Vienna, July 13 – Few things generated as much anger among Soviet commentators and as much merriment among the West’s anti-anti-communists then the reference in the Congressional Captive Nation Week Resolution, the 61st anniversary of which will be marked this month, than the references to the captive nation of “Cossackia.”
But now, nearly two decades after most but not all of the nations listed in that resolution have achieved their independence, there are growing indications that at least some Cossacks within the borders of the Russian Federation are again thinking about separatism or at least demanding radical autonomy.
In a commentary on the Evrazia.org site today, Andrey Kovalenko says that President Dmitry Medvedev’s policies of “political modernization” threaten to provoke separatism almost everywhere as evidenced by the fact that “even the Cossacks consider it necessary to separate themselves” from Moscow (evrazia.org/article/1397).
The Cossacks, which have long been considered and most of whom consider themselves to be members of a military caste on the outposts of empire, are divided into 13 “hosts.” And while these have revived in the post-Soviet period, their different histories, loyalties to the Russian state, and geographic dispersal have limited calls for independence or even autonomy.
A Don Cossack Republic did exist between March 23 and May 4, 1918, and after its subordination to the White Armies in South Russia, Kovalenko notes, there was “one additional Cossack state, which existed on the map from May 1918 until the beginning of 1920 when the Bolsheviks established Soviet power in the region.”
The Evrazia.org commentator says that some Cossacks whether one finds this funny or not are thinking about restoring such a Don Cossack Republic now. “In Novocherkassk,” he says, “in semi-underground conditions a constitution of the newly minted republic is being drafted, and corresponding documents are being prepared for dispatch to the United Nations.”
According to the movement’s ideologist, Aleksandr Yudin, “there exists a definite order of actions which must be taken in order to form everything by law. In the near term,” he continues, “we will define the borders of the state, prepare a legal basis, and seek [diplomatic] recognition at the United Nations.”
The current Cossack push for autonomy or even independence began in October 2008 when 360 representatives of the Cossack districts took part in an “All-National Congress of the Cossack People,” Kovalenko suggests. That meeting called for “preparing a draft Constitution of the Don Cossack Republic” and promised equality for Cossacks and non-Cossacks in it.
After that, the Evrazia.org commentator says, Cossacks filled the blogosphere with calls for the formation of “an independent Don State free from the influence of Moscow.” And some bloggers even called on Cossacks to form “armed partisan detachments to carry out the struggle for independence.”
This campaign had quieted down in recent months, Kovalenko continues, but on July 3rd of this year, 1143 Cossacks from the Don, Kuban and Terek hosts assembled in Armavir to recreate the Great Caucasus Cossack Line of South Russia and called for broad Cossack autonomy not only there but elsewhere in Russia where Cossacks live.
“We must provide an example to all the Slavs of Russia,” Yudin told the meeting, of how “to organize and become masters of our own land and our lives. We have had taken from us the possibility of living in farms and stanitsas, and we like ‘criminals’ in settlements with limited rights.”
And Nikolay Zadorozhny, the chairman of the elders’ council of the Don Republic, added in a speech to the gathering that “the land, achieved by the blood of our ancestors and left to us must be recovered and then handed over to our children so that they will be able to live on it in a worthy manner.”
In contrast to the earlier meeting, the leaders and delegates did not call for independence but rather said that the structures they seek must be “built in the framework of the existing legislation and Constitution of the Russian Federation.” But Kovalenko argued that this appears to be more a tactical than a strategic change.
Kovalenko placed the blame of “the awakening national self-consciousness of the Don Cossacks” on the policies of Medvedev and “sponsors” of separatism in the United States. And he concluded that what is happening with the Cossacks should serve as a warning to all those Russians calling for “a second perestroika.”