October 6, 2017 Belgrade

The Refugees Who Built Modern Belgrade

From monumental government buildings to a Buddhist pagoda, the influx of Russian emigres revolutionised the capital one hundred years ago.
The Bolshevik revolution in Russia forced many anti-Bolsheviks and supporters of the Tsar, so called White Russians, to flee abroad. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Srdjan Garcevic

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A century ago, twin revolutions enveloped Imperial Russia, already weakened by participation in World War I. The February Revolution dismantled the centuries-old autocratic system by ousting the Tsar, while the October Revolution marked the rise of the Bolsheviks who were to emerge victorious from a five-year civil war against the remaining royalists and other opponents, and ultimately proclaim the Soviet Union.

This turmoil, which set the course for many 20th Century events and still influences global politics today, sent large parts of the Russian nobility, intelligentsia and general population in search of safety across the globe.

While the richest and most prominent of them took refuge in Paris, Berlin and London, between 40,000 and 100,000 Russians found themselves in the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, whose Karadjordjevic dynasty welcomed them with open arms and encouraged them to settle.

The reasons for this magnanimity were partly historical, partly political and partly pragmatic.

Imperial Russia, another Orthodox Christian monarchy, not only gave support to the Karadjordjevics in their pre-World War I opposition to the Habsburg Empire, but also had strong personal ties with the ambitious young King Aleksandar I.

The assassination of King Aleksandar Obrenovic and the subsequent accession of his father King Petar I Karadjordjevic to the Serbian throne, found young Aleksandar at an elite military school in St Petersburg where he received his education. His sister, Jelena, and two of his maternal aunts, daughters of King Nikola of Montenegro, were all married to prominent members of the Romanov family. There were also attempts to secure a marriage between him and the second daughter of Tsar Nikolai II, Grand Duchess Tatiana, whose brutal death at the hands of the Bolsheviks he allegedly mourned.

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