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8. REVOLUTION AND REFUGEEDOM All these endless horrors, this misery, these incredible sufferings, these hundreds of thousands of abandoned prisoners of war, these famines, these millions of helpless refugees are the result, direct or indirect, of the war. —Fridtjof Nansen, “No More War” Refugees as a distinct phenomenon are dissolved in the general calamity af®icting the entire population at the front. —S. I. Zubchaninov, 12 December 1916 We must impress all our activity upon the public, collect all documentary material relating to refugees, arrange reports, write down our memoirs, and then deposit everything in an archive. Only then will our work be complete. —A. B. Neidgardt, 15 May 1917 The marginal position occupied by refugees made them invisible guests at the festival of the Russian revolution. Class af¤liation came increasingly to dominate political loyalties and social behavior, leaving refugees ever more in limbo. Refugees lacked any de¤ned corporate representation. They thus did not occupy center stage during the tumultuous events of 1917. In one sense the revolution passed them by, as neither the February nor the October revolution impinged directly on refugees. The revolution of February did not produce a refugee Soviet, nor did the Bolshevik revolution yield any decree to match the extraordinary paper chase that set about the transformation of property relations. To remain a “refugee” was to risk oblivion. Yet this litany of negatives overlooks the lives actually lived by refugees, the administrative agencies that attended to their welfare, and the political context that governed their prospects of resolving the question of their permanent place of residence . The revolution did have an impact; refugees did speak. It is for the historian to listen to what they were saying. The revolution in February 1917 inevitably placed a question mark over the future of at least some of the agencies engaged in refugee relief work. Whether the public organizations, defeated in 1915, could resume their attempt to establish supremacy over the administration of refugee relief remained uncertain. But an assault by the unions of towns and zemstvos upon the entrenched positions occupied by such agencies as Severopomoshch’ and the Tatiana Committee was only to be expected .1 Even before the abrupt and ignominious collapse of the tsarist regime, the existing arrangements for the relief of refugees in the Russian empire had come under intense scrutiny. In part this re®ected the fact that the administration of refugee relief was necessarily subject to the same process of reevaluation that affected other areas of political activity. In part it was a result of the mounting economic crisis and the need to look for ways to curb the growth in public expenditure . Contemporaries began to recognize that refugees would continue to require support in peacetime; this made them aware of the need to keep administrative arrangements under constant review.2 Pressure mounted in 1917 for the democratization of the established system of refugee relief. “The ruling classes and the spokesmen of countless government departments keep telling us that the care of refugees, like the war itself, is a national affair. Well, if this is the case, give the people themselves the chance to speak their mind,” said the progressive newspaper editor V. Muizhel’ in November 1916. “Citizens ’ committees” created an opportunity for the disaffected Russian public to become involved in welfare provision. But, as Muizhel’ recognized, public enthusiasm for the plight of refugees could not be taken for granted. He admitted that “we must explain to the narod exactly who refugees are, and then the people will begin to understand the entire tragedy of refugees’ plight.” Muizhel’ envisaged the transfer of responsibility from the tsarist bureaucracy to Russia’s public organizations, but his position neatly captured one of the dilemmas inherent in democratization. There was a risk that, against the background of economic crisis, the narod would refuse to commit suf¤cient energy and resources to refugee relief. Popular sympathy for the plight of refugees might easily evaporate.3 No less troubling for the new government, the military offensive launched by Kerenskii in June 1917 quickly ran into dif¤culties, prompting a fresh in®ux of refugees.4 This raised the prospect that Russia’s new rulers would, like the old regime, be overwhelmed by the scale of displacement, allowing little time for re®ection about the principles and procedures of refugee relief, including arrangements for the eventual repatriation of those who wished to return to their homes. In the meantime, refugees old and new were urged to keep...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253003027
Print ISBN
9780253213464
MARC Record
OCLC
298104960
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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