5 facts about the first Russian emigrants

Today a series of posts about the history of Russian emigration starts on this channel. I bring to your attention 5 facts about Russian emigrants of the 19th century.

1. The history of Russian emigration goes back more than five centuries. During this time, a large Russian diaspora has formed abroad in different countries. The first settlers include political and religious leaders who were forced to flee Russia.

Examples of such migrations can be considered the Novgorod-Moscow heretics who were fleeing the persecution of the Orthodox Church and the Grand Duke’s power. They were hiding in Lithuania at the beginning of the 16th century. Andrei Kurbsky went over to the side of the Poles in 1564, and the Old Believers left the country en masse during the time of Peter I.

2. Economic migration hardly affected Russia until the second half of the 19th century. If in Europe this process was caused by a surplus of labor resources and a shortage of land, then in our country there were no such problems. There is evidence of Russian immigrants, for example, to America, China and Africa in the 16–18 centuries. But these were isolated cases and among their reasons were not only economic ones. Some heard the call of the distant seas, others were looking for peace and success in a foreign land, dissatisfied with the poor life of the people’s land.

3. There was no concept of “emigration” in Russian legislation. Changing citizenship is strictly prohibited. And the stay abroad should not have exceeded 5 years. If someone wanted to extend his visit to other countries, he had to apply for it. There were no guarantees that the deadline would be extended.

If a person did not ask for an extension and did not return to Russia, he was deprived of his citizenship, and if returned, he was sent to eternal exile. All the property of such emigrants was transferred to the state. Deprivation of citizenship and expulsion from the country was considered one of the capital punishment in the Russian Empire. Only Jews from 1892 had the right to leave the country.

4. There was no adequate accounting of emigration, because there were no regulators. Statistics recorded only emigrants with valid passports who legally crossed the borders of the empire. Although it is worth noting that before the abolition of serfdom, cases of emigration were isolated.

Over time, their number increased at the expense of political refugees. However, the number of arrivals each year exceeded the number of departures. It was only after 1861 that the situation changed dramatically — trips abroad and emigration became a truly massive phenomenon.

5. Russian diasporas abroad existed without conflict, consisted in many respects not of expelled, but of voluntary emigrants. This made it possible to gradually get used to the local society, but at the same time preserve national identity and the Russian language.

As we can see, many things have survived to this day. The same reasons for leaving Russia remained, Russians are trying to preserve their culture and language, they form diasporas in new countries that were not traditional for our compatriots before. All this stirs up interest in this topic.

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Dmitry Trusov

Dmitry Trusov

Entrepreneur, historian, traveler, blogger