Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Century after Soviets Began Genocide of Cossacks, That Nation Still Fights for Survival

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 24 – One hundred and one years ago today, the Bolsheviks issued a secret order to all party organizations to destroy the Cossacks, men, women and children, thus beginning the first Soviet genocide against a people and not, as Moscow likes to claim, only against representatives of a military caste or strata of state servants.

            This week, Cossacks across Russia are recalling that systematic mass murder which caused more than two million deaths and led to the emigration of hundreds of thousands more (, but even as they do so, they continue to face a “hybrid” genocide intended to destroy them as a people.

Over the last several years, Vladimir Putin has combined attacks on Cossacks as a distinctive national community with support for others, often with no links too that nation, who identify with and support his regime and are prepared to do its bidding (,  and

The Kremlin leader’s attacks on real Cossacks, something he hopes to cover by his support for his “registered” ones is driven above all by his desire for homogeneity among ethnic Russians and his fear that if the Cossacks succeed in maintaining their ethnic identity, the share of Russians in the population will decline (

But behind that fear is an even larger one, Moscow’s concerns that the revival of the Cossack nation after the Soviet genocide will lead to demands for a Cossack republic and then Cossack independence, something that would call the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation into question.

On that possibility, see this author’s “Cossackia: No Longer an Impossible Dream?” Jamestown Eurasia Daily Monitor, February 21, 2019 at and both and

            Putin’s efforts to block this, like so many of his “innovations,are rooted in Stalin’s time when the Soviet dictator after pursuing the extermination of the Cossacks promoted the rise of “Soviet Cossacks,” a deracinated and largely folkloric group which in exchange for even this minimum recognition was ready to support the Soviet system.

            Stalin’s effort like Putin’s combined attacks on the history and traditions of the Cossacks with support for those who dressed up as Cossacks and were prepared to fight for the system. As such it was a clever policy that sowed confusion in the minds of many Cossacks and others about what was going on.

            But both that effort and Putin’s have had the unintended effect of causing those who descend from real Cossacks to seek to recover their past, and it is no surprise that even Stalin’s “Soviet Cossacks” contained within their ranks some who picked up on traditional Cossack interest in autonomy or even independence.

            On this anniversary of the Soviet launch of the genocide against the Cossacks, the conflict between the real Cossacks and Putin’s fake, registered ones was very much on public view, an indication that relations between the two are deteriorating and that Moscow faces a much bigger problem in this area than many may think.

            At a church service in St. Petersburg, Archpriest Vladimir who serves as the spiritual advisor to the Cossack District of the Northern capital, was very clear about what had begun in 1919 and indeed what is continuing to this day: The Bolsheviks “killed not a group of soldiers but a people” (

            But tragically, he continued, the Russian authorities continue to honor Yakov Sverdlov, the man behind the genocide, and refuse to eliminate his name from prominent places in Russia, including in St. Petersburg. And the city’s ataman, G.G. Yegorov, was even more explicit in denouncing what had happened and what continues to happen to the Cossack nation.

            “More than a hundred years ago began the measure of the Bolsheviks which was then called de-Cossackification, under which is to be understood the genocide of the Cossack people. He began already immediately after the revolution when Comrade G. Ordzhanikidze began the destruction of the Terek Cossacks.”

            “At that time, the Cossacks in the country numbered more than six million. As a result of the genocide which continued until 1924, the number of Don Cossacks was reduced to fewer than half of what it had been, and the numbers of other Cossack hosts was reduced even more,” Yegorov told the assembled Cossacks.

            “The Ural Cossacks suffered most of all – after de-Cossackification, only ten percent of them remained alive” and still in Russia.  “After a certain breathing space, this genocide was renewed with new force during collectivization and carried out by all Jesuitical means, including the Terror Famine.”

            Meanwhile, Ivan Bezugly, the ataman of the Taman section of the Kuban host and very much one of Putin’s “registered” Cossacks, launched an attack on unregistered Cossacks and especially on a pamphlet, “The Affair of the Registered Cossacks,” by Svetlana Glazina (

            Glazina’s pamphlet, the full text of which is available at, is a full-throated defense of those Cossacks who identify as a nation and an equally sharp denunciation of the “registered” kind who serve the Kremlin but only at the price of betraying their Cossack traditions.

            Bezugly says there is no such thing as “ethnic” Cossacks and there has never been such. Those who identify in that way are simply opponents of the state because the Cossacks in the past and the Cossacks now can only exist on state subsidies received in exchange for serving the state.

            That is certainly the message Putin would like the Cossacks to receive, but it is one that will anger many who aren’t part of his machine and likely add impulse to their drives to declare themselves a nation in the census, to seek autonomy or even independence, and in the meantime to oppose what Putin’s “registered” Cossacks have been doing.

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