Communities of Dialogue Russian and Ukrainian Émigrés in Modernist Prague


State of research

Solid foundations for the intercultural study of modernist Prague have been laid over the last 15 years by a lively research community led by Manfred Weinberg (Prague), Steffen Höhne (Weimar), and Irina Wutsdorff (Münster). The focal points of this community are: the research consortium Prag als Knotenpunkt europäischer Modernen (Prague as a Node of European Modernisms), which has coordinated over a dozen conferences since 2009; the Kurt Krolop Centre for German Literature in Czechia (Charles University Prague), founded in 2015 with the explicit aim of “reassessing the long neglected and misconceived field of Prague German and German-Czech literature”; and the book series Intellektuelles Prag im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Intellectual Prague in the 19th and 20th centuries), in which more than 20 volumes have been published. Next to this effort focussed on Prague German literature, one can note the growing interest of Czech studies specialists for a European, intercultural approach to Czech modernism (Sandqvist 2013, Kubiček & Wiendl 2013). On top of anchoring Prague’s role as a complex multicultural space, the output of this research programme has been to emphasise the importance of reconstructing concrete dialogues and exchanges between individual actors (rather than appealing to pre-conceived notions of community), to cast light on a plethora of lesser known institutions and figures of Prague German literature and Czech modernism, and to explore methodological avenues to theorise the relation between Prague’s social and historical contexts and their self-reflexive representations or figurations.

In parallel to the (strongly German-oriented) study of Prague modernism, the theme of Russian and Ukrainian emigration has generated growing interest since the foundational work of Marc Raeff and Karl Schlögel in the 1990s, materialised by a slew of publications in recent years on all its aspects (Livak 2003, Mjor 2011, Hillis 2021, Rubins 2021). Prague as a centre of emigration, however, is mostly absent from or peripheral to these studies, which tend to focus on Paris and Berlin. That is not to say that research on the Russian and Ukrainian émigré communities in Prague is completely lacking. One can note an increase of interest in the last 20 years for this specific subject, with a handful of specialists, almost all working in Prague, such as Ivan Savický, Ljubov' Beloševskaja, Marina Sorokina, Lukáš Babka, Zdeněk Sládek, Anastasia Kopřivová and Hanuš Nykl, devoting sustained attention to the topic. As Nykl puts it in a useful overview: “Thanks to the efforts of these and other experts, the basic publications for the scientific investigation of this topic [Russian and Ukrainian emigration in Prague] were produced” (Nykl 2021, 11-12). While qualitative and highly useful, it has to be noted however that most of this research is of archival (Barvíková 1995 ; Sládek & Beloševskaja 1998; Beloševskaja 2011; Sorokina 2016), historical (Schlögel 1994; Dostal 1998 ; Burda 2001; Chinyaeva 2001; Andreyev & Savický 2004; Kostlan & Velková 2004; Vacek & Babka 2009; Hauser 2020), memoiristic (Postnikov 1928; Losskij 1994; Struve 1970; Struve 1984) or documentary nature (Beloševskaja 1999 ; Podaný & Barvíková 2000; Babka & Zolotarev 2012 ), and provides a “basis for investigation”, rather than a full critical, contextual analysis.

Another fundamental limitation of Russian and Ukrainian emigration in Prague as a field remains that it is largely absent from research in related fields (Prague modernism, Prague structuralism, Russian emigration in general) or on related figures (e.g. Masaryk, Patočka). Although a huge literature is dedicated to Masaryk and Patočka, it is very rarely (e.g. Firsov 2012) in connection with their ties to Russian or Ukrainian emigration. The same can be said of the many attempts to contextualise Prague modernism (Ehlers et al. 2000 ; Becher et al. 2012; Weinberg 2018; Petrbok et al. 2020), where Russian and Ukrainian emigration is completely absent. Even in the case of prominent Russian and Ukrainian émigrés whose involvement with the Prague context is most evident (Jakobson, Bogatyrev, Čyževs'kyj; cf. Sériot 1999; Tchougounnikov & Trautmann-Waller 2013), they are rarely considered specifically from the point of view of the context of the Russian and Ukrainian émigré communities as such.

One can thus summarise the state of current research on Russian and Ukrainian emigration in modernist Prague as being essentially factographic and historical in nature and lacking a systematic perspective on its intellectual and cultural impact in the broader contexts of Prague modernism, Russian and Ukrainian emigration, or interwar Europe. Typically, only given collectives (the Prague Linguistic Circle, the Eurasianists) or individual figures are considered1, but never – with two notable exceptions (Toman 1995; Sériot 1999) – the complex network of their involvements with other Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Jewish or German institutions in Prague. It is precisely to the closing of this research gap that this project is devoted.