Monday, October 26, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Cossacks Increasingly See Themselves as Moscow’s Victims, Not Its Agents

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 26 – Most non-Russians and many Russians as well think of the Cossacks as little more than a paramilitary force of the Russian state, but many Cossacks have defined themselves as a separate nation and argue that Moscow has oppressed them in many ways just as harshly as it has other ethnic communities.
Because the Russian government has co-opted most of the leadership of Russia’s 13 Cossack hosts – in much the same way that it has the leaderships of that country’s non-Russian nationalities – and because the Cossacks share many elements of Russian nationality, including attachment to the Orthodox Church, such attitudes are typically ignored by the media.
But articles in the Russian blogosphere suggest both that an increasing number of Cossacks view themselves as victims and are prepared to act as an independent force and that the Russian government is increasingly concerned about that possibility, something that could undermine Moscow’s control of the North Caucasus and other parts of the Russian periphery.
One such article, posted online over the weekend, provides some indication of just how far these interrelated trends have gone. Written by a Cossack named A. Temerev and entitled “In Occupation,” the article argues that Soviet oppression of the Cossacks is continuing under the post-Soviet government (
At the dawn of the Soviet period, Temerev notes, the communist authorities pursued the physical liquidation of the leaders of the Cossack hosts, many of which fought on the side of the anti-Bolshevik White Russian movement, and of ordinary Cossacks, whose fiercely independent stance put them at odds with Moscow.
These actions, he continues, were in fact “instruments of genocide” intended to eliminate the Cossacks as a people. Now, in post-Soviet Russia, acts of physical violence are no longer needed to achieve that goal: media “brain washing” is sufficient “to cut people off from their native cultural milieu” and make them part of “the culture and traditions of the conquerors.”
Among the mechanisms “the occupiers” use is the church. Most Cossacks are Orthodox, Temerev notes, but “among the clergy, there are very few Cossacks, and those who are typically are entirely assimilated – or more simply russified – and do not represent any danger” for the Russian government.
The Cossacks need their own Orthodox church in order to block Moscow’s policy of “cultural genocide,” Temerev says. He notes that in July 2009, Greeks in the Don were able to lay the foundation for their own Orthodox church without any particular problem and thus are more likely to survive as a community.
There is another factor limiting the actions of the Russian powers that be against its own people, a factor that Moscow pays a great deal of attention to even if those who are responsible for making it important often do not. It is this: Moscow wants to portray itself as a democracy and thus is “limited in the means of suppressing the Cossack national movement.”
And that limitation entails another: “it is impossible [for Moscow] to conduct ‘anti-Cossack’ propaganda without explaining the essence of ‘Cossackness.’ And if the powers that be begin to explain this, it will become obvious for many Cossacks male and female the value of possibility of independent national development.”
Many Cossacks, Temerev argues, “Will want to recover the independence that was taken from them and get involved in the struggle for the restoration of the Cossack state.” And as a result, almost anything Moscow does do regarding the Cossacks will have just the opposite effect the powers that be hope for.
And that is something the latter are beginning to understand. “In Moscow, they know very well that many supporters of the rebirth of a Cossack state link their hopes to the weakening and collapse of the Russian Federation,” and as a result, these Russian officials are trying to prevent any discussion of Cossack issues at all.
But that lack of any discussion in the central media does not mean that the processes of the restoration of Cossack identity are not proceeding quickly. And Moscow’s failure to address that reality, Temerev says, means that many Cossacks, including clearly himself, are hoping to “receive from other hands” what the government of the Russian Federation will not yield.

No comments: