Friday, February 7, 2014

George Volsky -- White Russian Refugee

Feb. 7 Towery column

George Volsky, A White Russian’s Story (693 words)

It was winter, the year 1969, when I met face to face with a White Russian. It was in a small hotel in the Tsimshatsui District of Kowloon, the mainland side of the British colony of Hong Kong. One of those hotels reached by a long narrow and steep staircase. There were many of these establishments serving as a rest stop for travelers coming and going in this unique China border and British port city.

The term ‘White Russian’ had nothing to do with race. It was a term for ethnic Russians who opposed the Bolsheviks in the 1917 Russian Revolution. Many Russians were forced to leave their homeland with the Soviet’s communist takeover of the government.

Many Russian refugees settled in China. Harbin, on the border with Mongolia and Russia, had 100,000 Russians by the 1930s. Portions of the city are still distinctly Russian with Eastern Orthodox churches and Russian language and culture still quite noticeable. Shanghai became one of the best-known artistic centers in the Far East due to the presence of exiled first-class opera singers, ballerinas and musical comedy stars from Russia.

The lot of the White Russian was never good anywhere. A White Russian woman in Shanghai wanted a passport more than any treasure. They were stateless with no country and no ability to go anywhere. So any single American or European man became easy prey.

For the White Russian males it was even more desperate. The stigma of statelessness hung around their necks like an albatross. He had little hope of marrying even a girl of his own race. Because he was a foreigner and poor, it was out of the question to marry a Chinese girl
Their plight became even more hazardous when the Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Any foreigner or person with any foreign connections was suspect as an enemy of the people. The Communist began to force the White Russians to leave. Hong Kong was the most convenient exit port.

George Volsky was the first White Russian I met. He spoke enough English for me to understand his story. Fellow-Russians had helped him from the Lowu border train station (now Shenzhen) and found him this room. Several of them were in the room as we talked.
He was born in China and had lived in Shanghai since 1934. He was a secretary for a British Reality Company before the Communist took over in 1948. After that there was no work for a foreigner.

He had a Russian passport that he received during the Japanese years in Shanghai. It was not one of the new Soviet passports, but they half-heartedly honored it. He had to report in person to the Soviet Consulate once a week.

The passport helped with the amount of rations the Communist provided from time to time. Through a black market.
In his broken, yet precise English, he said, “If you wish to know from the beginning, it was 1962. I am having a dinner at half-past eight. It is Russian New Year. Friday, January 12, I have a friend there and one Chinese lady. I’m a bachelor and natural have girl friend.”
George Voskey’s dinner friend, Mr. Kostoniony, excused himself after dinner and George walked him to the door and out to the gate of the compound. George said was “a sort of a half-lawyer or something.”

At the gate he saw a strange sight. Crowds of people were in the street. “Of course,” he continues, “I always have a feeling I will be arrested. One by one every foreigner has been arrested and my time must be coming.”

George Voskey was repatriated to Australia the year after we talked. He never said what happened to Mr. Kostoniony.
Do we really appreciate the honor and privilege we have to live where there is the fear of being arrested? America is still free or we would not be talking about NSA spying on us, and other stuff that may not be ideal, but as long as it can stay in the public press or news we need not fear the taking away of our rights.

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