficult to see in Chile, Spain, or Greece at various points or even to see in the Russian Empire in 1915.” Consequently, while it is possible that emigres if they return will play a role, it is hard to know who will and who among them will be able to. 

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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