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CONCLUSION: THE MEANINGS OF REFUGEEDOM Refugeedom is an unprecedented phenomenon. It is a new form of civic status [novyi vid grazhdanskogo sostoianiia]. —Editorial, Sputnik bezhentsa, 24–25 September 1915 Understanding displacement as a human tragedy and looking no further can mean that one gains no insight at all into the lived meanings that displacement and exile can have for speci¤c people. —Liisa Malkki, Purity and Exile In this book I have been concerned with a social group that appeared in the public arena virtually overnight. Refugees in wartime Russia posed a clear challenge to social convention. They tested the validity of the of¤cially sanctioned categories of soslovie, whereby each individual was ascribed to a speci¤c estate. Because so many refugees lacked property, occupation, and income, their presence was also dif¤cult to reconcile with more modern kinds of class af¤liation and identity. Refugees surrendered whatever social standing they had possessed before the war. Other losses were still more perceptible. Established family ties had been ruptured, apparently beyond repair. Refugees needed as a matter of urgency to be found somewhere to live and to secure the means of subsistence. Their physical condition rendered not only them but also the settled population vulnerable to infectious disease. Refugees represented an unprecedented social problem, de¤ned in terms of liminality and loss, damage and danger. The old regime did not explicitly create a new soslovie to cope with wartime realities. What purpose would this have served, when refugees were expected to return to their homes and assume their former roles in society? No one thought that an individual would remain a refugee for the rest of her or his life; this possibility dawned on Europe’s consciousness only after the First World War. All the same, displaced people lost their place in the social hierarchy. Having forfeited their ascribed status, they were lumped together in a hastily devised category for which there was no precedent in Russian history.1 Some contemporaries believed that refugees themselves “created an entirely new soslovie.” But this group bore little resemblance to other estates: “Their social position has not been resolved. The result has been a kind of nomadic group [kochiushaia massa], and a highly unusual one at that.”2 Often the emphasis was on the loss of tangible assets; to be deprived of one’s sense of belonging clearly entailed a loss of one’s home (“hearth,” “¤reside,” and “nest” were common appellations for the abandoned home). Those who in peacetime had been economically secure were now threatened with downward social mobility. Stripped of their property, “wealthy householders have been turned into homeless vagrants.”3 The loss of of¤cial documentation that so concerned tsarist bureaucrats, policemen, and public lawyers testi¤ed to a double deprivation, of formal status as well as property. Once the war was over, documents might be restored to the erstwhile refugee, but displaced people would ¤nd it more dif¤cult to recover social position. Whether the state had an obligation to intervene in these circumstances , and to compensate for the various losses incurred by refugees, was an issue that remained unresolved through 1917.4 But the main point is that those in authority had only a vague idea where the refugee “belonged.” This uncertainty allowed different agencies to rush to ¤ll the vacuum on behalf of the displaced population. Secondly, and in a different vein, refugeedom also subverted more modern kinds of group af¤liation and identity, such as those that attached to occupation and to class in a developing capitalist economy. These were relatively recent and quite fragile shifts in consciousness, re®ecting the speed and intensity of industrialization and the volatile character of political life. During 1917, class difference became the all-important signi¤er of one’s political stance. Yet the sharp edge of class position was quickly blunted during the civil war, when industrial production collapsed and the cities emptied, leaving behind a diverse group of petty traders, artisans, and day laborers who struggled to survive.5 Russian society by 1920 comprised millions of peasant households—in Moshe Lewin’s words, “the class [sic] that survived the upheaval best”—as well as a motley group of urban survivors, characterized by Victor Serge as “a grey crowd of thousands of people who are neither workers nor rich nor poor nor revolutionaries nor absolutely ignorant nor truly educated.”6 Needing to identify their enemies and supporters, the Bolsheviks imposed class labels, which were crude and inappropriate instruments...


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