Staunton, January 27 – More than 600 Cossacks assembled in Rostov-na-Donu yesterday to mark the 94th anniversary of the suppression of their community by the Bolsheviks and to press their case for recognition as a separate nationality, a campaign that has divided both Cossacks and Russian officials.
According to the Rostov news agency, 600 Cossacks came to the meeting, but many more were prevented from doing so because of heavy snow. Approximately 150 police and OMON troops were there to prevent disorders, but the organizers had taken steps to prevent problems (161.ru/text/newsline/2013/01/26/#r614487 and 161.ru/text/newsline/614493.html).
In their call for the meeting a week ago, organizers pointed out that they had received permission for the assembly, although they did complain that Rostov’s Sobino Park were they were allowed to meet was “not the best possible variant, but all the same, we have what we have” (dikoepole.com/2013/01/17/miting/).
Those attending were directed to “not use any other slogans besides: COSSACK PEOPLE! RECOGNIZE US AS A PEOPLE! WE DEMANDTHEFULFILLMENT OFHTE LAW ON THE REHABILITATION OF REPRESSED PEOPLES!” In no case, organizers said, they were to call for a “Cossackia for the Cossacks” or “Russia for the Russians.”
At the event, organizers collected additional signatures on their appeal to President Vladimir Putin to recognize the Cossacks as a nationality rather than simply as a social stratum and thereby ensure that their community would be fully rehabilitated and receive those benefits available to ethnic groups (www.bigcaucasus.com/events/actual/24-01-2013/82200-cozaky-0/).
According to the letter, the government is continuing the Soviet policy of “de-
Cossackization” since the Justice Ministry has refused to allow the Cossacks to set up their own national cultural autonomy. One Cossack recently lost a case on that point and is now appealing to the European Human Rights Court.
The organizers offered as another piece of evidence in this regard official falsification of the 2002 and 2010 Russian censuses. In the first, Moscow reported that 142,000 people had identified themselves as Cossacks, while in the second, officials said that number had declined to only 67,000.
As most Cossacks and all experts acknowledge, Cossackry is an extremely complicated and diverse phenomenon with some who identify as Cossacks having many characteristics of an independent ethnic groups and others as a social “stratum” or “subgroup” within the Russian nation.
According to Viktor Chernous, a specialist at the Southern Federal University, “the overwhelming majority of Cossacks consider themselves to be ethnic Russians, although they resent being called a “sub-ethnos” (www.kavkazoved.info/news/2012/10/14/kavkazskaja-civilizacija-subekt-civilizacionno-kulturnogo-vzaimodejstvia.html).
The scholar acknowledges that there are groups “which seek to construe the Cossacks as a people” and that “there are even extreme variants which do not see the Cossacks as related to the Russians or even to the Slavs. That is their right,” although history and sociology do not support such views.
This “effort to separate the Cossacks from the Russians reflects the fact that the Russian people is in a crisis, and many want to distance themselves from it at least for a time.” But there is some selfishness behind this including demands for the return of land or the establishment of Cossack republic, and as a result, “certain Russian nationalists curse the ethno-Cossacks.”
Another expert on the Cossacks, Andrey Venkov, who heads the Cossack laboratory of Unified Department of Regional History and Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences Southern Scientific Center in Rostov, provides additional perspective (kavpolit.com/kazaki-priznayut-sebya-narodom-poetomu-oni-i-est-narod/).
According to him, “the Cossacks are recognized as a people, but a large part of the descendents of the Cossacks does not consider themselves to to be a nation.” They weren’t included in the 1993 Constitution list only because that was composed “on the run” rather than after careful consideration.
But in the years since, Venkov says, the Cossacks have done rather well. There is a Presidential Council for Cossack Affairs. They have restored their varius voiskas,and in some places, the ataman “in terms of status is a deputy governor.” That should matter because Russia doesn’t have any “deputy governors for Armenians or for Roma.”
Moreover, “by scientific standards if we accept the views of the classic of ethnography [Yulian] Bromley, then he says that “yes, whoever considers himself a separate people then is a separate people.”
Unfortunately, Venkov says, the Cossacks today are in a difficult situation, with a rapidly aging population and declining integration in the broader economy, something the Cossacks are not addressing. And that is leading to “a syptom of concern: ritualization,” when Cossacks feel they have nothing better to do than to think up the latest banners, shields and hymns.”