Exodus of Celebrities From Russia: From Past to Present

What Does History Says About Individual Immigration Cases from Russia?

Thousands of Russians demonstrate against the war against Ukraine in Moscow and Saint Petersburg on February 24, 2022 (AFP)
Thousands of Russians demonstrate against the war against Ukraine in Moscow and Saint Petersburg on February 24, 2022 (AFP)

Exodus of Celebrities From Russia: From Past to Present

The current individual immigration cases coming from Russia, whether they were for cultural, political, or sports-related reasons, do not fall under any of the scientific or academic concepts for such a global phenomenon. The individual cases of the most prominent celebrities in the arts and culture scene cannot be compared to the immigration waves that the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union had experienced. It has become possible to establish the history of the latter cases “theoretically,” and to classify their “waves.”

Some say there was a total of four waves, the last of which was associated with immigration entangled in religious slogans that were closer to nationalism, that is, the Jewish immigration that quickly took politics as a slogan. The contemporary world knows it under the name of “Emigration of Soviet Jewry” as of the seventies of the last century.

The Kremlin has had its input on the so-called “escape,” “emigration,” or “travel” of some celebrities from Russia’s arts and culture scene, underlining the need not to dwell on such news. Official sources quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that “the celebrities who left Russia after the start of the ‘special military operation’ (the war) do not affect the general level of the Russian stage.”

Peskov added that “some of the artists who left Russia cannot tolerate the weather, and their departure should not be taken in a tragic manner.” He went on to say that he believes that “talents do not offend Russia, and a departing star cannot produce the general atmosphere.”


The exodus of Jews from the Soviet Union en masse in the late 1980s.


However, some deem the hasty departure, or what we might call the “grand exodus,” of some artists and writers, and the so-called culture and arts dealers, along with their family members, as a transgression against the homeland as well as the citizens who have given it all for the sake of the nation. For many years, these people have “wallowed in” the tutelage of the privileges, insignia, and medals bestowed upon them by the state, and then chose to sacrifice that history at the first “detour.”

The Russian scene has stood with indignation and sorrow at what some described as the “mass exodus” of some of these “patriotic claimants” who turned their backs and packed their bags years ago to leave under a thousand pretenses. Ordinary citizens in Russia followed the news of these stars regarding their boasting about owning palaces and yachts, and also hoarding of wealth. In most cases, this would take place in full view of the authorities who made sure to provide their material and moral needs without paying attention to the comments and calls by President Vladimir Putin of the need to be careful and anticipate various “disasters.” Here the disasters are falling upon them and they are clinching their claws with their money, deposits, real estate properties and wealth that they had transferred or smuggled abroad in preparation for a “red-letter” day.

Apart from the names of famous oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich, Alisher Usmanov and Mikhail Fridman, attention was drawn to names such as Alla Pugacheva, one of the most renowned singers. We have previously referred to her in our discussion of her efforts and the “intermediaries” she searched for in order to have the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sign a decree granting her the title of “People's Artist of the Soviet Union” prior to his departure from power in late 1991.

Pugacheva was notorious for marrying men decades younger than her. She traveled with her husband, Maxim Galkin, a young satirist, to Israel, due to his “nationalist affiliation,” where millions of her former Soviet compatriots reside. Headlines from Israel report that Pugacheva would present a television program during which she would recount her childhood and youth years.

Valery Gergiev, the international Russian-Ossetian conductor, refused to submit to the conditions of many European officials who handled his artistic activity and his concerts abroad, whether in Germany or other major foreign countries and cities.

They wanted him to condemn what they described as “Putin’s military campaign against Ukraine,” in exchange for allowing him to continue pursuing his work and activities. Meanwhile, the Russian international soprano Anna Netrebko announced her “condemnation” of the Russian military operation. In response, Russian authorities supervising Russia’s theaters cancelled their previous contracts with her.


The Russian war against Ukraine brought the immigration file back to the fore. (Getty Images)


In light of such events, many would say that history is repeating itself. The cases of mass or individual displacement from Russia, not to escape the war and its scourge as much as it is an attempt to maintain a comfortable life away from any persecution or suffering inside the country, share many similarities with the cases that has Russia previously undergone throughout its long history, the Imperial, the Tsarist, the Soviet, and even into the 1990s. However, the reality says that “there is a quite difference between the past and the present.”

History knows the names of many famous people from the culture and arts scene whose names and artistic creations have been associated with both inside Russia during the Tsarist or Soviet Russia, or the near abroad across the European continent, or far beyond the ocean, whether in the USA, or with the few who chose Latin America as their home. These people not only produced written and audio works of art on the tragedy of the “forced exodus” from the borders of the country, but they also went further by producing movies and recorded tapes circulated by their heirs and their fellow citizens among lovers of art and literature, regardless of their national or ethnic affiliation.

A Tragicomedy

The indicators point out that we may be keeping up with a “comedy,” as we are witnessing an exodus met with a great deal of moral and media confusion. Russia might seem lucky to purge those who rushed to travel in response to the invitation of the former US ambassador in Moscow (2012-2014) Michael McFaul.

He warned of “the probabilities of tragedy that may befall the Russians who are destined to live in complete isolation from the rest of the world, without owning a car or a mobile phone or any of the imported foreign electronic devices, and without being able to obtain an invitation abroad to participate in any foreign conference,” as he put it.

Nonetheless, the breath of relief in such a “tragedy” is that the list of so-called fugitives, departed, or travelers does not include names who are the subject of appreciation, as the country continues to commemorate their memory wherever their tombs were located, whether domestically or abroad.

The Diaspora Stars

Examples of such stars include Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, and a number of his comrades from among the philosophers and men of that revolution who spent a long time in exile in preparation for returning to Russia and declaring the establishment of socialist Russia, around which the former Soviet Union republics quickly turned. Aside from politics, there are many stars from the Russian international art and culture scene. These include Feodor Chaliapin, a renowned Russian international opera artist, the son of the Russian Tatar city of Kazan, who was a regular on the stages of Russia, Berlin, London and New York before his death in Paris.

They also include the Russian musician Sergei Rachmaninov, one of the greatest pianists in Russia and the world, who was startled by the breakout of the October Socialist Revolution in 1917. He decided then to stay in the United States, where he continued to perform until his death in 1943 in California. Today his remains  are in New York.

As for the literary stars, they include Ivan Bunin, the first Soviet writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933. He was born in Voronezh, Russia, in 1870, and remained on the go in Russia and many European countries until his death in 1953 in Paris.

There is also the writer of the revolution and the founder of the socialist realist school in Russian literature Alexei Peshkov, who is known to the world as "Maxim Gorky." He is nicknamed Maxim the Bitter, in reference to the very bitterness of many of his literary productions, including "The Mother," a novel that immortalizes the heroism of the Bolshevik revolution, the establishment of the socialist system and the struggle of the working class.

Despite his association with the homeland and the working class, Maxim Gorky frequently visited the island of Capri near Naples, Italy, for health reasons, although he never knew a single foreign language in his life, including Italian. It is worth noting here that Gorky's residence in Italy did not cut his ties with the homeland, nor with its leader Vladimir Lenin, who always responded to all his literary initiatives, including the establishment of the House of World Literature. Gorky died in Moscow and was buried there.

The names are numerous and innumerable, and most of them are of high literary value, and of great history in form and content. There is no comparison between the symbols of yesterday and those whose names are popular today, whose names are very fragile in form and content and who have gained their success and fame from being associated with people in power and for promoting their glories and achievements, both the real and the unreal.

As for the money they hoarded, common people in Russia know that the greater part of such money is closer to being the remnants of money laundering. Representatives of the oligarchs and those who are in the circles of “bar boys and girls” have tried to distribute such money during private parties that were the subject of public and private talks in Moscow during the nineties of the last century and beyond. They also held similar parties abroad through their representatives and agents in European capitals, according to the advertisements published by Russian-speaking newspapers and magazines at home and abroad.

Going back to yesterday’s history, recent and distant, shows that the freedom to move and reside wherever one wants is a right guaranteed by all charters and constitutions. However, what is not guaranteed by a charter or constitution, or by reason or conscience, is the "fugitives’" criticism of the country's conditions and policies, who spew out their reproval while sitting abroad in the arms of those who share their opinion and stance. The important thing, however, is what may be coming.

As for what could be, there are indications of the possibility of these people returning to their previous positions with no shame or shyness, glorified with the blessing of people in power, to resume their past lives. In this regard, there are those who say that this a right that no one can take away, as long as the person has not violated any law. Speaking of which, countless are the crimes that are committed in the name of law.

This might be true, but the most logical and rational option might be that the weight and status of those who departed, the extent of their capabilities, and the value of the talents and abilities they possess, could be an appropriate cushion for returning to the homeland and resuming their previous activities and communications. However, there are those who say, based on the fact that nature does not accept a vacuum, that it is possible to witness in the coming period the emergence of a new crop of “people of the stage” who can impose their presence in such a way that they can confront the returnees by saying: “You were not here. Where were you?” The returnees would then have to accept the fait accompli.

What Does History Have to Say About Migrations of Yesterday – Recent and Long Past?

History says that it is necessary to search among the cases of the past, and the records of the émigrés among the famous people of the country and the world, for what may be useful experiences and lessons for the present. This is what may appear in the biographies of many of the famous people of the past, which necessitates tracing the beginnings of the history of Russian immigration starting with the sixteenth century. Those years included the rule of Ivan the Terrible. One would then move to the seventeenth century, which witnessed dissident movements that contributed to the emergence of the first groups of emigrants comprising young nobles who were sent by Tsar Boris Godunov to Europe to study, but did not return to Russia.

A leap over this era, towards a quick return to the recent past, takes us to the most famous symbols of that time among the pre-October Revolution Russian immigrants, including Herzen, Turgenev (France and Germany, 1847-1883), Metchnikoff (Paris, 1888-1916), Pirogov, Lenin, and Gorky, among others since the beginning of the twentieth century. Amidst such names, one recalls what Russian literature says about “migration as a legal concept, which was absent from Russian legislation before the revolution, which in turn stipulated the prohibition of transferring Russians to another nationality and set the period of residence abroad at five years, after which it was necessary to apply for an extension of this period. Otherwise, the person loses his citizenship and on his return is subjected to arrest and eternal exile; a person’s properties are automatically transferred to the Board of Trustees. Starting 1892, immigration was permitted only for Jews. In this case, however, they were categorically forbidden from any form of repatriation."

It is also worth noting that registration and census operations were limited to legitimate passport holders who would cross the empire’s borders legally. The cases of immigration until the middle of the nineteenth century were almost isolated. The situation did not change in a tangible way until after the abolition of the slavery system in 1861. In the following years, there were the phenomena of mass migration from the Caucasus region, especially of representatives of Caucasian nationalities, including Circassians, Abkhazians, Dagestanis and Chechens, to the lands of the Ottoman Empire, and from there to many countries, including the Arab world among other countries in the Middle East, Western Europe and the USA.

The migration waves ranged between political, which were mostly associated with the European continent, to economic, which was mainly associated with the Ottoman Empire, as well as religious, which was a slogan that covered under its banners the so-called Jewish immigration to Israel.

Perestroika and Mixed Migrations

During the perestroika period, whose proponent was Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the movement and immigration were characterized by a great degree of indiscipline and marred by what might fall into the category of corruption, absence of accountability and conscience, and betrayal of the homeland.

To start with, there was the Jewish immigration that flowed into Israel in the late 1980s and 90s, which included among the ranks of the Jewish immigrants, scholars and the non-Jewish elite of the former Soviet Union, even the fugitives who fled after draining all the state’s resources and stealing its wealth under the guise of “notorious privatization.” Millions of the country’s citizens became unrepentant about any historical, material or spiritual resources, and left the country prey to the greedy and fraudsters who drained its resources under the guise of “privatization” decisions, before they decided to leave, carrying with them all the money and wealth they had unlawfully hoarded.

The names of the celebrities who fled the country would most probably arouse feelings of astonishment filled with a whole lot of indignation and anger, especially against those who were behind the issuance of privatization decisions. It was later admitted that such decisions “were approved specifically to be the last nail in the coffin of communism.”


Protesters in Russian cities carry signs reading "No to war". (Getty Images)


President Putin had openly revealed in one of his last annual press conferences that those people who were “official employees of the Russian government” were working in close proximity to CIA officers until the beginning of this century. As for the “fugitives,” “displaced persons,” or “those who left” Russia during the past few weeks, the lists of their names are long, and among them is Anatoly Chubais. He is directly responsible for privatization policies. He has moved among various top ranks, including the Deputy Prime Minister, the Kremlin's chief of staff, and the head of the electric power corporation (RAO UES), among other major government institutions. A few years ago, Andrei Kozyrev, the first foreign minister of the Russian Federation, succeeded him.

Kozyrev was Yeltsin’s advisor when he signed the treaty to end the existence of the former Soviet Union with the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus. He ended up being an agent for one of the American pharmaceutical companies before he emigrated from Russia to the United States where he has been residing since the mid-nineties of the last century.

There was also Alfred Koch, a former minister in the first Russian government, who settled in Germany years ago. The list also includes Sergei, the son of the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was a major rocket scientist and emigrated to the United States at the end of the perestroika years, where he passed away a few years ago. At that time, the famous Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko emigrated and joined the "angry" convoy. He started working in the arms of yesterday's opponents under the guise of teaching poetry and literature at an American university. He died there, but his body was later transferred to be buried in his “home country.”

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