Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Soviet Genocide of the Cossacks Recalled Across Russia But Not by Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 27 – Some genocides either because of the way they are carried out or because of the obvious innocence of their victims quickly gain recognition. Hitler’s killing of the Jews is the archetype and indeed for many around the world the case which defines what a genocide is.

            Other genocides, the mass murder by government officials of an ethnic community, have attracted less attention or are even denied either because those attacked are somehow assumed to have acted in ways that deserve such “punishment,” the people involved are not viewed as an ethnic group by some, or because the killing is carried out in ways different than many expect.

            And there is yet another reason why many genocides are not recognized: those in power don’t want them acknowledged lest questions be asked about predecessors on whom they base their legitimacy and against whom the current rulers are not prepared to go after the perpetrators or failing that because of the passage of time to condemn such crimes against humanity.

            One of the clearest examples of a genocide many refuse to see as such is the systematic destruction of the Cossacks by Lenin’s regime. Many accept the Hollywood version of the Cossacks, reject their status as a nation, and somehow believe that all people in that category were brutal defenders of the tsarist regime and thus “had it coming.”

            The Bolshevik genocide of the Cossacks was highly decentralized and relied on mobilizing local populations with grievances against their neighbors. Thus, it rarely looked like the institutionalized mass murder that most people have come to expect as characteristic of a “real” genocide like Hitler’s or Pol Pot’s.

            And the Putin regime isn’t interested in denouncing the Soviet moves against this opposition group as a genocide lest questions be raised about the legitimacy of the Soviet system and hence of its successor or about who is guilty of crimes against humanity, given post-Soviet crimes against the Chechens and other “peoples of Caucasian nationality.”

            (The Putin regime has an additional reason for not wanting to talk about this genocide. It is organizing its own pocket Cossacks that are intended to be little more than servants of the state and has no interest in attracting attention to the vibrant and varied life of the Cossacks it does not control and is not interested in seeing revived.)

            But the genocide of the Cossacks which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of that community must be remembered. After all, as the great Russian memoirist Nadezhda Mandelshtam said, “happy is that country where the despicable will at least be despised.”

            Sometimes despising evil is all that one can do; but not despising evil when it exists is to fail as a human being.
            This month marks the centenary of the Leninist degree falling for “de-Cossackization,” a horrific Bolshevik euphemism for the mass murder of that community.  Russian officials have mostly ignored this event: the problems of doing otherwise for the current regime are simply too great.

            But there are genuine Cossacks and good Russians who paused to remember this most neglected of genocides.  In cities and towns in the southern and eastern portions of the country where the Cossack hosts once were extremely numerous, they held services, marched, and demonstrated against this crime against humanity (nazaccent.ru/content/29101-pamyat-zhertv-raskazachivaniya-pochtili-v-regionah.html).

            Cossacks and their supporters have been holding such commemorations since the 1990s – earlier the Soviets prohibited any such actions – but it is an indication of the problem this genocide presents that there are not only disputes about whether it was a genocide but even whether only a few tens of thousands were killed or several million.

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