TELL ME TRUTH, CHIEFTAIN...
Do not blame me for using pompous language, but Cossack, as well as church and president, has become one of the symbols of Russian renaissance. Quoting an official document, "In fact, Cossack ideas are supported and understood by people as it is the incarnation of patriotism, statesmanship, and other ideals, we need to reinstate so much." Though, the Cossack still remains just a common citizen, distinguishing himself by fancy clothes and accessories. That is not unusual: many kinds of people have their own style of clothes and accessories - Orthodox monks, Eastern religious representatives, "new Russians", and even yard-keepers - they used to wear orange uniform. So, what is being Cossack like, why is it considered "hope" of modern Russian democracy?
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Throughout the centuries Russia expanded to Siberia, and Far East - Zabaikalie, Amursk, Okhotsk, and Primorye Territories . . . That process was clearly called colonization. Acquiring new land, accepting the aborigines under its mighty supervision, Russia was getting more and more powerful. Of course it was supported by very skillful diplomatic techniques. Anyhow, Russians came to Pacific coast in the middle of 17th century, not even knowing hat it was the Ocean.
It is not a secret that the Cossacks (Russian military class) played the leading part in development of new land. Krasnoyarsk Cossack Peter Beketov founded Yakutsk in 1632, that used to remain a major base for further advancement eastwards for many decades. Cossack detachments were looking for copper and silver, new land for agriculture, new subjects for taxing. They also produced fur and walrus fang. The Spaniards went to America blinded by the light of gold; Russians dreamt of new land full of bread, ore, fish, and animals.
Ivan Moskvitin departed from Butalsk burg in 1639 - two years later he came to Yakutsk with the first information about the mouth of big river - Amur. Another great march of Vasily Poyarkov has begun on July 15, 1643. "Two days down Lena river, Four weeks up Aldan river, ten days up Uchur, and five last weeks up Gonom river." Thus, they came to Stanovy mountain ridge, where they split up: 42 decided to spend winter with supplies and 90 men with Poyarkov crossed the ridge and moved further to Zeya river. Both detachments met again in Spring, and moved towards Amur. Two last lines so not take much space on the screen, but they contain incredible hardships (imagine trip during Siberian winter in 17th century) - less then half of the pioneers stayed alive by next winter. Next spring they went up the Sea of Okhotsk to Ulya river mouth.... The remains of Poyarkov's team returned to Yakutsk on June 12, 1646, having left 20 soldiers at Ulya river for "management of aborigines". The major outcome of that unprecedented Cossack trip was: "inhabitants of those lands do not belong to anybody"; therefore, "they should belong to Russian sovereign". Another great expedition was lead by Yerofei Khabarov, who drew up a "Map of Amur River" upon his 1649-1653 voyages. That was the beginning of Amursk Territory development.
One more explorer of Amursk Territory - Semen Altufiev (nickname Kuznets, smith in English) is not as famous, but his contribution was great, too. He went up Usury river to Khanka lake, so his people were the first Russians ever in Primorye. However, they all died in 1655 upon their return to Amur. Their graves are lost somewhere, but this year the members of geographic expedition "Arseniev's trail. Borders of Russia" put up a Orthodox cross at a point the Cossacks could not helped passing by. Our predecessors used to set up such crosses to thank Lord, and as a monument to those who had died on the road.
Actually, the development of Ussuriysk Territory began much later, after Aigun treaty with China (May 16, 1858). According that treaty, paraphrasing old writing style, left shore of Amur was Russian; right one, up to Usury river - Chinese. General governor of East Siberia Muraviev (not Amursky yet) arrived to the Usury mouth by the end of May 1858. He ordered to set up a military post Khabarovka, and signed one more order of June 1, saying, "150 Cossack families should arrive to Ussuriysk post for setting up a Cossack battalion. Cossacks are to build one house per two families basically do agricultural works..."
Cossack from Baikal lake began to arrive to Usury first: they rafted down Amur together with their families and property. They founded settlements Korsakovo, Nevelskaya. Ussuriysk post got renamed to Kazakeevsky. Next year - 1859 - many of those who arrived a year ago moved down south. Their first settlements served as perfect bases for further exploration of southern Primorye. Cossacks did their best to help the geographers.
...Year 1924: Cossacks as social class got terminated, because the Soviets did not need them any more...
FUTURE WITH COSSACKS?
Nowadays the Cossacks have been rehabilitated; moreover, the authorities seem to approve and encourage their renaissance. Just one question: What is Cossackhood in modern Russia - necessity, blessing, or someone's caprice?
So, we have got the following in the final of grand show named "Cossack renaissance". According to chieftains' ideas, Cossacks should become "federal-economic organization with its own management". Cossack service was made equal to state service, which gives them lots of independence and power. Here is a quotation from the Notion of staff training for Cossack Army of the Far East. "In five years of its existence, UCA (Ussuriysk Cossack Army) has come a long way from a usual patriotic social organization to diversified social system, that sets goals of federal importance and responsibility. The questions solved require entirely new, high professionalism and complete independence".
Wow! A new...Cossack faculty got opened in Primorye institute of state servants upgrading. Chieftains and Cossack officials are going to "study" over there; moreover, they will graduate with diplomas like Cossack - tax inspector and customs officer, Cossack - environmental officer, Cossack - rescuer, and even Cossack - social teacher. The only question I got here is what is the difference between a Cossack and "simple" citizen, who also can be customs officer and a teacher.
That's not it yet. The mentioned document makes provision for special Cossack Corps. That is a military school for 12-15 years old youth based on secondary school program, but "educating the new generation in spirit of Cossack ideology, patriotism, self-development." Supposedly, local Cossack bodies, Orthodox church, and other unidentified public organizations will participate in educational process. Besides required courses, students will study advanced history of Russia, and Cossackhood, essentials of Cossack economy, and military courses. They are also supposed to take special P. E. and environmental science courses. The Corps is intended as a specialized educational establishment with the main purpose: to get young people ready to military or internal service. The graduates will receive somewhat like a diploma of junior Army (or police, or something like that) commander, and a "master of manor" specialty. The best graduates will continue their education higher level. The rest of them will start service in Cossack detachments. Cossack lyceum is going to be an alternative system preparing specialists for service in customs, environmental and other organizations.
Thus, a social class of Cossacks is being reinstated. By the way, the word "class" is frequently used in Cossack official papers. In this connection, it would have been fair to reinstate other classes and subdivide our society for peasants, nobles, and so on. Nobody knows what's going to happen then, but, definitely, nothing good...
One does not need to be a historian or sociologist to realize that Cossacks, as well as other classes, have existed in certain historical situation. They were developing several centuries ago, when Russia was a constantly expanding empire. They protected the frontier, fighting eternal enemies. What else does a Cossack do? Well, he is a warrior. They also fought against internal enemy during the civil war. Anyhow, is it the right time for fight now? What enemy will Cossacks choose protecting "statesmanship and patriotism"?
I think everyone would like to get answers to these questions. The officially declared goal of Ussuriysk Cossacks is exploration and development of frontier land. We all know who our neighbor is here, in Primorye. Are Cossacks going to actually do something to resist its pressure?... And what about other Cossack units in different parts of Russia?...
Here is an extract from an article in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, "What is a Cossack in several key words? First of all, this is his own piece of land, then - his own horse, a sword is on the third place. (There is also pretty wife, son, Faith, Czar, and Motherland.) That is a basis of legal, economic, and social notion of Cossack: czar gave him special privileges, in return he was ready to give up his life in service. And Cossacks did their best! They were warriors and ploughmen at the same time. There is nothing else in being a Cossack."
Is our society ready to give land and privileges to five million people? (That is the estimated number of Cossack descendants.) Will our society give them five million horses, and swords (indeed - machine guns, tanks, helicopters, etc.)? Quite interesting question, is not it?
The author of this material is also concerned with the next idea. Let's say I believe in honesty and respectability of several dozens of people - Cossack leaders and ideologists. But as for all those millions (entirely "soviet people") is not it just another social project - baloney? What if modern Cossacks are "legions of madcap fellows who talk about "state" and think about a state pie" (Saltykov-Schedrin (considered a famous Russian writer - Max.)) I believe I am not the only one person concerned with that. That is why I would like to finish up with one more quotation from the same newspaper:
"Cossack societies are supposed to have diversified system of management. President will establish a federal executive body - Cossack department. Major chieftain will be appointed by the president at recommendation of the Government, then go the lower-rank chieftains ... They will need their office staff, equipment, cars. So, the taxpayers will maintain thousands of Cossack officials, who will feel pretty comfortable in their fancy cabinets, writing scientific papers regarding Cossack Renaissance".
Being a Cossack is romantic, patriotic, and fashionable. Once it becomes profitable, it will be the beginning of end of the Cossack movement.