Friday, December 28, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russian Duma Now Has As Many Cossacks as Communists

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 28 -- Viktor Volodarskiy, the Supreme Ataman of the Union of Cossack Hosts of Russia and Abroad and a newly-elected member of the Duma, has announced that he is organizing a Cossack caucus in the Russian legislature to promote the interests of his community and the traditional values of the Russian nation.
Such a group, he told journalists this week, will have 57 members, making it equal to the representation of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), far larger than the fractions of Vladimir Zhirinovskiy’s Liberal Democrats (LDPR) and Just Russia faction and exceeded in size only by the pro-Kremlin United Russia bloc.
When he and several senior Cossacks first appeared in the Duma in full dress uniform, Volodarskiy said, many other members approached them and said “We are Cossacks: too: put us down on your list.” And so he decided to formalize that by creating a “stanitsa” in the State Duma (
As a deputy, Volodarskiy said, he will seek to amend the Russian legal code so that Cossack communities will be able to contribute to “the resolution of those problems which the state has,” changes that he said others had proposed but that the Duma had not considered in the past.
In his press conference, the Cossack leader did not specify what these changes might be, but he and other Cossacks often have called on the government to allow them to play a more active role in promoting their version of law and order against those, including ethnic and religious minorities, whose activities they say threaten the country.
Indeed, in the last week alone, Volodarskiy and other Cossacks have specifically urged that their communities be given the charge of fighting “religious sectarians,” a term that many in Russia now employ to mean almost every group that the Russian Orthodox Church does not consider a “traditional” Russian faith.
Given the reputation the Cossacks have for violence and repression and the often vicious comments of some contemporary Cossack leaders, the possibility that the Russian state might allow them to act more independently or serve as adjuncts to the country’s law enforcement officials is frightening.
But despite that, some Russian news outlets have treated Volodarskiy’s announcement as a wonderful year end story, while others, including one close to the Russian Orthodox Church and the military ( appear to have welcomed it as an important step in the right direction.
On the one hand, of course, with only 57 members out of 450, the Cossack deputies, however much attention their colorful uniforms may attract, are unlikely to be able to achieve much on their own but then neither are the other small parties. Indeed, the Cossack caucus might assume the role of court jester that Zhirinovskiy has so often played.
But on the other hand, the Cossack deputies are certain to have allies among the more than 40 senior military officers -- including Gen. Igor Puzanov of the Leningrad Military District, Lt. Gen. Khamit Kamalov of the railway forces, and Col. Gen. Vladimir Kolesnikov who now works as deputy justice minister -- who also are in the new Duma.
And both the Cossacks and the siloviki deputies are likely to enjoy the backing of the increasingly authoritarian Kremlin and its political front, United Russia, thereby guaranteeing that some if not all of the new legal arrangements Volodarskiy wants will in fact become law.
As a result, this new Cossack caucus, however small a role Volodarskiy and the others may in fact play on their own, is above all a disturbing sign of the times, one that highlights the increasing authoritarianism of the Russian government and the Kremlin’s willingness to rely on some of the least responsible members of Russian society to maintain order.

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