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Heroic Russian Émigré

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After 1917, when the October revolution happened, Russia ceased being any part of the Western world order and started being actively opposed to it, and the Soviet Russians gradually became the stock villains of western fiction. However, the other kind of Russians, those who were not supportive of Bolsheviks and who immigrated into Western countries to avoid persecution, tended to be portrayed sympathetically in contrast. Some of these characters would simply be trying to find their place in the Western world, while others would attempt to restore Russia to its pre-1917 position.

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In the immediate aftermath of the Revolution, the anti-Communist forces were known as the “Whites” in contrast to the “Red” Communists, so Russian exiles generally were often referred to as “White Russians” in the 1920s and ’30s. In Cold War era fiction, Russian émigrés in fiction would more likely be defectors who would frequently join forces with NATO. In earlier works, such characters often belonged to the nobility because the nobility was the initial main target of the Soviets; later stories would feature ordinary Russian citizens who escaped the Soviet state.

There were several reasons for this trope. First, many Westerners were genuinely sympathetic with the Russian émigrés, since while people in the West generally only heard about the horrors of Soviet Communism, these people had experienced it themselves. Second, it was sometimes used to make it clear that the author was only opposing Soviet ideology, and not attacking the Russian people. Finally, some Westerners also believed that these people could be useful in taking down the Soviet state and reintegrating Russia into the West. Also, in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution, there were simply quite a few White Russian exiles running around some parts of the world in reality, who could make cool, exotic (and possibly aristocratic) characters in fiction.

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See also Chummy Commies, when the Communists themselves are not the bad guys, and Russia Is Western, when the whole country rejoins the Western world. Contrast Renegade Russian where the goal is not to offend the entire Russian/Soviet regime by showing a random Russian as the bad guy. They also represent the last time Russians could play The Old Country trope straight, as the Soviet peoples would soon find themselves living under an industrialized cosmopolitan empire, not unlike America.


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Examples:

Comic Books

  • Piotr Nikolaievich Rasputin aka Colossus of the X-Men was introduced as part of the new team in Uncanny X-Men's 1975 relaunch. He was only a farmboy in rural Russia until Xavier recruited him. He became one of the most recognizable mutant heroes, and is generally one of the kindest and most honorable people on the team.

    Colossus is something of a subversion, though. While he is heroic, and is a Russian emigre, he is shown to be a bit of a Soviet patriot initially, and a few Claremont/Byrne stories, including the first X-Men fight with Arcade, explore his unease with joining an American-based superteam.

Fan Fiction

Film

  • The Deer Hunter is about three Russian-Americans who fight in Vietnam on the side of US. They are late generation members of immigrant families, though, not exiles.

Literature

  • Erich Maria Remarque was fond of this trope: many of his novels feature noble Russian immigrants who are usually friends of the protagonist. Notable examples include Boris Morozov from Arch of Triumph, Count Orlov from Three Comrades, and Boris Volkov from Heaven Has No Favorites.
  • Agatha Christie also frequently depicted such characters. This includes Vera Rossakoff, Hercule Poirot's only acknowledged love interestnote , and Princess Natalia Dragomiroff from Murder on the Orient Express who is portrayed in a generally good light and was acquitted by Poirot in spite of taking part in the titular murder.
  • Madame Karitska, the heroine of The Clairvoyant Countess by Dorothy Gilman, is the daughter of Russian aristocrats who fled the revolution when she was a little girl.
  • Victoria has Czar Alexander, who returns from exile, reclaims the throne of the Romanoffs and restores the heroic Russian Empire out of the morass of post-Communism.

Live Action Television

  • Babylon Berlin mostly averts the “heroic” part of the trope, as Russian exiles in Berlin are mostly depicted as unheroic (unless you count being against Stalin as a sufficient condition), and the police deliberately turn a blind eye to their infighting as long as it means they don't have to deal with them. An odd exception is Kardakov (and his cell). He isn't a liberal or a noble, but a Trotskyist and therefore every bit as communist as the people he's fighting against. His fight is still against Stalin's tyranny which was definitely worse than what Trotsky had in mind, and he makes great personal sacrifices and apparently also has no aspirations for personal gain.
  • The protagonist in Summer Of Rockets is one, viewing himself as British, but it doesn't stop everyone from suspecting him of being a traitor. Crosses over with Real Life due to being Very Loosely Based on a True Story.

Tabletop Games

  • Appropriately for a '30s-period setting, the flavor text fiction in GURPS Thaumatology: Age of Gold includes "enigmatic White Russian exile" Irina Fedorevna among its magical heroes.

Western Animation

  • An American Tail: Fievel Mousekewitz and his family are the protagonist Jewish-Russian immigrants who come to America to escape cat cossacks and find a better living. This doesn’t quite fit the standard version of the trope, though, since they was escaping the Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire rather than the Bolshevik regime.
  • In Anastasia, the titular protagonist, who had to escape the execution of the Romanov family, is portrayed very sympathetically. The main antagonist is Grigory Rasputin, who used his dark magic to cause the October Revolution.
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