Russian Switzerland: how it all began

For a long time Switzerland remained one of the centers where a large Russian diaspora was formed. How did “Russian Switzerland” appear?

The exchange of letters between the countries took place in 1687, during the reign of Ivan V Romanov. But regular trips of the citizens of the Russian Empire to Switzerland began only in the 18th century. At the same time, the first guidebook could be found on the shelves of bookstores.

From that moment on, it was considered bad form to travel around Europe and not visit Switzerland. Russian literature glorifies the beauty of the local nature. The historian Karamzin, for example, devoted many pages to her in his Letters of a Russian Traveler.

The cry of the Basel donkey will wake up Prince Myshkin, Turgenev will make the alpine peaks speak, Bunin will send his heroines to die on Lake Geneva.

Geneva became the main “Russian” city of Switzerland. Revolutionaries, students, and intellectuals tried to move here. For example, among all students, more than a third were students from the Russian Empire.

Female students from Russia played a special role in the educational sphere in Switzerland. They were the first girls in local universities.

Out of 2300 Russian students in 1906, 1500 were women and only 800 were men. Professors noted their diligence and inexhaustible desire for education.

In 1906, 34-year-old Anna Tumarkina, a lecturer at the University of Bern, entered world history as the first woman professor who received absolutely equal rights with male professors. This event caused a real sensation not only in Switzerland, but also abroad.

Most of the Russian emigrants in Switzerland devoted their lives to politics, were active in political activities, published newspapers and magazines. Herzen moved here from London. Later, it was here that the anarchist Bakunin, the Marxist Plekhanov and the Bolshevik Lenin built their political careers.

This is how the Russian diaspora of Switzerland was born, and the expression “Russian Switzerland” acquires real meaning.

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Dmitry Trusov

Dmitry Trusov

Entrepreneur, historian, traveler, blogger