Staunton, May 31 – Ever since Putin’s thugs, calling themselves Cossacks, beat up and whipped anti-Kremlin demonstrators on May 5, the Russian media has been filled with stories about who and what the Cossacks are, how diverse that human group is, and whether its various parts should be encouraged or suppressed.
Today, for example, the Moscow mayor’s office announced that it wouldn’t use “Cossacks” to control crowds at the World Cup, something that will go a long way to reassuring people that they won’t be subject to the whipping that Navalny protesters were (rbc.ru/society/31/05/2018/5b0fbe489a794757b3ed8e36?from=main
A second major article on the Takiye dela portal discussed the controversies about whether the Cossacks are a social stratum, state servants or an independent ethnic group or even a nation deserving of autonomy or independence (takiedela.ru/2018/05/volnyy-narod/
Sergey Firsov, a Cossack leader of a community near Naberezhnye Chelny, says that his group welcomes Muslims and Buddhists because both groups have played fundamental roles in Cossack life in the past and no one religion has the right to claim that it has a monopoly on truth (idelreal.org/a/29260103.html).
Firsov is absolutely correct: Many Cossacks before 1917 were Muslims (in the North Caucasus and Middle Vogla) or Buddhists (in Kalmykia or the Transbaikal), and those who seek to revive Cossack traditions are aware of this and promote it. The author of these lines owns a pamphlet from the 1990s entitled How to Raise Your Transbaikal Cossack as a Buddhist.
The pro-Putin neo-Cossacks, on the other hand, view themselves as foot soldiers in a battle to promote Russian Orthodox fundamentalism and a narrowly defined Russian nationalism – on this phenomenon, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/05/putin-already-deploying-his-cossacks-in.html.
Indeed, while allowing for some exceptions on both sides of this line, the attitudes of Cossacks toward other religions may be the best test available as to whether those calling themselves Cossacks are the real thing or only people dressed up at Russian state expense to beat the Kremlin’s enemies.