The South Atlantic Quarterly 99.1 (2000) 121-142
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General V. A. Kislitsin:
From Russian Monarchism to the Spirit of Bushido
Full well I knew this course must end in death;
It was Yamato spirit urged me
To dare whate’er betide.
Who was V. A. Kislitsin? Who was this man who, in the days of Manchukuo, agreed to head the Japanese-created Bureau for the Affairs of Russian Emigrés in Harbin (BREM) and directed it from 1938 to 1943? A White general, he had run aground in this city in 1920, like so many others, after the defeat of the White armies and the fall of the Aleksandr Kolchak government at Omsk.1 A city built by the Russians in Manchuria in 1898 at the time of the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway (CER), Harbin, in fact, seemed like a possible sanctuary for these throngs of émigrés driven out of Russia by the Bolsheviks.2
Presented sometimes as an old stick-in-the-mud with a brain slowed by alcohol who had received fourteen wounds during the civil war; sometimes as a good, cultivated man; and sometimes, to the contrary, as an odious figure, Kislitsin is hard to get a bead on. Was he some [End Page 121] spineless person who served the Japanese occupier, a suspected collaborator who endorsed the policy of the Japanese Military Mission, the Tokumu Kikan? One would be inclined to believe it. He had, in fact, been preceded for a period of forty-four days as the head of BREM in 1938 by a notorious fascist, Konstantin V. Rodzaevskii. In 1931 Rodzaevskii had founded the Russian Fascist Party. In 1933, following its second congress in Tokyo, it fused with the All-Russian Fascist Organization of America directed by A. A. Vonziatskii and was thus transformed into the All-Russian Fascist Party based in Harbin.3 But is this reason enough to put Kislitsin in this camp? Kislitsin, as a matter of fact, was not registered in the Russian Fascist Party. Must we then consider him a “good man,” as numerous firsthand sources present him? The mysterious conditions of his death—he was apparently poisoned—have elicited numerous commentaries and interpretations. Kislitsin comes across as a man who sacrificed himself to preserve the well-being of the Russian community under Japanese domination, as the scapegoat, the victim. It was, in fact, under pressure from the Japanese that he stepped down as director of BREM in 1943, the turning point, as we know, of World War II. General Lev Filippovich Vlasevskii, confidant of the ataman Grigorii Semenov,4 himself much in favor with the Japanese, replaced him from 1943 to 1945. Kislitsin died several months later on May 18, 1944, after a long illness.
The circumstances of his death and various firsthand accounts invite us to examine the Manchukuo period and reflect on the situation of the Russian émigrés during this period in Manchuria. In fact, their status as White Russian émigrés, which is to say anti-Bolshevik—but Russian nonetheless—in a country that happened to be the main enemy east of the Soviet Union, would pose a formidable identity problem for each of them, leading them, by the same token, into the agonizing dilemmas of self-abnegation. In order to better grasp this identity problem of the Russian emigrants in Manchuria, I will attempt to analyze the situation and personality of General Kislitsin. An officer of the White Army who was raised in czarist military schools to hold a certain idea of honor and service yet agreed to collaborate with the Japanese, his case seems exemplary.
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In the BREM archives, which were seized in 1945 in Harbin by the Red Army and then transported to the other side of the frontier to Khabarovsk, there [End Page 122] is a biographical note signed by General Kislitsin in December 1940. This note permits us to briefly reconstruct his trajectory.
Born in 1884 in Kiev, Kislitsin was a Russian Orthodox member of the...