Staunton, December 17 – Cossacks have launched a petition drive to be listed as a nation in the 2020 all-Russian census. That is a longtime dream of Cossack nationalists, but this current effort is actively opposed by Moscow and so far it has garnered relatively little support (nazaccent.ru/content/31769-kazakov-predlozhili-vnesti-v-perechen-nacionalnostej.html).
The Russian government and most Russian scholars oppose allowing the Cossacks to be listed as a separate nation for at least three reasons. First, they extrapolate what was true of some Cossacks to all of them. Yes, some of the Cossacks were a military caste created by the Russian state but far from all of them were.
Second, there is concern that if Moscow allowed Cossacks to identify as a nation, that would inevitably reduce the size of the ethnic Russian nation and its proportion in the population relative to non-Russians. The Russian share of the population is already declining and the appearance of a Cossack option would push it down further.
And third, many in the Russian capital fear that allowing the Cossacks to officially identify as members of a nation would open the way for some of them to demand the restoration of Cossack lands and even the creation of a Cossack republic, developments that could threaten Moscow’s control especially in the North Caucasus.
Under the terms of the petition drive, the Cossacks must garner about 99,600 signatures for their appeal to be taken up by the government, something that in itself would not guarantee a positive outcome but that would represent a major victory for Cossack activists (roi.ru/56580/). After a few days and with little publicity, the petition has been signed by only 354 people.
Despite this slow start and Russian government opposition, mostly expressed in this case by not providing any media coverage of the appeal, the numbers are certain to grow in the coming days and weeks. Whether it can approach the nearly 100,000 signatures needed to clear the next hurdle, however, seems unlikely at least anytime soon.
For background on Cossack aspirations and where the movement is now, see this author’s “Cossackia: No Longer an Impossible Dream?” Jamestown Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 21, 2019 at jamestown.org/program/cossackia-no-longer-an-impossible-dream/ and the sources cited therein.
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