Tuesday, February 27, 2018

When almost 2,000 Canadians left Montreal to live in the Soviet Union

 Soviet propaganda enraged traditional Canadian and Quebec power elites, as the Communists brazenly attacked capitalism and sacred religious beliefs in the years following World War II.
   Soviets typically described Canada as a place where citizens commit suicide and work as powerless wage slaves.
   Local clergy and professional classes were further enraged when the message hit home, as almost two thousand left Canada from the Montreal port to return to live in the Soviet Union.
   The episodes of 1947-48 form perhaps the most dramatic tale of return migration from Canada, an oft-overlooked phenomenon. Most assume that immigrants come to countries like Canada to stay forever, many actually seek to return to their homeland.
  To this day many immigrants quietly return to their home countries, but the totals remain vague.       
    However it's known that 1,869 Croatian Canadians boarded the Radnik from Montreal to return to live in what was then known as Southern Yugoslavia.
   Those departing came from all across Canada, including Montreal, where one report has 71 local Croatians on the ship that left May 20, 1947.
   Tickets for the ship were a bargain $130, those aged between 7 and 14 paid only $65 and those under seven traveled for free.
   Yugoslavian community groups teamed up with embassy officials to promote favour for the return-to-Yugoslavia movement and as a result the Radnik carried 450 returners on 13 August 1947, 320 on 28 October 1947 and 354 on 26 June 1948.
    Husbands usually made the decision on behalf of their entire families. Wives were often reluctant but had to go along.
   Not only the less-well-off were attracted to return, as interviews demonstrated that many were doing well in Canada.
    Others cited their desire to leave physically-challenging resource industry jobs in often remote areas and felt that younger workers might displace them in their jobs.
   Some felt a patriotic pang to return to their homeland, as Yugoslavia was slammed by the war, losing 10 percent of its entire population, with 1.7 million casualties. The patriotic reconstruction effort beckoned as volunteers were needed to build railways and other infrastructure.
    For a while the return initiative became a sacred cow among the Croatian-Canadian demographic, and when one Vancouver hotelier returned with less-than-glowing description of his trip back home, he was viciously denounced as a traitor.
   Le Devoir newspaper when he spoke negatively about Canada in an interview published in The Montreal Herald.
from Mracevich
Branko Vukelic, the Yugoslavian government's man-in-Montreal drew considerable ire from
    The assistant-ambassador Vukelic married Kirkland Lake's  Mary Segina and had two children with her, Slobodan and Miran.
    Vukelic was recalled to Moscow in 1948 after criticizing the Soviet Union and was sentenced to five years in prison in Moscow.
   He was then given work as a metallurgist and his wife and kids patiently waited for eight years for his return. Finally in 1956 his wife Mary simply moved to Moscow with her kids to be with her husband. The family presumably became Soviet citizens.
    The return-to-Yugoslavia movement ended suddenly when a dispute with Yugoslavian leader Tito led the Soviet to expel Yugoslavia from the  Cominform in June 1948.
    Suddenly the same Croatian council that had encouraged the return to Yugoslavia had cooled on the entire concept and now warned of "terror and arrests" under Tito.
    The Radnik would ship off again from Montreal to Yugoslavia but only 22 Canadians boarded on 12 November 1948.
   The Canadian Croatian leaders expressed regret over the plan as they felt they lost the best and brightest of the Canadian Croatians, and considered the entire initiative a monumental mistake.
    Little is known of the fate and state of mind of the 1,869 Canadians who moved to Soviet Yugoslavia but at least one Montreal newspaper recounted a young man who returned to Montreal disappointed in 1951. "We got out of hell. We lost all we had and all we want now is to live like humans.*

1 comment:

  1. Of course, plenty went over after the Revolution. Some got deported from the US after WWI, including Emma Goldman (she was born in Russia, did two years for speaking against WWI and ten deported on the grounds that she'd lost US citizenship when her former husband had. Big Bill Haywood of the IWW did time for being against the war and when out on bail fled to the USSR. I think others went to be a part of the revolution. Even those hard core were often disillusioned by what they saw.

    But in the thirties the USSR was industrializing and needed skilled workers. So people went over to work, for varying reasons got stranded there. Victor Herman and Alexander Dolgun went with their families and both landed in the Gulag, writing books when they finally got out if the USSR.

    I suspect most who went back were unhappy, they might still believe in the ideal, but Stalin was another matter.



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