Sunday, November 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Cossacks in Russia Can Now Register as Separate Nationality

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 10 – Most Cossacks and most Russians view the Cossacks as a social stratum within the Russian nation, and most Russian officials have been reluctant to allow the Cossacks to gain recognition as a distinct people and register as members of it lest in doing so they cut into the numbers of the ethnic Russian majority.

            Estimates of the number of Cossacks in the Russian Federation vary widely, and the number who would like to identify as Cossack by nationality is unknown. But if even a million of them did so – and that is probably a low figure – the percentage of ethnic Russians in the country would be pushed down by almost a full percentage point.

            Officials in some parts of Russia have allowed a few Cossacks to declare themselves Cossack by nationality, but most including those in Rostov had refused to do so. But now, on the basis of a change in the view of the Institute of Ethnology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, all will allow Cossacks to identify as members of a separate nationality.

            This change was reported in “Yuzhny Federalny,” the newspaper of the Southern Federal District.  It note that the Institute’s director, Academician Valery Tishkov had “more than once” in the past rejected Cossack calls to be recognized as a separate people but now appears to have changed his mind (

                The Cossacks have been pressing Rostov officials on this point for more than a year because while “in many regions of Russia registration of children as members of [Cossack] nationality is completely normal and doesn’t elicit a reaction,” in the Don, officials have always opposed the practice, the paper says.

            But now it appears that they will go along as well. The Academy of Sciences has spoken, and officials in registration offices have been instructed to allow Cossack parents to register their children as Cossacks by nationality, yet another victory for the Cossacks and an indication of their growing influence, at least in the southern regions of the country.

            And encouraged by this decision, at least some Cossacks are likely to step up their demands for the restoration of traditional Cossack lands and even for the creation of a specifically Cossack republic, steps that almost certainly trigger new conflicts among the Cossacks, the Russians and the non-Russians.

            This is far from the end of the story. Debates over whether the Cossacks are part of the Russian nation or a self-standing nation of their own are certain to continue both among ethnic Russians and in the 13 Cossack hosts. And history suggests that some officials, mindful of how sensitive Moscow is to any decline in the number of ethnic Russians, may ignore this directive.

            Perhaps the most important consequence of this change in Moscow’s position, however, will be among other groups, many of whose members view themselves as part of separate nationalities and not just sub-ethnoses of the Russian nation. Among these are the Pomors, the Ingermanlanders, and the Siberians, and they may increase their demands for recognition as well.


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