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Emigranti - 1917 Revisited

Millions of Russians fled their home after the Bolshevik revolution. Lucy Ash compares the experience of those emigres a century ago with the current exodus from Putin's Russia.

How do Russia's latest cultural émigrés feel about leaving their homeland? In Russia, culture is increasingly on the front line - many writers, theatre directors and academics feel stifled or under attack. Lucy Ash hears from those who have wrestled with the dilemma of whether to leave. For some, working abroad opens up space to think, while for others, the grief of obscurity can be all-encompassing.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, President Putin's most famous opponent, avoids speaking English and spends his days in cyberspace. He is among a long line of opposition figures trying to imagine a different Russia from beyond its borders. We drop anchor in Berlin, described by one poet as the 'stepmother of Russian cities', which, like London, is experiencing a surge of Russian cultural energy not seen since the aftermath of the October Revolution.

The current exodus has an eerie precursor. During the creation of the Soviet Union, Lenin decided to 'cleanse' the state by shipping out undesirable thinkers. The passengers of the so-called Philosophy Steamer faced a bleak choice, between execution or deportation. Nearly a century on, cheap flights and the internet make many highly educated Russians feel like global citizens - and that, as music producer Philipp Gorbachev says, living in a global culture is 'the only way of existence'.
But mixed feelings of rejection at home and homesickness abroad can be a paralysing cocktail.

Including contributions from Boris Akunin, best-selling novelist; Alexander Delphinov, poet; Philipp Gorbachev, music producer; Mikhail Kaluzhsky, playwright; Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Open Russia foundation; Sasha Lapina, art student; Aigulle Sembaeva, German-Russian Exchange; and Vadim Zakharov, artist.

Producer: Dorothy Feaver.

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44 minutes

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