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Russian Cossacks want to have more say in Russia’s social and political life

November 26, 2012, 18:05 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, November 26 (Itar-Tass) —— Russia’s Cossacks, who have close links with the Russian Orthodox Church and with various nationalist movements, want to take a more active role in the country’s social and political life. A party has been established to defend the interests of the Cossacks. In a bid to secure law and order, they take ever more active part in patrolling the streets of Russian cities. More to it, their initiatives find support from the authorities.

On Saturday, the Cossack Party of the Russian Federation was created at its founding congress. Deputy Governor of Russia’s southern Rostov region, Sergei Bondarev, a former member of the ruling United Russia party, was unanimously elected its chairman. He proclaimed that the party would defend the interests of the Cossacks and would probably take part in elections in 2013. The party program is based on the traditional Cossack values: patriotism, protection of public interests and moral principles of society.

Russian president’s envoy in the Central federal district Alexander Beglov, who is also the chairman of the presidential council on Cossack affairs, took an active part in the organization of the congress. “The work with this party, as well as with other public Cossack organization, is only possible within the framework of the Cossack affairs council,” the press service of the office of the presidential envoy said.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, abbreviated as CPRF, has labeled the Cossack Party of the Russian Federation, abbreviated as CoPRF which in Russian sounds almost identical to CPRF, as a “spoiler project.” “They seek to water down the electorate,” said Vadim Solovyev, a secretary of the CPRF central committee and chief of the party’s legal service.

Meanwhile, volunteers are enrolled in Cossack squads in Moscow to patrol streets. Cossack teams have been patrolling streets in Moscow’s Southeast administrative district since last year. The move was initiated by the district’s prefect, Vladimir Zotov, a Cossack. A year after the “pilot project” was launched in that district, in September 2012, the lead was taken by other by the authorities of other Moscow districts, including the Central district. By now, Cossack patrols number 600 people who will begin their mission to secure public order after the New Year celebrations. Apart from securing law and order on Moscow streets, Cossacks will be tasked to cut short cases of improper parking and unauthorized vending.

In August 2012, governor of Russia’s southern Krasnodar Territory Alexander Tkachev sanctioned Cossack patrols in the territory’s capital city, Krasnodar.

Cossack will enjoy the same authority as voluntary police helper, and like the latter they will have no right to check documents or detain public order violators. They will be given police helper certificates and free tickets for transport. Apart from that, they will be allowed to wear Cossack uniform while on duty.

Various groups who call themselves Cossacks have been demonstrating increased activity in recent months. They often stage protest actions demanding to ban these or those theatrical performances or exhibitions that defy public morality, as they put it. They became particularly active during the trial of girls from the Pussy Riot punk band, taking part in protest actions and standing guard of Orthodox crosses.

According to the Russian ministry of regional development, there are about two million Cossacks in Russia. However, a year ago, Alexander Beglov said that some seven million people identified themselves as Cossacks. Cossacks are united in Cossack societies (there are as many as 1,440 such societies) and public associations of Cossacks.

The state register includes eleven Cossack regiments (numbering in all 400,000 men). By the end of 2012, these regiments will be united into a single All-Russia Cossack troop. Its supreme ataman will be headquartered in Moscow and will be subordinate to the supreme commander-in-chief, or the Russian president. By the way, President Vladimir Putin was given membership in the Cossack community back in 2005. He is a Cossack colonel, a rank vested in the Czar in the pre-revolution Russia.

The activity of Russian Cossacks is regulated by about two hundreds of laws, bylaws and regulations, including federal law number 154, On Civil Service of the Russian Cossacks. This law defines the Cossacks as “a predominantly Orthodox people having its traditional economic tenors of life, cultural traditions and specific relations with the state.”

A person who calls himself a Cossack have three possible paths, namely to engage in social activities to revive Cossack traditions, to be entered into the register, which means to undertake liabilities of state services, or “just to be a Cossack,” Beglov told the Kommersant.Vlast magazine. A man is entered on the register by a simple majority of Cossacks present at a Cossack assembly. The assembly’s decision is endorsed by the ataman.

A Cossack may not be an atheist. A Cossack Grand Assembly, or a general military council, may not be held if a priest is not present or if it is not blessed by the priest. The Cossacks have very close ties with the Church. The Orthodox Church even has a Synodal committee for relations with the Cossacks.

In terms of ideology, the Cossacks are close to nationalist movements and work side by side with them.

The origins of Russia’s Cossacks are a debatable subject. Traditional historiography dates the emergence of Cossacks to the 14th to 15th centuries. In the 16th century, the Cossacks were grouped in military and trading communities on the open steppe and started to migrate into the area of the Don. Cossacks served as border guards and protectors of towns, forts, settlements and trading posts, performed policing functions on the frontiers and also came to represent an integral part of the Russian army. The Cossacks included representatives from all population strata. In the long run, the Russian state annexed all the control over Cossack troops and instead rewarded the Cossacks with privileges for their service. They were given land plots, received wages and were exempt from taxes, although they had to have a horse, outfits, weapons and accouterments of their own. The Cossacks formed a separate social class in 1835 when Czar Nicholas I endorsed the Cossack Troops Regulations. In the Russian Civil War that followed the October Revolution of 1917, the Cossacks found themselves on both sides of the conflict. The majority of Cossacks however were against the revolution and formed the core of the White Army.

The revival of the Cossack movement began in the late 1980s. The process has been actively supported by the authorities. In 1992, Russia’s Supreme Council, or parliament, passed a resolution on the rehabilitation of the Cossacks, and in 1993, the then President, Boris Yeltsin, granted the Cossacks the right to do military service in Cossack associations and units and to set up voluntary militarized structures. In 1994, a council was established under the president to tackle Cossack affairs. And in 2005, Vladimir Putin signed a law On Civil Service of the Russian Cossacks. A state register of Cossack societies was established. Along with societies listed on this register, there are more than 600 off-register Cossack organizations.