Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Window on Eurasia: 300,000 Muscovites Now Identify as Cossacks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 24 – Approximately 300,000 Muscovites or about one in every 40 residents of the Russian capital identifies as a Cossack either because of heritage or an acceptance of Cossack values, an enormous group at least part of which could be mobilized against those organizations Cossack leaders dislike.

            This past weekend, representatives of that community along with delegations from 11 of the Cossack hosts from across the Russian Federation met in Moscow for a Cossack festival in Izmailovsky Park where they were addressed by Leonid Makurov, chairman of the Moscow  Committee for Cossack Affairs (vestikavkaza.ru/articles/V-Moskve-naschitali-300-tysyach-kazakov.html).

            “We call the Cossacks of Moscow those citizens who identify as Cossacks,” he said. “These are either descendants of Cossacks of various Cossack hosts or people who have still not lost a connection with the Cossacks” and share “that emotional-mental code” characteristic of that community.

             A majority of the Cossacks of Moscow are members of various social and nongovernmental organizations and are “passionate personalities, people for whom the fate of the state and the fatherland are not matters of indifference,” Makurov said.  They have not forgotten how their ancestors added to Russia and defended its conquests.

            Within this community, he acknowledged, there are some whose identity is weak and who have lost their links to Cossack organizations. But he said, many of these under the impact of conditions in the Russian capital are recovering their roots, often with the help of his committee.

            Makurov said that his institution works to realize the goals laid out by the government’s Strategy for the Development of the Cossacks to the Year 2020, a document that led to a federal law governing Cossack cooperation with the state.  He pointed out that “no other category of citizens” has such a law.

            According to the Cossack official, there are three main groups of Cossacks in Moscow: those who are Cossack by spirit but who are not part of any organized group, those who are members of one of the 272 Cossack organizations, some of which are hollow but many of which are quite active, and those who are enrolled on the State Register of Cossack Societies.

            Only members of the latter have the right to sign agreements with various organs of the executive authorities or with organs of local self-administration in order to conduct patrols that help maintain social order and the like, Makurov said.

            The Moscow official did not provide statistics on the relative size of these three groups, but even if only ten percent of those he calls the Cossacks of Moscow are part of the last group – and ten percent is almost certainly too low – that is some 30,000 people on whom the authorities could draw or who could enter into clashes with other groups.

            Moreover, even if the core group is that size or not much larger, the existence of this penumbra of Cossacks in the Russian capital is a community from which more such people might be recruited to provide direct support for the government, to do things the government wants done but with deniability, or to do things even the authorities might oppose.

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