03/22/2023, 09.22
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The unknown 'Cossackia'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Some Cossack groups claim their own entity independent of Moscow. The risk of disintegration is one of the effects of the Russian war on Ukraine. The first attempts at a Cossack state after the Bolshevik revolution. Difficult to determine how many people belong to the community.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Among the many separatist claims of the various republics and regions of the Russian Federation, the most surprising seems to come from an indefinite ethnic-historical reality, which has never had its own national or even regional identification, but which is very much recalled by the current war in the Don area: the Union of Cossacks.

Speaking recently at a session of the FSB (the domestic intelligence service), Vladimir Putin pointed to the danger posed by those who intend to divide and weaken Russian society, using 'separatism, nationalism and xenophobia as weapons'.

In March 1993 in Rostov-on-Don, Cossack groups had in fact undertaken an attempt to create an independent republic. The 'Cossackia' was to be established on the southern territory of Russia.

This was not the first time: in 1920 there had been uprisings in the area during the anti-revolutionary civil war that lasted several years. Now some are again calling for an entity of their own, as revealed by Novaja Gazeta Evropa, which published an investigation into the current reality of Russian Cossacks, sometimes exalted as defenders of the homeland, sometimes feared as a threat to its integrity.

During the Forum of Free Peoples in Brussels on 31 January, the participants went so far as to speculate 27 independent states after the break-up of the present Russian Federation. They included Cossackia, represented in the Europarliament building by a member of the Ezikovsky Ertaul movement, Aleksandr Zolotarev, who made an appeal to the Europeans, repeated in recent days in various press organs, to 'recognise the Cossacks as a repressed people'.

The US had done so in 1959 as part of the law 'on enslaved nations', where the Cossacks figure alongside the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia and others.

The Cossack activist recalls that 'almost all the peoples listed in that law have regained their independence, but Cossackia has never reappeared; the Cossacks themselves are so far not recognised in the Russian Federation as a separate people', despite the fact that in the 1991 Russian law 'On the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples' they are also mentioned.

The Cossacks are the 'free men', from the original meaning of the Turkic term 'kozak/kazak', who have always sought their own territory in the Russian empire, without ever being able to identify and obtain it.

It was only after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, during the civil war, that a part of the Cossacks tried to distinguish themselves from both the 'reds' and the 'whites', proclaiming in the area of Rostov and southern Ukraine, now the scene of the Russian invasion, the 'Democratic Republic of the Cossacks', led by General Petr Krasnov, which was suppressed by the Bolsheviks in 1920.

In 1942, a group of Cossacks who had escaped the Stalinist terror tried to revive the republic, taking advantage of the uncertainties of the war after the onslaught of German troops, by putting themselves at the disposal of the Nazis.

They came to a bad end, with over 250,000, including their wives and children, forced to retreat with the occupiers' army, while Soviet troops massacred those left behind. Some were deported and scattered over Siberian territory along with Crimean Tatars, Chechens, Kalmyks and other 'traitorous peoples'.

At the end of 1800, there were over 3 million Cossacks on the territory of Russia, with 11 battalions of warriors distributed in 15 republics, 2.3% of the entire population. The most recent census of 2021 showed 50,450 Russian citizens calling themselves Cossacks, although even in 2010, the then chairman of the Federal Council for National Affairs, Aleksandr Beglov, believed that there were around 7 million people living in the country who had descent links to the Cossacks.

In reality, the Cossacks have never defined their own nature, whether to consider themselves an independent ethnic group, or a part of the Russian people due to other social, military or geographical characteristics. Putin's war seems to awaken the consciousness of old and new peoples, even those who never really existed.

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