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Diana Mistreanu (University of Luxembourg / Université Paris-Est): Russians Exiles in Interwar Paris – An Example of Cultural Cross-Fertilization?

The Bolshevik Revolution functioned as a catalyst that forced the Russian cultural elite into exile. Indeed, a considerable part of the country’s intelligentsia and aristocracy sought refuge in Paris and became what Maria Rubins calls ‘the Russian Montparnasse’ (2015), which was a numerically important and ideologically diverse, yet coherent, community of intellectuals and writers whose aim was to preserve and perpetuate pre-1917 Russian culture abroad during what they thought would be a short-term exile. However, because of émigré myth-making on the one hand, and Soviet ideological taboos on the other, the rapport between this community and its host country was largely neglected, as Leonid Livak highlights (2010). Therefore this paper has a double aim in its attempt to shed light upon what Livak considers to be a gap in Russian exile studies, and do justice to the reciprocity of Franco-Russian cultural exchange. In the first part, we will examine the historical, political and cultural context in which the interwar Russian Montparnasse crystallized. Focusing on its evolution in the broader national and international context, from the dawn of the Russian Revolution to its dissolution at the capitulation of France to Germany in 1940, we will analyse the self-image of the exiles, arguing that this self-image mediated their relation with their host country and their perception of it, and also resulted in misleading interpretations of their experience abroad. Though “the émigré intelligentsia left as much of a mark on the cultural life of its adoptive land as the French intelligentsia did on the creative activity of Russian exiles” (Livak, 2010), little academic attention has been paid to the impact the exiles had on French culture. Therefore the second part of our paper will discuss the results of ongoing research into the different methodological frames of analysis used for this cultural exchange, in order to find the most suitable conceptualizing model for the study of this particular intercultural interaction.

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