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  • Citizenship in Russia and the Soviet Union
  • Yanni Kotsonis
Eric Lohr , Russian Citizenship: From Empire to Soviet Union. 278 pp. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 2012 . ISBN-13 978-0674066342 . $59.95 .

Anyone who has worked with Russian and Soviet primary sources will have noticed the regular influx of foreign-born or foreign-subject persons. The phenomenon has not been studied systematically. Setting aside some of the emperors and empresses, we find ministers from Serbia, the Ionian Islands, Moldova, the German states, and Britain. We find specialists and lower-level bureaucrats, officers, soldiers, and sailors from Scandinavia, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. In the private and semi-private sectors we find foreign-born entrepreneurs, industrialists, bankers, and academics in abundance. Russia, it seems, was a real career option. On a larger scale, every conquest brought new populations into the empire, every loss of territory brought refugees and stimulated expulsions (which are well studied in recent years, by Eric Lohr in particular).1 In the Soviet period, foreign-born persons left their imprint on the sources. We find Communists and sympathizers who were not from the Russian Empire or the USSR, and we find engineers and laborers seeking work in the booming construction site that was the Soviet Union. Russians, in turn, populated the cities of the world and occupied places high and low, the more visible ones as refugees and émigrés, and many more combining a prosaic desire for higher living standards with quests for liberties of one sort or another. The historiography has already provided some good starts on the question of mobility, and an abundance of works on the post-1917 [End Page 665] emigration, but what was the legal status of any person who crossed an imperial or Soviet border for whatever reason?2

Thanks to Eric Lohr’s Russian Citizenship, we now have a point of reference. Lohr makes the case that there was no overarching principle that might have guided legislators, in the way that blood operated in Germany or language and culture operated in France. Nor was there a clear and elaborated set of statutes, in the tradition of the United States or Canada. Instead there was a series of ad hoc arrangements (“separate deals”) for each group of arriving, departing, or returning people. These practices permitted entry to, say, one group of Ottoman subjects but not another, one wave of Chinese laborers but not others, one group of Polish speakers but not others. Since the 1860s, there had been efforts to standardize the practices, but all along and into the 1920s and beyond, different rules or practices applied to different people. The historical contradictions are clear to see and the book invites us to explore them. As German speakers were subjected to a cruel uprooting in 1914, many of the Russian imperial commanders were themselves German speakers. As Jews were subjected to sustained discrimination and moments of exceptional brutality, other Jews populated the Provisional Government and later the Soviet bureaucracy in large numbers. As one group of White Army veterans was invited back to the Soviet Republic, others were banned and still others were not allowed to leave. As shiploads of noncommunist academics and professionals sailed out of the Gulf of Finland into forced exile, others were enticed to return or stay. By the 1930s, autarky prevailed: an inward-looking USSR focused on retaining and cultivating its own population and showed little interest in populations elsewhere.

There was, however, an enduring tendency that lends unity to this patchwork. Lohr terms it “attract and hold.” This might best be described as an impulse rather than a coherent policy, because it was not elaborated and systematized, and it often transcended the letter of the law. The expulsion of political enemies and the refusal of return in the aftermath of the Civil War (what Lohr memorably terms “the great denaturalization”) was exceptional and the USSR quickly reverted to the practice of keeping its citizens in place and preventing departures. According to Lohr, the Soviet Union was distinguished from the empire not by its tendency to keep its population in place but by the fortress mentality and well-guarded borders by which the tendency was [End...


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