Prof Wim Coudenys teaches Russian and European history and culture at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven). He specializes in the relationship between Russia and the West and in Russian historiography. Dr Coudenys has extensively published on the reception of Russian literature (Poesjkin in Vlaanderen, 1999), Russian emigration history (Onedelachtbaren!, 1999, and Leven voor de tsar, 2004, R. edition forthcoming) and the relationship between fact and fiction in the representation of Russia in the interwar period. Recently he has turned to Russian historiography (Het geheugen van Rusland, 2014) and the 18th century, notably the role of translation in the emergence of Russian historiography. He is currently working on a book about the history of Belgian-Russian military relations during the First World War.
Eurocentrism and the outcomes of two World Wars have buried the Eastern Theatre of the Great War in oblivion. However, even during that war, the understanding of what was going on at the other side of Europe was at best fragmentary, notwithstanding strategic coordination and the exchange of intelligence. At the centre of the stage were the military attachés, who effectively took over the role hitherto played by diplomats. This was also the case in Belgium, where Cpt. A.K. Prezhbiano (1885-1963) set the agenda. He convinced both the Belgians and British to send armoured car divisions to the Russian front and participated in the negotiations over sending Russian troops to France in exchange for armaments. In late 1917, Belgian soldiers sympathizing with the Russian revolution called upon his help, while the Bolsheviks wanted him to convince the Allies to join the ongoing peace negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk. After the armistice, Prezhbiano was in charge of the repatriation of Russian POWs, whom he tried to enrol for the White Armies. When his plans were exposed, Prezhbiano was forced to resign from his functions and became an émigré. In my paper, I want present Prezhbiano as a ‘hub’ that connected the Western and Eastern fronts and as the keystone in Belgian-Russian military relations during the First World War.