Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Increasingly Identifying as a Nation, Some Cossacks Want Their Own Republic -- or Even Country

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 7 – The Cossacks, traditionally classified as a sub-ethnos within the Russian nation, are rapidly taking on the characteristics of an ethnic group, according to a Moscow specialist (apn.ru/publications/article33741.htm), and as a result, some of them are calling for the establishment of their own republic within Russia or even an independent state.

            But other Cossacks see this as a betrayal of their tradition of service to the Russian state and as an example of that community having fallen victim to Soviet ideas which left no place for the Cossacks except in ethnic terms. Consequently, those who want a “Kozakia” either within the Russian Federation or beyond its borders face many obstacles.

            One obstacle the Cossacks obviously face is their very diversity in origins, location, and religion to name but three, as well as the radical disjunction between those who can trace their ancestry back to the pre-1917 Cossack hosts and those who have come to identify as Cossacks for one or another reason since the end of Soviet times.

            But one obstacle they may not face is an absence of attention from abroad. On the one hand, there are many people in the West intensely interested in the Cossacks some as friends and some as opponents. And on the other, the United States in its Captive Nations Week law lists Kozakia as one of the nations oppressed by the Soviet empire.

            In tsarist times, the Cossacks were considered a social stratum and not counted as a separate nation. During the Russian Civil War, however, there were several attempts to establish Cossack territorial states. And in the 1920s, the Bolsheviks began to count the Cossacks as a nation even as they sought to “de-Cossackize” them.

            With the collapse of the USSR, there was much discussion about the need to create Cossack autonomies so that they would be in a position to make claims on and receive benefits from the state much in the same way that ethnic autonomies do.  But such discussions had quieted until recently.

            Now, as Svetlana Bolotnikkova reports on the Kavkazskaya politika portal, the possibility of the establishment of Kazakia is again being discussed with some of its proponents seeing the creation of such a republic as the only way to protect themselves and to gain the resources they need (kavpolit.com/articles/kazakija_vmesto_otechestva-18077/).

            She points to the recent declaration of Grigory Kuznetsov, a neo-Cossack who is the chief ideologist of the Free Cossack Movement (prisud.com/forum/19/1646----.html). He argues that “Cossacks need a Kazakia because no one besides [them] will be concerned about the high birthrate of the indigenous people of the Cossack land and about its environment.”

            Are the Cossacks any less worthy of having a republic than any other people? He asks rhetorically; and he argues that “the highest coal of the Cossack nation must be ‘the establishment of its own civilization.’”

            Bolotnikova is skeptical and advances the usual arguments against this idea, but in doing so, she misses three important points: first, in Putin’s Russia as in the Soviet Union, nations aspire to have a territory because that is the best way to secure resources; second, a group that is not ethnically charged at one point can easily become so as conditions change; and third, the current time of troubles in Russia is a forcing ground for such changes.

            And for those reasons, the Cossack national aspirations, even if they are not achieved, may truly be the canary in the mine shaft, warning about the increasing fragmentation of a population whose unity is the centerpiece of Vladimir Putin’s ideological world.

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