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History The children of Russia’s exiled White Guards return
A Bittersweet Return for White Russians
A cathartic sea voyage reverses a Russian exodus of 90 years ago. Russian leaders paid for White Russian families to return, in hopes of reconciliation.
ANNA NEMTSOVA SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
In the blue light of early morn- ing, a seven-deck cruise liner glided through the Sevastopol harbor after a long sea voyage from Venice to the Crimea this summer. Ninety years after their post- revolutionary exodus, Russian émigrés, nobility and aristocrats finally returned home, revers- ing the sailing route of their parents’ and grandparents’ exile. This time, they sailed from
Venice to Tunis, Greece and Turkey, then all the way to the starting point, the Grafsky Dock in Sevastopol. They trav- eled to visit memorable plac- es—former refugee camps and cemeteries—and pray togeth- er with more than 200 Russian politicians, businessmen and historians, in memory of White Guards, or White Army, as they preferred to call themselves, who were massacred in the civil war. “I was only one year old,
when my parents fled Sevas- topol. For my entire life I have been waiting for the day to see Grafsky Dock once again. Un- fortunately, that is all I am able to see today,” the oldest of the passengers, 90-year-old Rostis- lav Don, said to journalists. He spoke through the bars of a custom checkpoint on the dock. A French citizen, Don did not think of getting himself a Ukrainian visa and had to sail back home the same day. On a recent July morning,
67 Russian immigrants arrived in Crimea 90 years after their parents and grandparents. On a grim morning of Nov. 14,
1920, General Petr Vrangel, the last Russian commander in chief, came by motorboat to inspect 125 ships loaded with families of his officers waiting to flee Russia in Sevastopol, Kerch, Feodosia, Yalta and No- vorossiysk. To survive, the 150,000 refugees, with at least 6,000 badly wounded officers and soldiers among them, had to occupy every free spot in the holds and on the decks of the ships. The day after General Vran-
gel led what was left of his once-glorious army to Turkey, the Bolsheviks took over Sev- astopol. They had all escaped just in time. As People’s Com- missar, Leon Trotsky refused to step on Crimean land unless “there is not a single White left.” So the Bolsheviks began mass executions. According to witnesses, tens of thousands of people were killed in the pe- riod from November 1920 to March 1921. Never predictable, history
turned on its heels again—it was the Red Moscow leader- ship who ordered to push the Whites out of Crimea in No- vember of 1920; this year, it was their successors, the mod- ern Moscow leaders, who in- vited, and paid for, the White Russians descendants' return. Why now? “To reconstruct
the historical truth and heal wounds caused by the schism of our society in the beginning of the 20th century,” Vladimir Yakunin, an official supporting Russian World movement (one of its goals is the return of Rus- sian émigrés) and close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, told journalists. The task of building bridges
turned out to be the most dif- ficult goal for both the children of the old and the new Russia. The contradictions emerged even before the trip began over the name of the voyage. Not
1. Petr Vrangel flees the Crimea in 1920.
2. Bishop of Geneva and Western Europe Mikhail blessed the ship and led a prayer on a hot July morn- ing.
3. Rostislav Don was one year old when his parents fled from the Russian Civil War in Sevastopol in 1920.
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The grandchildren are the best hope for a new chapter in the history of the White Russian exodus.
much seemed to click—the noble guests spoke French to each other during the meals on board. The rock songs of the 1990s beloved by their Rus- sian hosts did not sound like anything familiar to young French-born princes and counts. Before the voyage, Tamara Schukhovskoy, a writer, read in her grandfather’s diary about his escape from Sevastopol; about the violence they wit- nessed, of children dying in dreadful epidemics on the is- land of Lemnos, of courage and
devotion the White officers showed along the way of the Russian elite’s exodus. “Our Whites fell as the first victims of the monster of the revolu- tion; there were millions of lives taken away by Lenin and Sta- lin later, after they escaped,” she said. At multiple round-table dis- cussions during the cruise voy- age and during smoking breaks on the decks, Moscow activ- ists of the Russian World, or Russkiy Mir, movement, the Kremlin-supported group, tried their best to clarify to their for-
Art An exhibit focusing on religious themes has sparked controversy and judgement in Russia
Censorship and Sensibility Is Provocative Art Criminal?
No depiction of Lenin can be deemed offensive in Russia anymore. Add Jesus Christ to the parody, however, and the portrait can be downright criminal.
NORA FITZGERALD SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
Russia’s most provocative cura- tor, Andrei Erofeev, and the for- mer director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum, Yuri Samo- durov, were convicted of “incite- ment of religious and ethnic ha- tred” last month for organizing an exhibit of 20 controversial art works four years ago that had been rejected or tossed out of other exhibits. Their colleagues breathed a
small sigh of relief, even though they were not acquit- ted: Each of them could have spent up to three years in pris- on, but instead they were fined. Samudorov was ordered to pay 200,000 rubles ($6,483) and Erefoeev was f ined 150,000 rubles ($4,862). Some court observers said they believed that the Kremlin had
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Alexander Kosolapov’s “Icon Caviar” was in the Forbidden Art show in 2006. In an inter- view not long after the show, Kosolapov said he created the icon to make a point about how Russia is perceived, not to blaspheme, but that the work was misunderstood. The artist fled the Sovi- et Union in the 1970s and moved to New York’s Green- wich Village. A pioneer of a Russian political art move- ment, the 1970s Sots Art, he merged highly charged sym- bols and played with Social Realism to create new mean- ing. When he moved to New York, his concerns changed: “This is My Blood” juxta- posed Jesus Christ and Co- ca-Cola. Even Coca Cola in- vestigated the artist, whose work has been purchased by the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Icon Caviar as seen through a peephole.
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“This is the best holiday of them all!” I gushed, “I’ve had three marriage proposals, ten invitations to go for a beer, and two guys asked me to swim with them.”
“I have seen so many surreal things in my time in Russia: a single-stemmed rose auctioned off for thou- sands of dollars, eight-hour traffic gridlock, and a nine dollar can of Dr. Pepper.”
“Construction is everywhere you look in Mos- cow – great gaping holes in the city, snarling up the traffic and necessitating long detours on food through rickety scaffolding cover.”
eign guests that not all Rus- sians had the same understand- ing of Soviet history and that many Russians who stayed be- hind had also lost their closest loved ones during Stalin’s re- pressions in the 1930s and again in the early 1950s. Some of the exiles said their children might be the best hope for the kind of openness, reconciliation and reintegration that Russian World wants. One grandchild, Prince Vladimir Tru- betskoi, will leave France to begin his graduate studies at Moscow State Institute of In-
ternational Relations this Sep- tember. His father, the head of White Guards community in Paris, Prince Alexander Tru- betskoi, said that he tried to pass the deep spiritual devo- tion to Russia and love of Rus- sian culture to his sons, just as his father had done for him. “Our fourth and fifth gen- erations feel drawn to Moscow, they dream to come back,” Tru- betskoi said. “We could help Russia with one of today’s big- ger issues—the weakness of civil society. That is where we see our role.”
intervened to prevent a pris- on sentence. The works in the show in-
cluded images of Mickey Mouse as Jesus Christ, an icon that ap- peared to be black caviar and Lenin on the cross. The 2006 exhibit, aptly titled Forbidden Art, was and still is a litmus test for freedom of expression in Russia. The curators witnessed a huge outpouring of support over the summer. Russian human rights activists sent an appeal to Unit- ed Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights asking for help in their attempts “to stop the punitive hand of quasi-justice.” A group of Russian artists, in-
cluding highly acclaimed pio- neers Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Erik Bulatov and Vladimir Yanki- levsky, appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev, asking him “to stop the prosecution of, and lift the charges” against Samo- durov and Erofeev. “A guilty verdict will be an in- dictment against the whole of modern Russian art and another step towards the introduction of open or hidden censorship,” their appeal said. Finally, human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said the show should be discussed in society, not in court, Interfax re- ported. The Russian Orthodox church, which was heavily in- volved with the prosecution, soft- ened its stance, stating they should not be imprisoned. The 2006 Forbidden Art ex-
hibit opened with plywood in front of the 20 works, some of
which parodied religion. Visitors could view the exhibit only by using a step ladder and then looking through a peephole. Viewing the art was supposed to be a conscious choice. In the days after the 2006 ex-
hibit, the prosecutor’s office start- ed getting complaints from re- ligious activists as well as nationalist right-wing groups. “Now it is the church that has
a strong influence in the politi- cal sphere, and contemporary art is an easy target to make a point,” said Mark Kelner, a Wash- ington, D.C.-based collector and dealer of Russian contemporary art.
Erofeev is among a handful
of extremely talented Russian cu- rators of international renown. He has brought Russian contem- porary artists like provocative pranksters “Blue Noses” to the attention of mainstream muse- um directors and collectors. The curator is fearless, but his radi- cal vision has made official en- emies and cost him a job at the State Tretyakov Gallery when he added Blue Noses (who like to parody Jesus, Pushkin and Putin) to an official exhibit of Sots Art and brought it to Paris. “Since their arrest, it’s become
naive to leave politics abstract and apart from Russian art ... the waters become even murk- ier for anyone—artist, writer, cu- rator, or museum director—hop- ing to air an opinion about anything remotely controver- sial—they could go to jail for it,” Kelner said.
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