Trends in Russian Emigrant Social Thought in Bulgaria in the 1920s and 1930s

Written by Радостин Русев

During the 1920s and 1930s, Bulgaria proved to be among the most attractive and appropriate focal points of Russian emigrants, where through the local Russian emigrant periodicals and book publishing they revived older trends of Russian public thought, gave birth to new ones or introduced foreign ones.


The dispersal of Russian refugees and emigrants following the October Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War in Russia took place in three more compact colonies – in the Baltic countries, in Western and Central Europe, and in the Balkans. In terms of their projects for the Russian future, the expatriate thought did not attach much importance to the first two directions. The Baltic colony was located in the immediate geographical proximity with Russia, and the merger of the emigration with the local Russian minority has been most pronounced there. In the Western and Central European countries, the good living conditions also created a psychological trend of a gradual breaking away from Russian life.

Bulgaria provided Russian emigrants with yet another thing – the opportunity for their free existence and spread of their ideas and concepts for the future structure of Russia. In most cases, these ideas were disseminated in or via the emigrant periodicals, mainly by literary publicists. Thus, in the period from July 18, 1931 to February 1, 1937, first as a weekly edition and then indefinitely, in the Bulgarian capital appeared the Molodoe slovo newspaper (Русев 2012а), an organ of the Circle of Russian Young Poets and Writers in Bulgaria, founded by M. Karpov, F. Melnikov, S. Ratkov-Rozhnov and A. Stoyanov. It was the intention of the publishers for it to be a purely literary edition and to avoid any incursion of politics into literature. The contents of the first three issues (July 18, 1931; August 1931; September 1931) really corresponded to the pre-announced intent to the fullest extent – to print only original literary works, translations, and critical reviews. However, since its fourth issue (December 1, 1931) onwards, the newspaper ceased to be ‘exclusively literary’ (only its third issue presented some literature topis) and became a public and political lever of the Union of Mladorossi (followers of Mlada Russia organisation) in Bulgaria with the sub-title of Public and Literary Newspaper. The editors have decided that the attempt to issues a purely literary publication has shown that its purely aesthetic, abstract basis did not meet the reader’s interests.

But it was not only the reader’s interest that had been a decisive factor in the transformation of such an interesting and promising literary newspaper into a political one. Compared to other major centres of Russian emigration, the fewest obstacles to the spread of the socio-political ideas of Russian emigrants were there in Bulgaria, which predetermined the priorities of many other emigrant periodicals. Their publishers were aware of the technical inconveniences of Sofia, and, what was most important, of the remoteness of the editorial boards from the large emigrant centres, from the readers and contributors, but nevertheless, they opted for it. Ivan Solonevich (1891–1953), the publisher of the Golos Rossiy newspaper (1936–1938) supported his preference for the Bulgarian capital as compared to Paris or Berlin by mentioning only one, but yet unique advantage – in Sofia, his newspaper could be independent, could afford ‘the luxury of complete independence’ (Солоневич 1936). Indeed, Bulgaria provided Russian emigrants, if not with the most suitable living conditions, at least with the freedom of creativity that could only be dreamed of elsewhere.

During the 1920s and 1930s, at various times and for a longer or shorter periods, various social movements took roots in the circles of the Russian immigrant intelligentsia in Bulgaria. Among the more colourful are the ones of the Mladorossi, the Smena vekh followers (dubbed so after the Czech collection Smena vekh translating as Milestone Change), the Eurasians, the Slavophiles, and the fascists.

The pro-monarchical Mladorossi ideology, whose ideas found publicity in the fourth issue of the Molodoe slovo newspaper and onwards, were associated with not a few unfulfilled expectations. In addition to Sofia, Mladorossi publications appeared in different moments in other centres of Russian emigration: the newspapers Mladorosskaya iskra in Paris, Novy put in Shanghai, Kazachiy nabat in Prague, Mladorosskoe slovo in Sao Paulo, and the magazine Put k pobede in Belgrade.

The movement of the Mladorossi took shape at the height of the Russian Revolution in October 1917. After the waning of the White movement [Beloye dvizheniye], it resumed in the Balkans and found soil in Bulgaria, where emigration was predominantly pro-monarchic. Gradually, the movement grew organizationally and ideologically in other centres of Russian emigrants abroad, especially after the reorganization of the Union of Mlada Rossia in 1924 into the Union of the Mladorossi, headed by A.L. Kazembek (1902–1977). The movement reached its peak by 1934, when it became a party. Its programmatic documents envisaged, above all, the ‘restoration of national equilibrium’, that was the preservation of monarchical statehood, the desire to consolidate the new monarchism as a vital and promising direction of Russian public thought in opposition to the republican-democratic ideas considered as outdated and regressive by the Mladorossi supporters. The Union’s worldview, according to a report published in issue 24 of the Molodoe slovo newspaper (October 26, 1934) by the new editor of the newspaper N. Davidov, generally boiled down to three basic, logically related ideas – nationalism, sociality and monarchy – at the heart of which was ‘the deep faith in Russia and her future.’

From today’s point of view, the ideology of the Mladorossi is of interest primarily because of its attempts to apply the rather strange formula ‘Tsar and Councils’, to adopt ‘rational’ ideas of Italian fascism or Bolshevism, to reconcile the monarchy with the corporate state model, and Orthodoxy with Socialism, etc. The evolution of this ideology is also curious: initially its mainstay was the ‘social monarchy’, then it turned left (‘Tsar and Councils’), and finally, in the words of the editor and publisher of the Rus newpaper I. P. Butov, everything ended ‘right in the arms of the Bolsheviks’, in agreement with the Bolsheviks (Бутов 1935).

The Smena vekh idea that emerged in Prague in 1921 (after the name of the collection of articles, Smena vekh, containing calls for the return of the emigrating intelligentsia to Russia as a ‘Trojan horse’ for the Bolshevik rule) also found soil in Bulgaria. Its main exponent became the Novaya Rossia newspaper (1922–1923) with editors A. M. Ageev, A. P. Bulatsel and S. G. Firin (Манолакев 2012). The Bulgarian version of the Smena vekh idea propagated through this newspaper, read as ‘through the knowledge of a new Russia – towards reconciliation with her’. Its adherents relied on the premise that the revolution was for sure chaotic at the beginning, but over time chaos transformed into order. According to them, despite the trials of revolution, war and famine, Russia was not culturally dead, cultural values were not wasted, and she was capable of cultural creativity. They opposed the conventional perception and appreciation of Russian life and the events by Russian emigrants – ‘all is bad there’ – as well as their excessive indulging in the role of an ‘embryo’ of a future Russia. The ideas of Novaya Rossia also found practical application through the Union for Return to the Motherland. The latter achieved some results (the first sending back of those wishing to return to their homeland was made from Varna on October 26, 1922), but it also met with serious resistance by the White Army of General P. Wrangel (1878–1928), a victim of whose terrorists acts fell the editor of the newspaper A. M. Ageev himself (1893–1922).

In parallel to Smena vekh in Prague, in Sofia appeared one of the most remarkable books of the Russian emigrant book-publishing appeared not only in our country, but also in general, entitled Исход к Востоку. Предчувствия и свершения. Утверждение евразийцев [Exodus to the East. Premonitions and accomplishments. Establishment of Eurasians] (1921). Through their literary and journalistic articles, the four authors, P. N. Savitsky (1895–1968), P. P. Suvchinsky (1892–1985), N. S. Trubetskoy (1890–1938) and G. V. Florovsky (1893–1979) who have proclaimed themselves and the Russian people as ‘Eurasians’, introduced a renewed content in an older idea, Eurasianism, founded in the late 19th century in an article by Russian historian and Slavicist V. Lamansky (1833–1914), Три мира азиатско-европейского материка [Three Worlds of the Asian-European Mainland] (Славянское обозрение, 1892, 1-4). The new life of this idea among the emigrants was provoked by the excessive worship of the West by a part of the Russian intelligentsia. The four Eurasians paved the way for the opposite thesis – the ‘failure of the West’, the decline of Western culture, etc. Obviously, things were back to the traditional strife between ‘Westerners’ and ‘Slavophiles’ for Russia’s historical paths (on Bulgarian soil, for example, it ran in the Russian Religious-Philosophical Circle, set up in Sofia in 1921 by N. S. Trubetskoy and G. V. Florovsky). Although the Eurasians explicitly insisted that they should not be confused with Slavophiles, emphasizing that, in contrast, they ‘were not populists and did not combine historical individualism with economic collectivism, as Herzen did, but affirmed the creative importance of the autocratic personality in the economic sphere as well, thus taking the stands of consistent individualism’ (Струве 1984), their roots (N. Ya. Danilevsky, N. N. Strakhov, K. N. Leontiev) and their ideas as a whole were nevertheless Slavophile oriented. Alike the views of a significant part of the Russian expatriate intelligentsia in Bulgaria.

The strongly expressed Slavophile spirit, the increased concern for the fate of the Slavic idea, and the idea of a unification of the Slavs in most cases played the roles of links in the currents of the Russian emigrant thought (pro-monarchic, extremely nationalistic, etc.), otherwise very different in their ideological platforms. That was why Slavophilism as a current in Russian emigrant social thought, and the motives of the supporters of Slavic unity among Russian emigration could be the subject of another, separate, and more thorough analysis and discussion.

The fascist idea which appeared among the Russian emigrants for the first time in the Far East (1931), and whose expression became the weekly newspaper Rus (1934–1936), was also popular in Bulgaria.

On the pages of this newspaper (Русев 2012б), the fascist idea co-existed and intertwined with the Slavic one, which became a topic of discussion after the publication of F. Danilov’s article Славянские перспективы [Slavic Perspectives] (No 23, 7 October 1934). In fact, as much as Slavophiles in the Russian emigration had in common with the traditional nature of Slavophilism, so had supporters of Russian fascism with the traditional notion of fascism.

Russian fascism stemmed from the desire of Russian activists to learn from both the mistakes of the White movement and the triumph of Italian Blackshirts, and on the basis of careful consideration of these two attempts to find the right path for real struggle on behalf of their homeland and then for the construction of a new national-labour state. It defined itself as a religious, national and labour movement – these three aspects of the movement were summarized in its main slogan: ‘God, nation, labour’. For its supporters, according to the introductory editorial in the second issue of the Rus (No 2, April 15, 1934), it was ‘not a political but rather a spiritual revolution’ – it called on the Russian people to remain faithful to their fathers’ religion, to bring Russia and the Russian people back under the blessed wing of the holy Orthodox faith.

The fascist idea gathered supporters and even became one of the leading ideas of Russian emigration quickly after it was born in the Far East among Russian expatriates, students and professors at Harbin Law School. In the late 1920s, they founded the Russian Fascist Organization, headed by Prof. N. I. Nikiforov (1886–1951), transformed on May 26, 1931 into the Russian Fascist Party with K. V. Rozdaevski (1907–1946) as Secretary General. Subsequently, fascist organizations also appeared in the United States (All-Russian fascist organization, A. A. Vonsyatski), in Germany (Russian fascist liberators, Prince Avilov), in Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland. In 1934, the Russian Fascist Party and the All-Russian Fascist Organization merged into the All-Russian Fascist Party with two leaders, K. V. Rozdaevski as Secretary General and Vice-Chairman of the Central Executive Committee, and A. A. Vonsyatski as Chairman of the Central Executive Committee.

The idea also found support among the Russian emigrants in Bulgaria. They united in the Russian Fascist Movement in Bulgaria, but were not accepted into the All-Russian Fascist Party by its representative in Bulgaria, K. Kondirev, who doubted whether they were actually ‘breathing [sharing] the fascist spirit’ (in particular, because of the lack of categorical denial and unacceptable attitude to the Masonic issue) (Кондырев 1934).

Proponents of this idea published their views in the Rus newspaper (1934–1936) as well (at the same time, 14 periodical fascist editions appeared in various parts of the space of emigrant dispersion, most notable of which was the Harbin organ of the fascist party, Nash put). In the introductory editorial of the first issue, they placed the national unification of Russian emigration around the growing fascist movement as a major task. They declared that their fascist patriotism did not consist of ‘painful expectation of Russia’s self-liberation’ but in ‘boundless love and genuine attachment to her national and religious revival’. They firmly and uncompromisingly stood for the holy Orthodox faith and declared that they will expose all sectarian deviations from it. They also announced their allies – the Mladorussi, the National Socialists, the legitimists and all the monarchical organizations. Against the background of the existing political groups, they declared themselves Germanophiles, and their sympathies were on the side of a resurgent national Germany. For this reason, they also identified themselves as Bulgarianophiles and believed that Bulgaria and the other countries defeated in the World War were victims of the ‘profound and outrageous injustices’ underlying all post-war treaties.

A certain part of the Russian expatriate intelligentsia in Bulgaria remained away from any socio-political ideas and movements. This in no case could be considered indifference, but it was rather cautiousness to make summaries based on incomplete and uncertain information. This was because, as P. Bitsilli (1879–1953) wrote in his autobiography, the emigrants in the Balkans were completely cut off from Russia; they did not even have a vague idea of the directions in which life developed there, which in itself already represented a sufficient prerequisite for originating of predominantly abstract conceptual designs, mostly theoretical, and with little likelihood of any practical coverage (Бицилли 1990). For this reason, he, and many like him, dedicated themselves exclusively to their scientific or writers’ endeavours.

The currents in Russian emigrant social thought in Bulgaria in the 1920s and 1930s and the socio-political movements of Russian emigrants that emerged on their basis represent a rather colourful picture in their essence and orientation. Their activity was stronger in the 1920s, while in the 1930s it gradually waned. It would be exaggerated to claim that they had any significant practical results. Their appearance and existence testifies to both the tense intellectual life, and to the indelible disagreements and separation in the circles of the Russian emigrant intelligentsia.


  • Бицилли 1990: Бицилли, П. Статьи: История. Культура. Литература. – Русская литература, 2, 1990, 135.
  • Бутов 1935: Бутов, Ив. Спекуляция на молодежь. – Русь, 52, 26 мая 1935.
  • Кондырев 1934: Кондырев, К. „О протоколе“ единого фашистского „движения в Болгарии“. – Русь, 6, 13 мая 1934.
  • Манолакев 2012: Манолакев, Х. Новая Россия. – В: Периодика на руската емиграция в България (1920–1943). Енциклопедичен справочник. София, Издателски център „Боян Пенев“, 2012, 506–509.
  • Русев 2012а: Русев, Р. Молодое слово. – В: Периодика на руската емиграция в България (1920–1943). Енциклопедичен справочник. София, Издателски център „Боян Пенев“, 2012, 463–467.
  • Русев 2012б: Русев, Р. Русь. – В: Периодика на руската емиграция в България (1920–1943). Енциклопедичен справочник. София, Издателски център „Боян Пенев“, 2012, 670–678.
  • Солоневич 1936: Солоневич, И. Почему в Софии? – Голос России, 4, 9 июля 1936.
  • Струве 1984: Струве, Гл. Русская литература в изгнании. Париж, 1984, 41.


SESDiva ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 – S&T

SESDiva. Project № 156

SESDiva aims at creating a virtual museum of written culture in relation to the social, religious, cultural, and ideological environment and relations between the South and East Slavs throughout the centuries from the 11th to the beginning of the 20th century.

Duration: 2018-2020
Program: ERA.Net RUS Plus Call 2017 ‐ S&T Projects