RUSSIA’S REVOLUTIONARY SOURCES. PART II: PHOTOGRAPHS AND NARRATIVES. “Franco-Russian Relations in One Photo.”

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By Heidi Hetterscheidt

Beginning with Peter the Great, the Russian Empire became increasingly influenced by numerous Western influences and ideas; however,  Russian elites exhibited a rather strong admiration toward French culture in particular.  Cultural aspects such as language, cuisine, dress, and etiquette spread throughout the Empire as Russian elites strove to emulate this desired lifestyle, showcasing the utmost elegance and sophistication.  While they strove toward becoming more Western, the Bolsheviks worked toward a different goal, one that aimed in theory to build a worldwide utopia, but that also aimed to  obtain power and expelling all bourgeois Western and tsarist influences, which eventually happened during the watershed event of the October Revolution in 1917.

The aftermath of this revolution led to further conflict within Russia, ultimately a Civil War, and inevitably the exile and mass emigration of Bolshevik opponents who were defeated during this struggle for power.  These refugees scattered the globe, settling in major cities such as Shanghai, New York, Berlin, Prague, and several others. However majority of them fled to Paris.  As one scholar has written:

To reach this haven refugees fleeing from the Soviet regime had either to cross Poland and Germany by land or sail from Black Sea or Balkan ports to southern France through the Mediterranean.  Even so, that country was a popular choice for exiles.  This was thanks to the close ties already established between France and Russia before 1914, the memories of their recent wartime alliance, and the admiration of the Russian liberal intelligentsia for the French and their political system (Raymond, 23).

Obviously, the work that Russia put forth before 1917 paid off and the French were now willing to help their former admirers.  While at this point in time, the French government welcomed the struggling Russians with open arms, over the course of the 20th century, these political opinions began to transform, thus resulting in a total reversal of policies regarding Soviet exiles and the Soviet government itself, as declared by the French government.  The relationship between the two allies was a turbulent one and underwent several changes as a result of the events of 1917.

Shortly after the February Revolution and the abdication of Nicholas II, a power vacuum opened up, leading to the outbreak of the Russian Civil War, which lasted from 1917 until, roughly, 1921.  While there were several parties involved in this matter, the two most prominent armies were the Reds, or Bolsheviks, and the Whites, who aimed to preserve the Empire.  J. N. Westwood has written:  “The White Army, which was numerically inferior to the Red, was better supplied and disposed more military talent and experience.  In fact it had a surplus of leaders since it was recruited so from the tsarist office (Westwood, 43).”  Fortunately for the Red Army, the Whites were unable to properly capitalize on their advantage due to poor organization, lack of communication, and the inability to connect with the masses that were crucial in supporting them against the Reds.  While they were victorious at some points in the war, after a few years, and mainly towards the end of 1920, the Whites began to suffer from their disorganization and crumbled under the pressure.  The final defeat of the Whites, which also signaled the end of the Civil War, occurred in December 1921.  This was an interesting turn of events as the Southern White Army had just made a successful advance up north, however, it lost this ground and ended up retreating even further, losing more territory. At that moment, one historian has concluded:

[T]he fate of the Whites was sealed.  [The Southern Army] split into two groups: the one in the Crimea was isolated from the other on the Don and in the Kuban.  The latter after losing the heights, completely collapsed and simply ran off before the Red Army, which continued its advance gradually mopping up the Whites in the Kuban and North Caucasus.  Part of the Whites’ forces, chiefly, the Volunteers, were evacuated from Novorossiisk to the Crimea, which, though isolated, was relatively safe and at this stage not threatened by the Reds (Bradley, 172).

This coastal location was convenient for the Whites, as they were now able to easily escape the approaching Reds and take refuge in another country.  Many made their way to France.  It was said that after the end of the Civil War, “Russian Paris was indeed the cultural and political mecca of their worldwide Diaspora, and there a Russian could live a truly “Russian way of life.” (Raymond, 26-27).”  After all, the French and other Western nations had supported the White Army, so they were able to stay safely in Paris for some time.

Under the protection of the French government, these Russians led relatively normal lives.  Boris Raymond has noted that “Russian émigrés in France tended to live within a closed circle of their own, and they interacted with their French hosts only minimally. They attended their own churches, met and talked about their new problems, engaged in numerous exclusively Russian organizations, and patronized their own clubs, libraries, theaters, restaurants, and shops (Raymond, 26).”  An example of one of these exclusive organizations pictured above, which is an anti-Bolshevik group.  In this particular photograph, the group that is gathered is the Gallipoli meeting, located at a venue in Paris, taken sometime between the late 1920s until the early 1930s.  While this was not the actual name of the group, after doing research on Gallipoli, it seems that it was a meeting to remember their journey from Russia to Paris, as Gallipoli was one of the last stops on the journey.

In the center of this picture is General Evgenii Karlovich Miller, who is leading the meeting.  Accompanying him are other prominent White Army generals, Gulevich, Dragomirov, and Admiral Ketrov.  In the room, there are several clues that allow scholars to determine that this is an anti-Bolshevik group, such as the flags of the Russian Empire and Imperial Navy, along with photographs of Tsar Nicholas II, Anton Denikin, and Alexander Kolchak; it is clear where their loyalties lie.  After researching Miller’s history to further dissect the contents of the photograph, it is known that he had moved from Germany and was drafted in the Imperial Army during the First World War, and then later moved up the ranks and became a lieutenant general, later using this position of authority to lead part of the White Army.  After his flight to Paris, Miller “became General Wrangel’s chief of staff in the Russian General-Military Union (ROVS).  After Wrangel’s death in 1928 he served as Aleksandr Kutepov’s deputy in charge of the ROVS’s finances and administration and, despite his own doubts about his abilities, replaced the kidnapped Kutepov in 1930 as chief of the ROVS.  His disastrous leadership led to feuds that crippled the ROVS’s command, while he destroyed its finances by investments with the “match-king” Ivan Kreuger, whose financial empire collapsed in 1932 (Raymond, 155).”   The photograph is thus a record of the ROVS and its efforts to preserve the Russia that its members had left behind..

By this time, the Franco-Soviet relationship had strengthened and neither the French nor the Soviets were pleased that these group meetings occurred, so they worked together, aiming to cease any further activities of the ROVS or any groups similar to it. The Soviets had been after the White Army generals for some time and finally created a plot to remove Miller from power, thus dissolving the rest of the ROVS, or better yet, replacing him with another man who worked for the Soviet government.  This was a commonly-used ploy as there were several other Soviet enemies who the Soviets wanted to bring back, so they could interrogate them.  With this being the case, “on 22 September 1937 Skoblin [a Soviet spy] led [Miller] into a trap.  Miller was drugged and shipped in a trunk by freighter to the Soviet Union.  There he was interrogated under torture, tried in secret, and shot (Raymond, 155).”

Clearly with the betrayal of General Miller and other former White army officers by the French government revealed that the French allegiance no longer lay with the Russian exiles, but rather with the new Soviet state.  These were completely opposing sentiments from what had been displayed shortly after the Revolution; the results it produced later actually resulted in positive international politics.  At the time of Miller’s arrest, Julie Newton has concluded, “the fact is that France was a critical, and at times primary, ‘instrument’ of Soviet and Russian policies towards the West, as well as a powerful symbol in Soviet and post-Soviet thinking about Western dynamics (Newton, 9).”  This became beneficial for both European nations as well as the United States during the duration of the USSR’s existence for it did ease some of the tension among the international community.  While the relationship between the White Army and the French ended up dissolving, this photograph serves as a reminder of a tumultuous time in the Franco-Russian relationship.

Heidi Hetterscheidt is a senior REEES major.

Bibliography and Works Referenced

 

  1. Newton, Julie M. Russia, France, and the Idea of Europe.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.  Print.
  2. Raymond, Boris, and David R. Jones. The Russian Diaspora, 1917-1941.     Lanham, MD: Scarecrow 200. Print.
  3. Service, Robert. The Russian Revolution, 1900-1927. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999. Print.
  4. Westwood, J.N. Russia since 1917. New York: St. Martin’s, 1980. Print.
  5. Ziemke, Earl F. The Red Army, 1918-1941: From Vanguard of World Revolution to US ally. London: Frank Cass, 2004. Print.

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