Émigré is a French term that literally refers to a person who has "migrated out," but often carries a connotation of politico-social self-exile.

Historically, the word originally was applied to the French Protestants (Huguenots) who were forced to leave France following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

However, the present political connotations of the term were defined by two later instances, where it referred to:

  1. A French refugee, often aristocratic, who fled the French Revolution of 1789 and its aftermath,
  2. A White Russian émigré, who fled the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath.

Whereas emigrants have likely chosen to leave one place and become immigrants in a different clime, not usually expecting to return, émigrés see exile as a temporary expedient forced on them by political circumstances. Émigré circles often arouse suspicion as breeding-grounds for plots and counter-revolution.

Some of the aristocrats who left France during the revolution settled in bordering countries, which they sought to use as a base for counterrevolution. After the Storming of the Bastille, King Louis XVI of France directed several of the most conservative members of his court to leave the country for fear that they might be assassinated. Among this first group of émigrés were the king’s youngest brother, the Comte d'Artois, and Queen Marie Antoinette's best friend, the Duchesse de Polignac. Later, in coordination with the king's failed attempt to escape Paris, the king's other brother, the Comte de Provence, also emigrated.

Marx and Engels, in setting out the strategy for future revolutions in The Communist Manifesto, included the provision that the property of émigrés should be confiscated and used to finance the revolution — a recommendation followed by the Bolsheviks seventy years later.

The October Revolution brought over 20,000 Russian emigrants to Finland. Many of these however moved on to France, Paris being the favorite destination for Russian émigrés.

Unlike émigré, the term exile remains politically neutral and includes people from whatever side of the political spectrum who had to leave their homeland, often for political reasons, and who wish to return.

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