Vladimir Putin in a message to the group made it clear that he not only supports this development but along with t eh Russian Orthodox Church played a key role in it. “Today,” he said, thanks to Cossack volunteers and “the support of the organs of power and of the Russian Orthodox Church, Cossackry is not only being reborn but is becoming a more significant and constructive force” (tass.ru/obschestvo/5839261).
According to the Kremlin leader, “the creation of the All-Russian Cossack Society will make possible the development of the Cossacks and its unification around the centuries-old traditions of devoted service to the Fatherland and also to the preservation of unique cultural and historical heritage.”
The vote to create this new body was unanimous, Oblastnaya gazeta reports (oblgazeta.ru/news/43989/), yet another indication of how much the Kremlin is behind this latest move. But even more significant, the constituent meeting said it would register with the state and then Putin would appoint its “ataman for a six-year term.”
That is an obvious violation of the democratic traditions, admittedly sometimes violated, of the Cossacks, and the formation of a single Cossack organization under the control of the state ignores three important aspects of that community which all too many Russians and others choose to ignore.
First, the Cossack community is extremely diverse, with different histories, different religions, and different nationalities. It is not all ethnic Russian and Russian Orthodox as much as Hollywood and Putin invariably try to suggest otherwise. And many Cossacks today will be offended by efforts to portray it otherwise and as a single whole.
Second, while many Cossacks engaged in state service historically, the relations of most of them with the Russian state have been fraught, not only in that some of the 13 hosts that existed at the end of tsarist times consisted of people who fled the state but also in the ugly genocide of the Cossacks under the Soviets.
And third, the “registered” Cossacks that were represented in Moscow today are only a small part of all Cossacks. Most Cossack groups are independent and refuse in principle to register, many are in opposition to the government, and many are unprepared to serve as Putin’s shock troops against the population.
With this Moscow meeting, the Kremlin may achieve what it does want, a single power vertical within a portion of the Cossacks prepared to do its bidding and that it can present as what it isn’t, the Cossack world as a whole. And that in turn likely means that Putin and company will now use the existence of this new “body” to go after those genuine Cossacks who don’t go along.
But even that will do little to stifle demands by most Cossacks for recognition as a distinct nation, for the restoration of their lands, and for support popular and political not as a police force of the empire but as an ancient and proud people.