How statelessness can force refugees to redefine their ethnicity: what can be learned from Russian émigrés dispersed to six continents in the inter-war period?

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This article explores how approximately 400 Russian émigrés living in fifty-eight countries during the inter-war period redefined Russian ethnicity. In responses to an amateur nation-building project, they provided a wide variety of either organic or voluntaristic definitions of Russianness, despite the fact that they were a fairly homogenous group in terms of their political views and their social background. Most of their criteria for determining Russianness were dissimilar to pre-revolutionary conceptions. Yet one overarching feature united their conceptions of Russianness: they were all intent on excluding entire groups of would-be Russians, even though it was in their interests to expand the size of the Russian diaspora. This article argues that statelessness forced Russian émigrés to refine their ethnicity and that the process of defining members of their diaspora nation paralleled their endeavour to create a Russian émigré ethnicity separate from that of Soviet Russians. The criteria they developed to exclude groups and sometimes individuals they encountered abroad mirror the criteria that used to disassociate themselves from Soviet Russians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-91
Number of pages22
JournalImmigrants and Minorities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2 2016



  • diaspora
  • Ethnicity
  • identity construction
  • inter-war period
  • Russian émigrés

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography

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