Sõdadevaheline vene emigratsioon suures ilmas ja väikeses Eesti / Interwar Russian Emigration in the Larger World and "Little Estonia"


  • Irina Belobrovtseva Tallinn University
  • Aurika Meimre Tallinn University




pagulus, välisvenelased, vene eksiilkultuur, Euroopa, Eesti, exile, foreign Russians, Russian exile culture, Europe, Estonia


Teesid: Oktoobrirevolutsiooni järgne vene emigratsioon, mida teaduskirjanduses traditsiooniliselt nimeta takse esimeseks laineks, valgus mööda ilma laiali ning oli seninägematult arvukas, haarates kaasa miljoneid endise Tsaari-Venemaa elanikke. Sellele nähtusele on pühendatud tuhandeid humanitaartea duslikke, sotsioloogilisi, politoloogilisi jm uurimusi, mis kajastavad vene eksiilkultuuri eri tahke. Vene emigratsioon puudutas ka Eestit ning enamik käsitletud ilmingutest olid otseselt seotud siinse vene kogukonnaga, ent kohati väga erineva tähendusega. Käesoleva artikli eesmärk on lühidalt kirjeldada vene emigratsiooni sotsiaalset ja demograafilist struktuuri, selle keskusi, emigrantide rolli oma ja võõra kultuuri säilitamisel, põlvkondadevahelist aspekti, eelkõige kirjanduselus, ning haridusküsimusi. Lähemalt on käsitletud vene emigrantide rolli Eesti kultuuris muu maailma taustal. 




After the October Revolution a mass of emigrants, all citizens of the former Tsarist Russia dispersed in the world. In the scholarly literature this dispersal of upwards of a million people has come to be referred to as the first wave of Russian emigration. Thousands of scholarly articles from the humanities, sociology, political science and other disciplines have been devoted to various aspects of Russian exile culture: descriptions of exile cultural centres (including Paris, Berlin, Constantinople, Brazil, and the USA); various cultural phenomena (literature, film, theatre, fashion, journalism, art, etc.). As was true of the large part of Europe, the Russian emigration impacted Estonia, as it did across the rest of Europe; however, the fate of the Russian community in Estonia had strikingly original features. Some of these derived principally from Estonia’s position as a border state, as well as from the fact that even in the days of the Russian Empire, over 40000 Russians resided in Estonia. Theoretically, this should have made it easier for Russian emigrants to assimilate to Estonian conditions (for example, Russian schools existed from an earlier period, along with the requisite complement of teachers; Russian-language journalism existed, etc.). However, in reality, most of the promoters of local Russian culture emerged from among the emigrants, new settlers in Estonia.

The purpose of this article is briefly to describe the social and demographic structure of the Russian emigration (military personnel will be treated separately) and the question of their legalization, which was solved in 1921 by the renowned Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen. At his initiative, the Intergovernmental Conference of the representatives of 34 nations that met in Geneva adopted the designation refugee, which for the time being only referred to stateless people of Russian origin. The legitimation of these people as refugees was contingent on the acceptance of a statute confirming the use of a heretofore nonexistent International identity document, the so-called Nansen Certificate. This certificate enabled Russian emigrants to claim refugee status in several nations, which included the attribution of rights and freedoms equal to those of citizens of these nations. Approximately 450 000 Nansen Certificates were issued over a period of several years.

The article contains brief descriptions of centres of exile, the circumstances and chronology of their foundation, the perceived role of emigrants in the preservation of their own culture and a culture foreign to them. The intergenerational conflict that occurred in cultural, in particular literary life is discussed. Among other topics considered are issues concerning publication, journalistic activity, and educational activities; a brief consideration is given to the positions of different nations on the support and preservation of Russian-language education. A very important influence on Russian emigration was Vladimir Lenin’s so-called „gift“— the expulsion of over 200 scholars from Soviet Russia in the year 1921.

A special place is accorded in this article to the role of Russian emigrants in Estonian culture, including the role played by Russian cultural figures (scholars, military personnel, artists, etc.) in building up the young Estonian Republic. The most active participation of Russians was occasioned by the creation of Estonia’s own legal system. In addition, Russians participated in organizing the Estonian postal system and local transportation. The role of Russian emigrants in the development of the educational system of the Estonian Republic is also significant. The article describes the leadership provided by the local Russian community, particularly in the establishment in 1924 of the tradition of Russian cultural festivals, which was then disseminated globally in Russian exile culture.

Brief consideration is given to local Russian culture and its importance in the development of Estonian culture. The most important facet of this was the Estonian ballet, born of Russian traditions and experience. Reportedly the first professional ballet troupe was assembled in Tallinn in 1918 by Sessy Smironina-Sevun, but the first actual ballet was performed in 1922, premiering with Coppelia, choreographed by the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet prima ballerina Viktorina Krieger, who played the lead role, and was later to be the artistic director of the Estonia ballet. In 1919, Jevgenia Litvinova, a former ballerina from the Maria Theatre, founded the first ballet studio in Tallinn.

Another topic addressed in the article is local publishing and literary activity in the Russian language. Besides Russian publishing houses (Bibliofiil, Koltso, Alfa, Russkaja Kniga), Estonian-language publishing houses printed Russian-language books, textbooks, magazines and newspapers. Up to the year 1940, 91 publishing houses in Estonia printed Russian-language material, many of them only a few Russian books. In addition to publication activities, literary circles were active at different times. Among them was the Revel Literary Circle, founded in 1898, the oldest and most unusual gathering place for educated people. Poets’ workshops in Tallinn and Tartu were among the more interesting societies in Estonia, aimed more specifically at poets of the younger generation. Members of the Tallinn workshop created their own almanac, „Nov“, and published a magazine, Polevõje Tsvetõ.

All of these phenomena and problems must be situated in the context of the larger world. The Russian emigration is far from being merely a unique phenomenon of life and work outside of the homeland; indeed, it exerted a strong influence on the culture, scholarship, and literature of the countries of settlement. Among the greatest achievements of 20th century humanity are the works of Nobel laureate and writer Ivan Bunin, prose writer Vladimir Nabokov, artists Marc Chagall, Konstantin Korovin, Aleksander Benois, and Vassily Kandinsky; the theories of Noble laureate, physicist and chemist Ilya Prigogine; the works of composers Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Igor Stravinsky; actor and theatre director Mikhail Chekhov; constructor Igor Sikorsky; chemist Vladimir Ipatjev. No less important in Estonian culture were poet Igor Severjanin, architect Aleksander Vladovski, representatives of Russian classical ballet (Tamara Beck, Jevgenia Litvinova); artists Anatoli Kaigorodov, Nikolai Kalmakov, and Andrei Jegorov.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Irina Belobrovtseva, Tallinn University

Irina Belobrovtseva – PhD in Russian literature, Tallinn University professor of Russian literature. Main research interests: 20.–21. century Russian literature and culture, Russian culture in Estonia.

Aurika Meimre, Tallinn University

Aurika Meimre – PhD in Russian literature, Tallinn University associate professor. Main research interests: Russian culture in Estonia, history of Russian and Estonian journalism, Russian exile culture. 






Artiklid / Articles