NEW COSSACKS IN THE SOUTH OF RUSSIA: IDEOLOGY, VALUES, AND POLICIES

Sergey MARKEDONOV


Sergey Markedonov, Ph.D. (Hist.), head, Department of Ethnic Relations Problems, Institute of Political and Military Analysis (Moscow, Russian Federation)


It was ten years ago that the “revival” Cossack movement started in Russia. From the very beginning it attracted considerable numbers from all over the country—from Anadyr in Chukotsk Peninsula to Kaliningrad in the Baltics. So far the phenomenon of Cossacks has not yet been studied in post-Soviet times while the subject itself has been appropriated by publicist writers many of whom know next to nothing about it and are basically ignorant of the “revival” specifics. In fact, the New Cossack leaders have supplied ample material for newspaper and glossy magazine publications. Studded with “sensations” about Cossack mercenaries fighting in “hot spots” in the Near and Far Abroad and being involved in criminal conflicts, such publications were basically useless as information source. Obviously, the phenomenon of Cossack revival cannot be reduced to the chronicle of crime and military feats of soldiers of fortune.

I would like here to move away from the Cossack-related chronology typical of Cossack-related publications; I would like to avoid the descriptive method as well that ill suits a historical study of the New Cossacks phenomenon. The “revival” process cannot be reduced to sensation mongering or to mere descriptions of what Cossacks do or of their involvement in ethnic conflicts and disagreements with migrants. The subject should be approached as a problem with a chronology of its own to identify the major landmarks of the revival process and concentrate on the key problems of the New Cossack ideology, such as its major principles and contradictions, the movement’s political aims and the highly varied approaches to the Cossack “renaissance.” Here are my research priorities: the causes and sources of the Cossack renaissance; its key concepts and political parlance wielded by the New Cossacks in the South of Russia; the degree of correspondence between their aims and tasks and Russia’s socioeconomic and political realities; main stages of the renaissance process, evolution of ideology and political principles.

In fact, I am out to answer the question: Do the New Cossacks have a chance of survival in the present political context?

The Don and Kuban Areas and Stavropol Territory: Political Stability and Security

An analysis of ethnopolitical processes in the area (the Cossack revival in the first place) is not merely an academic issue prompted by the desire to fill in “white spots” in the history of southern Russia. The territory of three “Russian regions” in the south—the area of Cossack “revival”—is the socioeconomic and geopolitical key to Russia’s policies in the Greater Caucasus. The territories and regions of Russia’s Northern Caucasus cover 68.5 percent of its total area with a population of 12 million (68.35 percent of the total North Caucasian population and 8.25 percent of Russia’s population). The Krasnodar Territory comes third after Moscow and the Moscow Region where its population strength is concerned; the Rostov Region is the sixth among 89 federal subjects of Russia. The country’s food security depends, to a great extent, on the Russian North Caucasian regions. The entire Black Sea coastline that belongs to Russia is found within the Krasnodar Territory together with the ports of Novorossiisk and Tuapse, the first and third in Russia where the volume of freight turnover is concerned. Novorossiisk is the last stage of the export pipelines bringing oil and gas from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The bulk of the military groups and units, administrative structures and the infrastructure of the North Caucasian military okrug engaged in fighting are also found in two territories and the region. In the first half of the 1990s the borders of the Stavropol and Krasnodar territories were regarded as the last frontier beyond which the Russian army could not retreat if the situation in the North Caucasian republics turned to the worst.1

The Don and Kuban areas and the Stavropol Territory attract migrants from Central Asian and Caucasian “hot spots.” The local traditions of prolonged and constant cooperation between the local Russians and other ethnic groups bred ethnic tolerance. Today, the danger of the changed ethnodemographic situation in the “Russian areas” of the Caucasus, the fact that ethnically alien migrants are moving to potentially conflicting (at least, highly competitive) social niches (markets, certain businesses, and crime) added suspicions, hostility, and even aggressiveness to the initially positive (at least neutral) attitude to the newcomers. In 1996-1999 the positive migration balance in the Krasnodar Territory was 2.1 times higher than the average for the country.2 The eastern districts of the Rostov Region (Dubovskoe, Zavetnoe, Zimovniki, Orlovskiy, and Remontnoe) are the main zone of attraction: today, the share of Chechens in the Zavetnoe District is 9.2 percent (1,734 people); in the Dubovskoe District, 5 percent (1,271); in the Remontnoe District, 5 percent (1,155); in the Zimovniki District, 3.1 percent (1,213), in the Orlovskiy District, 1.7 percent. According to regional structures, the Interior Administration, the Administration for Extraordinary Situations, the Red Cross Department, and the social services, between August 1999 and December 2001 over 1.7 thou arrived in the Don area. Migration from Chechnia and, to a lesser extent, from other North Caucasian republics considerably changed the ratio between the local population and the newcomers: it comprises 12.1 percent in the Dubovskoe District; 11 percent in the Zavetnoe District, and 10.3 percent in the Zimovniki District.3 According to V. Chebotarev, who heads the department for cooperation with the Cossacks of the Stavropol Territory government, 1/3 of the territory’s total population is registered and unregistered migrants. This is unofficial estimation; in 50 villages the number of migrants is twice as large as the number of the local people.4

Russians and Russian speakers (mainly Cossacks) have to move away from the North Caucasian republics (the Terek Cossacks were leaving Chechnia and Ingushetia en masse; in Adigey the Russians were discriminated against), which also raises xenophobia and migrant-phobia. This breeds the theses about the “brotherhood of Cossacks” and the “Cossack response to the migrants” for the persecutions of Russians and Russian speakers in the republics. The resultant conflicts between the local people and newcomers often echo the “Chechen issue” in the Rostov Region. On the other hand, the migrants bring their own tongue to the new places, their ideas about law, social relations, and traditional occupations that the local people find hard to understand and accept. In the absence of clear state policies designed to integrate the migrants into new conditions their communities become isolated, they are xenophobic and prefer to keep aside.

This shows that Russia’s successful policy in the Greater Caucasus, its stability and security depend, to a great extent, on how effectively ethnic and religious conflicts are prevented in the “Russian regions” of southern Russia.

New Cossacks and Extremism: Are They Synonyms?

The Cossack “revival” movement, extremism and ethnic conflicts seem to be blended by Russia’s recent history: without exaggeration, conflicts and confrontations have become the New Cossacks’ political know-how. Between 1989 and 2003 aims and tasks of the “revivalists” changed (from anti-Zionism struggle as an absolute priority to the struggle against migrants and Turkic-Caucasian “aliens”) together with the ideology and relations with the state. Political methods were the only thing that remained the same. They gather rallies and organize picketing to demand that the ethnic situation in the city, district, region or territory should be radically changed, these actions being supported by petitions and articles in the New Cossack press.

Late in the 1991 the Union of Cossacks of Great Don Army Region initiated a restoration of the Don Republic in the R.S.F.S.R. In February 1992 Don Ataman Sergey Meshcheriakov called on the Cossacks who regarded themselves as such to register at their places of residence. He concluded: “Those who fail to do this will not be included in the Region and will not be protected by the Cossack organizations.” In 1992 Cossack organizations took an active part in a conflict between the local people of the Zimovniki District and Chechen shepherds. In January-March 1993 a similar conflict took place in the Zavetnoe District; in June 1993 Cossacks and Armenians were involved in a conflict in the Konstantinovsk District; in August Cossacks and Kurds clashed in the Azov District. In 1994 the leaders of the New Cossack organizations of the Azov District demanded deportation of the Kurds. The region’s eastern part with the largest share of ethnically alien migrants from North Caucasian republics is most conflict-prone. It is there that the Cossack atamans regularly demand “a final solution to the migrant question.”5 In 2000-2001 a wave of ethnic conflicts that involved New Cossack organizations and Chechens hit the Martynovka, Orlovskiy, and Peschanokopskoe districts.

In 1997-2001 the number of ethnic conflicts in the Krasnodar Territory increased. The conflicts in Anapa, Slaviansk-on-Kuban, and the Abinsk, Dinskaia, and Kanevskaia districts involved New Cossack organizations, on the one side, and communities of Meskhetian Turks, Armenians, and Kurds, on the other. In 1997 Kh. Deniev, leader of the Vainakh Cultural Center in the Stavropol Territory, published a list of “violations of Chechens’ human rights” in the territory. In eight episodes out of 52 activists of the Cossack movement were unquestionably involved. According to the Administration for the Interior Affairs, in 1992-1995 12 households of Meskhetian Turks were blasted; the figure cited by the territorial public prosecutor’s office is 21. According to the 1998 sociological poll among the members of the Cossack movement in the Don and Kuban areas, 38.2 percent of the Kuban Cossacks and 41.5 percent of the Don Cossacks are negatively disposed toward the migrants; 86.3 and 82 percent, respectively, were sure that migration had negatively affected ethnic relations in the South of Russia.6

It is wrong to explain extremism of the New Cossacks by xenophobia (migrant-phobia). One of the earliest sociological studies of the “reviving” Cossack movement (1992, the Monitoring Service of I.A. Iakovenko) registered Cossack-centrism among the Cossacks: 3.7 percent of the polled supported the idea of an independent State of the Don Cossacks while 36.1 percent favored a Republic of Don Cossacks within the Russian Federation. The Republic of Cossacks formula suggested that the Cossacks would have come first as compared with the non-Cossacks, including the Slavic non-Cossack population.7 These sentiments (a sort of the Cossack mania) did not disappear together with the “march of the sovereignties era.” In 1994 Don Ataman Nikolai Kozitsyn and Jokhar Dudaev signed a Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between the Great Don Army and the Republic of Chechnia-Ichkeria, Arts 18-19 of which envisaged mutual obligations in the field of defense and security. Art 18 said: “The Sides pledge not to allow direct or indirect aggressive actions against the other Side; in case of threat to one of the Sides they pledge to extend help and support.” Art 19 said: “The Sides pledge not to allow armed forces, weapons, ammunition and materiel designed to be used against one of the Sides to move from or across its territory.”8 The New Cossack leaders disagreed with the treaty. An official statement signed by Terek Ataman Alexander Starodubtsev said: “We, the Terek Cossacks, express our profound indignation about the treaty between President of Chechnia Dudaev and Ataman Kozitsyn; it is a treacherous attack at the entire Cossack movement of Russia, and the Terek Army, in particular. We, Terek Cossacks, demand a just trial by the Cossack court of honor of the traitor to the Cossack cause.”9 Still, even this dubious treaty with separatist Chechnia failed to quench the “Cossack mania.” In November 1995 at the round table The Cossack Trump Card organized under the aegis of the Stavropol’skie gubernskie vedomosti newspaper G. Pinchuk, executive director of the Ermolov committee of the Stavropol Cossack Army, said: “We, Cossacks, are not going to defend themselves as Russian Cossacks. We do exist whether you like it or not. I think that the Cossacks should not yield to the pressure and become an instrument of Moscow politics. A mountain dweller is closer to me than a Muscovite; today the Center is hostile to us all, living in the South of Russia. I can even imagine a situation in which we act together with the mountain peoples against Moscow politics.”10 Chechen separatists and ethnocratic movements of the North Caucasian republics supported these sentiments either openly or secretly. Jokhar Dudaev and Shamil Bassaev held forth about the free and freedom-loving Cossacks as opposed to the Russian slaves. Murad Adjiev, the author of quasi-historical works, wrote about the Cossacks as an equal people in the family of Turkic peoples.11 A history textbook used in the secondary schools of Karachaevo-Cherkessia has a section on Cossacks but no section about Russians.

The First All-Russia Population Census caused another bout of political “Cossack mania.” In July 2002 V. Vodolatskiy, Ataman of the Great Don Army and Vice Governor of the Rostov Region, supported the Cossacks’ demands to be allowed to register as a nationality with the following arguments: “The Cossacks are one of the East Slavic peoples with the physical and spiritual makeup of their own: they all keep together, they are brave, and always ready to come to the rescue of their comrades. We have no doubts that Cossacks belong to a special nationality.”12 Point 1 of the Declaration of the Congress of the Don Cossacks of the Great Don Army held on 5 September, 2002 in Novocherkassk described the Cossacks “as a specific people in the family of the peoples of the world” that in the 20th century “suffered from genocide and repressions” organized by the Russian State.13 Vodolatskiy concluded: “If the poll reveals that there is a compactly living numerically strong Cossack nationality on the territory of the Great Don Army, we shall be able to claim considerable sums from the budget.” Obviously, by 2002 the Cossack leaders have learned to exploit the “Cossack mania” for purely practical ends.

It would be naïve to believe that an official rejection to register Cossacks as a nationality will force them to abandon the ideology and policy of Cossack particularism. This means that the “Cossack challenge” to Caucasian stability and security will include two elements: migrant phobia and Cossack mania.

The “Russian regions” of the South of Russia are the key to the country’s security and stability in the Greater Caucasus. An increased migrant pressure on the Don and Kuban areas and the Stavropol Territory and a lack of a clear and adequate state migration policy coincided, at the turn of the 21st century, with the “revivalist” movement among the Cossacks and the quest for an identity and a political niche carried out by the New Cossack leaders. In this way, in the last 12 years the migration flow, on the one hand, and the local peoples’ desire to defend “the land of their forefathers,” on the other, bred ethnic conflicts and xenophobia. The majority of the local Cossacks disagree with the federal Center’s policy and are convinced that it is not doing enough to resolve the region’s problems—the Cossack mania ideology is rooted in this conviction. If the present demographic and sociopolitical trends continue, the danger of escalated ethnic enmity along the Don and Kuban rivers and in the Stavropol Territory as well as of a conflict between the federal and regional interests will be preserved in the nearest future. This will undoubtedly weaken Russia’s geopolitical and economic positions in the Greater Caucasus.

The pressure of migration and ethnodemographic changes are not limited to the “Russian regions” of the Caucasus no matter how acute is the problem in the Don and Kuban areas and the Stavropol Territory. One cannot say that the federal-regional conflict of interests is limited to southern Russia. How can we explain immanent extremism typical of the “revival movement,” the Cossacks’ readiness to fight “aliens” and Russians, in short “to wage a war against all”? Where is the New Cossack leaders’ ideological hodgepodge rooted? The answers can be provided by an analysis of the “internal” processes of the “revival” movement.

Revival: Settling Scores with History

The movement itself is a product of political liberalization of the 1980s-1990s. Under Soviet power the party and state elite at all levels regarded the Cossacks “as a museum exhibit” and developed “the Cossack culture in the form of folklore ensembles and museum expositions.”14 In 1980 the Communist Party leaders of the Krasnodar Territory and Rostov Region banned a conference “The Cossacks in the October Revolution and the Civil War” (the subject of which was in full conformity with the Marxist-Leninist canons); it took place on 12-13 November, 1980 in Cherkessk. The most important result of political liberalization of the turn of the 1990s was a huge amount of sociopolitical organizations of all sorts the leaders of which supported nearly all ideological trends—from liberalism and social democracy to the “Russian idea” and ethnic minorities’ nationalism. Contrary to the expectations of the founding fathers of new Russia (who expected social modernization and the first shoots of civil society), the country plunged into traditionalism and political archaism. The “bright past” replaced the “bright future” conception. This leap into the past produced numerous organizations based on mainly medieval political, legal, and social conceptions, such as an estate, corporate feelings, hierarchy, and tradition. Societies of the nobility, merchant guilds, and industrial unions smacking of medieval corporations were mushrooming everywhere. Clan (teip) mechanisms gained prominence over the laws in ethnically homogeneous republics.

The “Cossack revival” movement is one of the outstanding examples of political archaism in Russia. It has already passed through three stages: perestroika (1989-1991); the period of quests that can be described as a stage of transition (1992-1996), and a stage of paramilitary service when the Cossack armies were registered by the state.

In the late 1980s the leaders and activists described their aim as “Cossack revival,” return to the historical past from which a new Cossack socium could start its resurrection. According to the “Cossack renaissance” ideas, the turn back could have added legitimacy to the movement’s political claims. The renaissance idea figures prominently in all major documents, legal acts and publicist writings authored by the New Cossack atamans. From the very beginning the Cossack ideologists looked into the past: they use the banners of the Great Don Army and of the Kuban Army of the Civil War period, the Cossack hymns and other symbols up to and including territorial claims against the neighbors allegedly living on the “primordial Cossack lands.” Here is what active New Cossack V. Bondarev has to say about the Turks and the “Turkish question”: “In fact, it was thanks to the Turks that we started thinking about ourselves as a great power; it was thanks to them that our patriotism was formed as well as our ideas about our military prowess.”15 In other words, the conflicts between the New Cossacks and the Meskhetian Turks perfectly fit a much wider context of military confrontation between the Turks and the Cossacks.

The movement’s main aim predetermined its retrospective nature: the New Cossacks have started an active and a so far unfinished quest for the “golden age.” The highly limited nature of this effort doomed the Cossacks to constant vacillations from one extreme to another: their chances to take part in the modernization process and to remain in the actual political context are slim.

The “revivalists” have always been interested (and remain interested) in the “forefathers’ spiritual heritage”—this is an aim in itself that shackles the movement. None of them has ever tried to answer the question: Why should any particular tradition be revived? Which of the requirements of the state and society does this revival meet?

The preamble to the draft Law on the Russian Cossacks says that it is designed to regulate “the public relations emerging as a result of Cossack revival in the Russian Federation, of the traditional Cossack self-administration, forms of land ownership and land use.”16 This is a great formula that does not, however, answer the question: Why is the Cossack community revived? What are its aims? Is it expected to bring economic prosperity, guarantee personal and social safety and improve ethnic relations? Alas, the preamble says nothing about the state and social aims that the revived Cossack community is expected to address. The lawgivers once more are doing their best to cut realities according to the 1913 patterns rather than to adjust traditions to the present-day realities. Indeed, can the law concentrate on giving the Russian Cossacks “rights and duties” because they will be engaged “in state and other service”? If this is the main aim, why should their “rights and duties” be in any way different from the rights and duties of other Russian citizens who have nothing to do with the Cossacks? It takes no wisdom to see that “the special rights and duties” are an attribute of social estates. If we are reviving social estates in the 21st century, we should stop talking about a civil society. A more detailed study of the text creates even more questions.

The draft law is a very illustrative example of the source of Cossack ideology: it is the latest concentrated presentation of the New Cossack idea at the turn of the millennium that has imbibed numerous slogans and initiatives born within the movement after 1989. The idea can be put in a nutshell as “creation of a contemporary society rooted in the tradition and divorced from present-day realities.”

This approach asserts that the Cossack community had been an immutable social and political entity before the Soviet power abolished the Cossack territories in 1920 and liquidated the Cossacks as a social estate. In actual fact, it was torn apart by contradictions and plagued with problems especially at the turn of the 20th century with an advent of industrial society. However before the 1917 revolution the Cossacks were kept together by obligatory military service and the related privileges. The throne was artificially preserving this social isolation: the Cossacks presented a virtually free military force (they bought all equipment themselves). F. Kriukov, a Don Cossack, writer and deputy to the First State Duma, offered one of the best descriptions of the state policies in relation to the Cossacks: “No Cossack is allowed to live outside his village, outside the atmosphere of strict control, he has no right to enter private service and has no chance to earn money on the side. He is deprived of an access to education because ignorance is seen as the best means of preserving the militant Cossack spirit.”17 Another Don Cossack, historian and publicist writer A. Karasyov called the Cossacks “the serfs of the Russian Empire.”18 The position of the “knights of the steppe” in February 1917 when none of the Cossack regiments that had been regarded as the “pillar of the throne” supported the deposed emperor amply demonstrated that the state’s Cossack policy had no prospects. One of the best Cossack officers, hero of World War I who later organized anti-Bolshevist uprisings in the Don and commanded a corps of the Armed Forces of the South of Russia T. Starikov commented: “I clearly remember how we in the trenches were amazed at an ease with which the monarchy collapsed and clearly realized that it had outlived itself. The roots became rotten and the huge tree fell down.”19

Alas, for lack of historical knowledge the New Cossack ideologies limited themselves to reading the military ministry’s de luxe jubilee publications. One should say that the revivalists are quite selective when it comes to history studies.

The Civil War drew dividing lines among the Cossacks: there were “whites” and “reds” among them; monarchists and republicans; those who stood for a united Russia, for a federation or even for Cossack independence. There was also the land question; the relations between the Cossacks and their non-Cossack neighbors, and contradictions inside the Cossack community. By a decree of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of 11 November, 1917 within five years the Cossack units were liquidated—the painful process producing grave consequences.

In seven decades of the communist regime the society became a very mixed one with “Cossacks joining all sorts of social groups.” In the majority of cases Cossack awareness was lost—in some cases it became even more acute. Some people looked at the Cossack community as a thing of the past—others took a chance to find a new identity and express themselves. Being aware of this, Soviet power offered a new identity—the Soviet Cossacks. On 20 April, 1936, shortly before World War II, the U.S.S.R. Central Executive Committee lifted the limitations put on the Cossacks’ military service in the Red Army.

By 1989-1990 when first New Cossack communities appeared it was impossible to guess who of those living in the North Caucasian republics, territories and region were or were not Cossacks. In 1993 the North Caucasian Research Institute of Economic and Social Problems at Rostov University realized a research program “The Cossack Community and Students” that polled 815. It was revealed that among those who believed themselves to be Cossacks 12.9 percent were workers; 8.5 percent served in the army; 8.1 percent were pensioners; 6.3 percent, farmers; 5.9 percent, businessmen; 3.3 percent worked in trade and services; 2.6 percent were declassé persons. There was no special procedure of joining or quitting the community and therefore no grounds to talk about social continuity between the “old” and “new” Cossacks.

Those who claimed leadership never stopped to think that they were restoring not only the Cossack uniform but also all contradictions of the never existing “golden age.” Hence political extremism detected by the media that is, in fact, “score settling” with the past. Revival proved the only link between those who at the end of perestroika had tried on the Cossack uniform: later their opinions about what should be revived and how to define Cossacks differed. Some of the New Cossack atamans had to admit that there was neither an ideology nor a uniting political idea except “revival.” V. Sharkov, Ataman of the Stavropol Cossack Army, said recently: “What was our main problem until very recent time? Having opted for a revival, we never asked ourselves: What do we want? Having failed to ask this question, we received no answer.”20 Alas, the answer has not yet been given.

The “Red Cossacks” Idea. The First Stage of the New Cossacks’ History

In 1989-1991 it was the C.P.S.U. that patronized the New Cossacks movement: party committees at all levels contributed to the Cossack “revival.” The press of the Rostov Regional and Krasnodar Territorial party committees supplied ideological framework of the “Red Cossacks” idea. The U-turn in the communist policies had several reasons behind it: first, the party leaders realized that the emerging multi-party system and public movements needed their supervision; second, the crisis forced the C.P.S.U. to seek fresh ideas and approaches. In this context the new Cossack movement with its “revivalist” aims and idealization of the past could be easily fit into a new party ideology. Third, the communist patrons hoped that the new movement would develop into an instrument to be used against the leaders of new Russia and Boris Yeltsin. The bureaucrats were actively promoting the “Red Cossacks” idea based on the assumption that the “evil forces” that had distorted Lenin’s ideas, rather than the Bolsheviks as a whole, were responsible for the terror against and liquidation of the Cossacks. The C.P.S.U. functionaries laid the blame on revolutionaries of Jewish origin: Lev Trotsky, Iakov Sverdlov and others who had been exterminating the Cossacks allegedly because they belonged to this ethnic group. In 1989 the Izvestia TsK KPSS (Herald of the C.C. C.P.S.U.) journal carried a circular of the C.C. R.C.P. (B.) about the treatment of the Cossacks. Later the Cossack press never tired of quoting from it.21

The communists, however, never managed to turn the Cossack movement into one of their instruments: despite active and close supervision an anti-communist trend was gradually emerging while the first presidential elections split the Cossacks: Ataman of the Cossack Union A. Martynov supported Nikolai Ryzhkov and Boris Gromov while 11 Cossack organizations voted for Boris Yeltsin.

Later events (the August putsch of 1991, the October 1993 events, presidential, parliamentary and local elections) showed that just as in 1917-1920 the Cossacks remained split while political biases prevailed over the ideology of the “Cossack community.” The efforts of the All-Kuban Cossack Army to register in its Rules that Cossacks could not belong to political organizations failed. In 1996 the AKCA supported Nikolai Kondratenko, a highly politically engaged politician, at the elections of the governor of the Krasnodar Territory. The Cossack community had no shared ideas and common aims. Borrowed from medieval political culture, this structure could be effective in certain historical conditions: outside them it fell apart and sank into oblivion.

The Second Stage: Unbridled Freedom

The collapse of the C.P.S.U. and the Soviet Union freed the New Cossacks from any landmarks: a new niche should be sought for and located. I look at the second stage of Cossack revival as a trial and error process. Russian society was falling apart while the country was rapidly developing into a “community of regions.” In these conditions the “revivalist” leaders encouraged by the “march of sovereignties” became obsessed with the idea of national-state self-determination. They challenged the state with the idea of Cossack “particularism” (or even separatist sentiments in 1991-1992). Having repeatedly failed “to restore the illegally destroyed national-state unit on the Don within the R.S.F.S.R.,” the leaders of the Rostov Cossacks tried to insist on a higher status of the Rostov Region within the 1913 boundaries of the Great Don Army Region (that included parts of the present Volgograd Region of the RF and of Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine). On 3 December, 1991 the Eighth Session of the Rostov Regional Soviet of People’s Deputies supported the initiative of the New Cossack leaders to set up a “Cossack federation subject” within the Russian State. The regional public prosecutor’s office protested against the initiative.22 However, the idea of Cossack “irredentism,” that is, reunification with the territories transferred under Soviet power to other regions and even republics, is still alive. In September 2002 the congress of Don Cossacks passed a decision on setting up another RF subject, the Great Don Army Region, which was expected to include the Rostov Region, parts of the Volgograd and Voronezh regions; the leaders formulated their territorial claims against Ukraine within which some of the former Cossack lands were found. At the second stage of their history the New Cossacks accepted a Cossack state of the Civil War period as their ideal. It was the Great Don Army headed by Ataman Petr Krasnov. Regrettably, the revivalists have preferred to ignore the fact that the founding father of the Cossack state looked at it as an ad hoc necessity needed to defeat the Bolsheviks. The Cossack leaders likewise prefer to turn a blind eye to the fact that in 1918-1919 the Great Don Army did not include the entire 1913 territory.

After 1992 the revival movement acquired ethnocratic hues and relied on “blood, or ethnic kinship.” “Xenophobia or at least ethnic segregation is an inalienable attribute of such movements.”23 The leaders insisted that the Cossacks should be recognized as an ethnos (sub-ethnos). For example, the Charter of the Stavropol Territorial Cossack Union described the Cossacks as a “sub-ethnos” or a “sub-ethnic formation.” Official publications of the Don New Cossack movement (the Donskie voyskovye vedomosti newspaper and the Golos kazaka magazine) never tired of defending the thesis about the Cossacks being an ethnos. In 1996 the North Caucasian Interregional Press Department issued a warning to S. Kazakov, author of the article “Russkie na Donu” (Russians in the Don Area) that appeared in the Donskie voyskovye vedomosti for fanning ethnic strife between the Cossacks and the Russian non-Cossack population as well as for his preaching of the Cossacks’ ethnic superiority. The ethnocratic course produced even more ethnic conflicts in which New Cossacks were involved. At the same time, the ethnic claims lacked logic: while insisting on their being an ethnos (or sub-ethnos) separate from the Russians, demanding that “Cossack nationality” should be registered in passports of Russian citizens, that the formula “people-Cossacks” should be introduced in population censuses, the Cossack ideologists also campaigned for tax and customs privileges and special rules of military service, etc. that can be claimed only by a social estate. The leaders preferred to ignore those historians and sociologists who pointed out that in the 18th through to 20th centuries the Cossacks had been a social estate. The “independence challenge” holds no promise for the Cossacks themselves: in the context of the constantly increasing nationalist sentiments in the North Caucasian republics the Cossacks will gain nothing of their “divorce” with Moscow—they would find themselves in the distant past when they fought the “Wild Steppe” nomads and the imams of Daghestan and Chechnia.

Failures at elections of all levels starting with 1993 (when none of the Cossack leaders could win a governorship in any of the “Russian North Caucasian subjects”) are explained by political immaturity and orientation to the “bright past.” In 1995 the department of information and analysis of the Rostov regional administration conducted a sociological study that clearly registered disappointment about the Cossack movement and its leaders. Merely 3.6 percent indicated that they expected that the New Cossack leaders would protect them; 9.5 percent described New Cossacks’ activity as a threat to the Russian non-Cossack population (sic!). The poll conducted in the traditionally Cossack areas produced interesting results: only 11.3 percent relied on the “revivalist” leaders.24

Listed: Servants of the State, Puppet Opposition or a New Political “Jumble”? Stage Three

In 1996 a new stage of Cossack revival began: the public movement became a state movement. Having lost many political battles, the movement also lost its grass-root support, failed to choose the road and identify its final aims, and fell prey to reminiscences and quasi-historical myths. In this way the Cossack revival movement developed into a marginal community steeped in politics and prepared to follow political radicals for the sake of short-lived advantages.

The new stage has seen the Cossacks at the service of the state: their communities were re-registered and a list of Cossack communities compiled. Attempts to put the New Cossack jumble in order were made during the previous “trial and error” period when the idea of Cossack revival predominated. In 1993-1995 the president and the government of the Russian Federation adopted several normative acts to serve as a foundation for the Cossacks’ state service and to counter the “Cossack challenge.” In January 1996 the Main Administration of Cossack Armies (MACA) at the president was set up to organize state service of the Cossacks.

The State Duma also came forward with a draft law about the Cossacks drawn under L. Ivanchenko, member of the C.C. C.P.R.F. who represented the Rostov Region. His variant of a Cossack organization smacked on the C.P.S.U., yet the idea of a single All-Russia Cossack Organization under the Supreme Ataman appointed by the President of the RF to which all Cossack units were to join either voluntarily or otherwise was rejected by the Kremlin. In 1997 the draft passed the third reading in the State Duma and was rejected by the Federation Council; in May 2003 a new version of the same law was submitted to the State Duma. I have already written that it says nothing about the aims and tasks of “Cossack revival” and contains certain legally incorrect terms such as “tradition,” “spiritual heritage,” etc.

At the same time, the new trends toward the “state status” of the New Cossacks are following their own logic and reasons: political extremists should be pushed aside while the “revival cause” should be entrusted to less politically engaged and more skillful leaders; “the rules of the game” should correspond to the Russian laws rather than to the common Cossack law. In this sense the “state status” will give a chance of adjusting the movement to contemporary realities of civil society, yet this is not a panacea. The foundations of state service of the Cossacks should be formulated; the legal documents supplied by the presidential administration still look at the Cossacks as a social estate; so far the status of the military Cossack societies acting under the state aegis is still unclear: it combines certain features of a public and a state organization.

The events of the last two years testified that the hope that the “state” (listed) Cossacks would shed some of their ethnic and religious radicalism failed. The slogan of protection of the “primordial Cossack lands against the aliens” has become practically an inalienable part of the local official ideology in the Krasnodar Territory. In March and June 2002 Governor Tkachev announced that all “illegal migrants” should be deported from the Krasnodar Territory; in April of the same year at least two Kurdish families were moved to the neighboring Rostov Region. The Great Don Army eagerly responded to the governor’s course at the territory’s purification. “The Rostov Region is in a mortal danger created by the upset ethnic balance. Uncontrolled migration abetted by the authorities flooded the Rostov Region; the land of the Don may repeat the fate of Kosovo,” said the Army address to the governor who, as distinct from his Kuban colleague, had never called on a struggle against “aliens.”25

This shows that the “state status” failed to protect the Cossacks against the “revivalist” ailments of political extremism, ethnocracy and xenophobia. Having undertaken to bring order to the Cossack chaos, the Russian bureaucrats fell into the same trap: just like in the early 1990s they gave no thought to the correspondence between the revived traditions and contemporary realities. Just as the atamans of the early “revival period” officials of the presidential administration and the parliament never answered the main question: What tasks can the New Cossacks address? The problem goes far beyond the appointment procedure: it is unimportant whether the ataman receives its post in Moscow or from his fellow villagers. The Cossack leaders should master political parlance, they should realize that ethnic purges and deportations will not bring ethnic peace to the South of Russia or across the country and that the problem of migration that looms prominently along the Don and the Kuban and in the Stavropol Territory cannot be resolved at rallies or with cries of approval or disapproval. There are many questions to the country’s leaders: if a large-scale ethnic purge under Cossack banners is not a state priority in the south, then the state should abandon its double standards in the relation to ethnocracy. If Chechen separatism and legal particularism of the North Caucasian republics are regarded as obviously destabilizing factors, the ethnocracy wielding the slogan of “defense of Great Russia” should be added to the list of such factors.

“Revival” or Degradation?

Here are my conclusions. The history of the late Soviet and post-Soviet New Cossacks is developing in a vicious circle: atamans are changed, Cossack organizations and patron state structures emerge and disappear. Today, the “responsible” structure—the Main Administration of the Cossack Armies—has been replaced with presidential advisor Gennady Troshev personally responsible for the Cossack “revival.” The press is busy discussing the new prospects and the plans of the newly appointed advisor. Yet even the most knowledgeable advisor can do nothing unless the New Cossack movement and its political vocabulary are revised and radically reformed. It seems that Troshev is aware of the deep systemic crisis: “Seven years has passed (from the moment when the ‘state status’ was introduced.—S.M.), yet we are still at the beginning of the road.” The distance between this conclusion probably obvious for many of the New Cossack atamans and activists and the conclusion about the need to revise the entire conceptual foundation of the “revival” process is long.

The entire history of the New Cossacks has demonstrated that the “revival” concept born by the perestroika context should be revised. Indeed, one is tempted to ask: “What exactly do the New Cossack leaders intend to revive? One cannot revive inroads and plunder, feudal land ownership and use and estate privileges for military service. The traditions of Cossack democracy and local self-administration should be adjusted to contemporary realities. No matter how wide is the choice there is only one road left for the New Cossacks: to be able to take part in the modernization project they should overcome their nostalgia for the “golden age” and the myths of all sorts. Today, technical progress left no place in the armed forces for the traditional Cossack troops; they cannot develop as a social estate within civil society that offers equal rights and equal chances for all.

Ethnic revival and “Cossack ethnicity” are dangerous for the New Cossacks themselves: they will enter into confrontation with the federal state and the non-Cossack (mainly Russian) population in the formerly Cossack areas. It seems that the New Cossack leaders should take into account what Prof. S. Svatikov, one of the greatest authorities on the social-political history and law of the Cossacks, had to say in his time: “The Cossacks are not eternal as a phenomenon. It was brought to life by certain conditions of historical life and will disappear together with them.”26 It is too early to speak about the “end of the Cossacks” because the name itself sounds attractive to many. Its future hinges on its best traditions—democracy, local self-administration, respect for diligence and property, and patriotism.


1 See: A.A. Khramchikhin, “Russkie regiony Severnogo Kavkaza: politicheskaia situatsia, vnutrennie problemy, vzaimootnoshenia s federal’nym tsentrom,” in: Sotsial’no-politicheskaia situatsia na Kavkaze: istoria, sovremennost’, perspektivy, Moscow, 2001, p. 120.
2 See: V.N. Rakachev, “Tolerantnost’ i komplimentarnost’ v mezhetnicheskikh otnosheniakh (na primere Krasnodarskogo kraia),” in: Tolerantnost’ i politkul’turnoe obshchestvo, Moscow, 2003, p. 96.
3 See: L.L. Khoperskaia, “Rostovskaia oblast’,” in: Bezhentsy i vynuzhdennye pereselentsy: etnicheskie stereotipy (Opyt sotsiologicheskogo analiza), Vladikavkaz, 2002, pp. 121-122.
4 See: M. Bondarenko, “’Bezhentsy’ okkupiruiut stanitsy. Kazaki Stavropol’ia chuvstvuiut sebia chuzhimi na svoey zemle,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 5 March, 2003.
5 S.M. Markedonov, “Kazachestvo: problema stanovlenia,” Politia, No. 1, 1999, p. 144.
6 See: L.L. Khoperskaia, V.A. Kharchenko, “Sostoianie kazach’ego dvizhenia v respublikakh Severnogo Kavkaza,” in: Vozrozhdenie kazachestva: nadezhdy i opasenia, ed. by G. Vitkovskaia and A. Malashenko, Moscow, 1998, p. 90.
7 See: Sovremennoe donskoe kazachestvo (politicheskiy, sotsial’niy, ekonomicheskiy portret), Rostov-on-Don, 1992, p. 16.
8 See: Shchit i mech (Russia), 10 March, 1995.
9 Ibidem.
10 V.A. Koreniako, “Kazachestvo v Stavropol’skom krae—faktor stabilizatsii ili konfliktogeneza?” in: Vozrozhdenie kazachestva: nadezhdy i opasenia, p. 129.
11 See: M. Adjiev, “My—iz roda polovetskogo.” Iz rodoslovnoy kumykov, karachaevtsev, kazakov, balkartsev, gagauzov, krymskikh tatar, a takzhe chasti russkikh i ukraintsev, Rybinsk, 1992.
12 See: I. Burakov, “Est’ takaia natsia,” Vremia novostey, 2 July, 2002.
13 “Deklaratsia S’ezda donskikh kazakov Vsevelikogo Voyska Donskogo,” Priazovskiy kray, 5 September, 2002.
14 S.A. Kislitsyn, Gosudarstvo i raskazachivanie, 1917-1945. Textbook for a special teaching course, Rostov-on-Don, 1996, p. 4.
15 O.V. Matveev, Vragi, soiuzniki, sosedi: Etnicheskaia kartina mira v istoricheskikh predstavleniakh kubanskikh kazakov, Krasnodar, 2001, p. 24.
16 Draft federal Law on the Russian Cossacks, No. 154485-3, p. 1.
17 Gosudarstvennaia duma. Sozyv perviy. Sessia pervaia. Stenograficheskie otchety, Vol. I, St. Petersburg, 1906, p. 11.
18 Quoted from: V.N. Korolev, Starye Veshki, Rostov-on-Don, 1991, pp. 365-366.
19 State Archives of the Russian Federation, Record Group 6473, Inventory 1, File 7, p. 1.
20 Quoted from: V.A. Koreniako, op. cit., p. 120.
21 See: “Tsirkuliarnoe pis’mo RKP (b) ob otnoshenii k kazakam 24 ianvaria 1919 g.” Izvestia TsK KPSS, No. 6, 1989, pp. 176-178.
22 See: Kazachiy Don. Ocherki istorii, Rostov-on-Don, 1995, Part 2, p. 149.
23 A.A. Kara-Murza, “Rossia v treugol’nike ‘etnokratia-imperia-natsia’,” in: Inoe. Khrestomatia novogo rossiiskogo samosoznania, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1995, pp. 43, 47-48.
24 Administratsia Rostovskoy oblasti. Otdel po natsional’nym otnosheniiam, sviaziam s obshchestvennymi ob’edineniiami i religioznymi organizatsiiami. Programma stabilizatsii mezhnatsional’nykh otnosheniy v Rostovskoy oblasti, Rostov-on-Don, 1995, p. 42.
25 I. Burakov, “Na Donu znaiut, kto vo vsem vinovat,” Vremia novostey, 17 April, 2002.
26 S.G. Svatikov, “Otvety na voprosy ankety zhurnala kazakov obshchekazach’ey studencheskoy stanitsy v Prage ‘Kazachiy spolokh’,” Kazachiy spolokh, No. 12, 1927, pp. 7, 9.

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