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Sunday, 30 March 2014
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Cossacks' Century of Struggle
Topic: Cossacks


Russian Cossacks on the march, 1914
 
Copyright Notice: The following article was originally published in the March 29th, 2014 edition of Russia Beyond the Headlines. The author Georgy Manaev, owns the copyright of the article presented below.

The 20th century was a tragic period in the history of the Cossack people, during which they found themselves on both sides, cast in the role of both victims and aggressors. Split by wars and revolutions, the Cossacks performed many heroic deeds but were also responsible for many atrocities. RBTH traces the Cossacks' history since 1914, in Russia and abroad.

One hot summer’s day in 1914, the alarm was raised in all Cossack villages across Russia. Cossacks with a small red flag in their hands, a signal to mobilization, were dispatched on the fastest horses to reach every remote part of nearby areas. Seeing them, people dropped whatever work they were doing in the fields and hurried home, to prepare to march off to battle in the First World War, which would change Russia's destiny forever.
 
"We don't want to protect landowners"
 
Cossacks, a class of Eastern Slavic people that by the start of the 20th century numbered about 4 million, emerged in the 14th-15th centuries, forming democratic communities in the great river basins of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine.
Since their early days they had maintained the traditions of military training in their families, were excellent horse riders and brave and skilful soldiers. By 1914, their loyalty to the authorities had been boosted by a preferential tax regime (they paid practically no taxes or levies), free education and health care. Yet the majority of ordinary Cossacks were rather poor. Their only source of income was land, which they either worked themselves or leased. However, land was often unfairly distributed by Cossack chieftains.

Cossack divisions, whose supreme commanders were called atamans, were one of the main pillars of Russia’s ruling regime. They were frequently used to disperse rallies and to suppress peasants and workers during the 1905 revolution. Yet some of the Cossacks refused to go against the people and protect landowners. Frustrated by their never-ending hardship, in some villages Cossacks even dared to rise against the authorities. But the outbreak of World War I changed everything.
 
Wasted heroism
 
The name of Cossack Kuzma Kryuchkov was to become known across the whole of Europe during the war. Kryuchkov, together with three fellow soldiers, killed a German cavalry platoon of 27 men, and became the first soldier in World War I to be awarded the Cross of St George, for "undaunted courage". Overall, more than 120,000 Cossacks received different distinctions of St. George in the course of the war.
 
In the meantime, villages left without a male workforce were slipping deeper into poverty. The authorities had completely lost the support of the Cossacks by the time the February 1917 revolution took place. A number of Cossack units that were sent to disperse the protesters not only refused to obey the command but joined in the uprising. In October 1917, the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky, and many Cossack units in St Petersburg went over to their side.
 
The revolution divided the Cossack people. Many poor Cossacks welcomed the first decrees of the new authorities: The Bolsheviks announced that Russia was quitting the war, promising land to the Cossacks and not to interfere in their affairs so long as they did not oppose Soviet rule. And yet it was in the very heart of Cossack Russia that the main hotbed of resistance to the new Soviet authorities was to emerge, on the banks of the river Don.
 
In 1918, General Pyotr Krasnov, who came from a generations-old Cossack family, became the Ataman, or commander, of the Don Cossack Host, a formidable independent Cossack army fighting on the side of “White Russia” against the Bolshevik authorities. Krasnov cancelled Bolshevik decrees and declared the lands of the host an independent state with himself a dictator. From 25,000 to 40,000 "red" Cossacks were executed and another 30,000 exiled.

Krasnov sent a telegram to Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German emperor, with an offer of cooperation in exchange for recognition of his "state". Berlin sent Krasnov trainloads of weapons, but after Germany retreated, Krasnov's "tsardom" broke up and he was forced to flee to Germany. By 1920, Cossack resistance was over.
 
The Bolsheviks began to exterminate Cossacks, seeing them as a class hostile to the Soviet authorities. Many were executed, while whole families were banished from their land and exiled to other territories in order to "dilute" the Cossacks' social unity. In 1922, the lands belonging to Cossack hosts were absorbed into the Soviet republics of Russia and Ukraine. However, this was far from the end of the Cossacks.
 
Enemy within
 
In the late 1930s, the USSR began to prepare for the war that it anticipated was to come. Restrictions on Cossacks' rights to serve in the Red Army were lifted, and they were allowed to wear Cossack uniform. When World War II started, many impoverished Cossacks rode into battle on scrawny collective farm horses armed with just swords and knives. However, that in no way diminished their courage: They would jump from the saddle onto tank armor, cover observation slits with their coats and set tanks on fire with petrol bombs. Some cavalry divisions were renamed Cossack divisions before World War II, even though Cossacks formed just a small part of them: The enemy was terrified of the very word "Cossack".
 
However, the truth is that Cossacks fought not only on the side of the USSR. German propaganda tempted them with the idea of revenge for their losses in the Civil War and with the promise of setting up an independent Cossack state under the name of Cossackia. Émigré Cossacks and the Cossack population of the occupied territories joined German forces. Furthermore, General Krasnov agreed to ally himself with the Nazis and serve at the head of Cossack units made up of White Russian émigrés and Cossack prisoners of war.
 
Cossacks served as guards on occupied territories, fought with the Red Army, with Yugoslav and Italian resistance fighters. Sadly, the war years broke not only the spirit but also the honor of many Cossacks. Under the command of German General Helmuth von Pannwitz, Cossacks took part in war crimes against the populations of Eastern Europe, including mass murder and plunder.
 
In May 1945, Germany capitulated. The Cossack Corps was ordered to cross the Alps into Austria to surrender to the British. Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt agreed that former Soviet citizens who had fought on the enemy side and had been captured by the Allies should be handed over to Soviet forces.

Having crossed the Alps under Krasnov's command, the Cossacks surrendered their arms and were placed in prisoner-of-war camps near the town of Lienz. The "handover" began on May 28. During a church service, British troops attacked Cossacks and, brutally beating them, started pushing them into trucks, which then transported the prisoners to the territory under Soviet control. The operation lasted two weeks. According to different accounts, from 40,000 to 60,000 people were thus handed over. These included first-wave émigrés who just happened to be near Lienz at the time, who were not Cossacks at all and had never been Soviet citizens. Over 1,000 people were killed for attempting to resist capture.
 
The leaders of the Cossack divisions which had fought on Germany's side – Krasnov, Lieutenant General Andrei Shkuro, German general Helmuth von Pannwitz and others – were hanged in Moscow in 1947. The other prisoners, including women, were sent to Soviet labor camps. In 1955, those of them who survived were amnestied. They continued to live and work in the USSR, keeping their past a secret. 
 
© Georgy Manaev @ Russia Beyond the Headlines. 30 March, 2014
 

 

Posted by Paul Gilbert at 4:53 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 30 March 2014 5:00 PM EDT
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Saturday, 1 June 2013
God Save the Tsar - Kuban Cossack Choir
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 1 minute, 25 seconds
Topic: Cossacks

I have always held a great interest and respect for the Cossacks and their contribution to the history of Imperial Russia. Their  sense of being a separate and elite community gave them a strong sense of loyalty to the Tsarist government.

Before the Revolution, the Kuban Cossacks were entrusted as the private guard of Tsar Nicholas II.

I am pleased to offer this haunting rendition of God Save the Tsar performed by the Kuban Cossack Choir during a concert marking their 195th anniversary in 2006.

© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russian. 01 June, 2013



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:18 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 1 June 2013 5:42 PM EDT
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Friday, 3 May 2013
Kuban Cossacks from Return Collection of Emblems and Regalia to Russia
Topic: Cossacks

 

Kuban Cossacks were entrusted as private guards to Emperor Nicholas II and his family  

Thanks to collaboration and solidarity of Alexander Pevnev, the ataman of Kuban Cossack army abroad, over 300 military regalia and emblems have been returned to Russia. In Moscow the ataman was received by Vladimir Medinsky, Minister of Culture and head of the Russian Historical and Military Foundation.

According to the website of the Russian Historical and Military Foundation (RHMF), the question of returning sacred war regalia had been raised several times on the international level, but has become close to its resolution only in the recent years. In particular, with the help of ataman Alexander Pevnev in spring 2013 a large collection has been transferred back to Russia, including 38 Cossack emblems, an original document signed by Catherine II granting the landowner rights to the Cossacks, and about 300 items of memorabilia overall.

The letter from Pevnev to Medinsky says: “I would like to express my sincere gratitude for your kind reception and hospitality to me personally and to the entire delegation of the Cossack army abroad during our stay in Moscow... We are hoping for the long-term and fruitful collaboration in order to preserve the Russian culture and return its historical and cultural treasures back to Russia”.

It is planned to establish secure and permanent connections with the Cossacks abroad, reports RHMF.

The headquarters of the Kuban Cossack army abroad is stationed in New Jersey, and multiple regalia of the Cossack army taken from Russia by the ataman Vyacheslav Naumenko are stored there.

© Russian Cultural Heritage. 03 May, 2013



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:01 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 3 May 2013 6:06 AM EDT
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Monday, 8 April 2013
Cossack Community Expands in Australia
Topic: Cossacks

 

A group of Russian Cossacks announced Monday the creation of an Australian branch and four new traditional units there.

A Siberian group of Cossacks, the Zabaikalsky Cossack Host Association, said that the decision to expand the organization was made following a request from Australia-based descendants of the Cossacks who emigrated after the 1917 Russian revolution.

The request was submitted by Australian Cossack ataman Simeon Boikov in light of “the growing number of Cossacks in Australia,” a spokesperson for the organization told RIA Novosti.

Four Australian “stanitsas,” historically villages inside a Cossack host, as a territory of Cossack settlements was known in imperial Russia, will be established in Melbourne, Geelong, Dandenong and on the island of Tasmania.

The first and only Cossack “stanitsa” in Australia was established as a cultural and historic organization in June 2012 in the town of Cabramatta near Sydney.

The local Cossack diaspora then compiled 152 people, some of whom have voiced their intention to move to Siberia’s Zabaikalsky Krai, the Cossack association said.

The Cossacks, who served as a special police force in tsarist Russia, are remembered for their role in fighting against the revolutionary side in the 1917 uprising against the tsar. Many of them fled abroad following the Bolshevik revolution.

Monday’s announcement came amid an ongoing revival of Cossack culture in Russia, though critics have questioned the authenticity of some self-proclaimed Cossacks.

© RIA Novosti. 08 April, 2013



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:55 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 8 April 2013 8:01 AM EDT
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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Australian Cossacks Save the Graves of Russian Soldiers
Topic: Cossacks

 

Cossack graves in Rookwood cemetery in Sydney, which have not been looked after for a long time, will in part be cared for by their descendants—Cossacks of the Australian Embassy ‘stanitsa’ (section) of the Trans-Ural Cossack army. The relevant agreement between Cossack representatives and the cemetery management was signed today.

Those present at the meeting examined the cemetery and drew up a scheme of work for the immediate future. On the same day, several graves were tidied up, including that of the Colonel of the Orenburg Cossack army, Stepan Ivanovich Nesterenko, born 1893.

Mark Boondy, representing the cemetery administration, was delighted at the Cossacks' initiative and noted that a great many graves in the cemetery are seriously neglected, even though some relatives are still alive. "It would be better to have less talk and argue about the various plans, and instead start carrying them out straightaway. That is also a reflection of the Cossack spirit— to put words into action straightaway," said in turn the head of the Australian Embassy stanitsa, Semion Boikov.

Thousands of Russian soldiers and exiles are currently buried in Australia: officers and soldiers of the Imperial Army, engineers, pilots, doctors, scientists, and representatives of nearly all the Cossack armies: the Trans-Baikal, the Kuban, the Don, the Ussuriysk and the Orenburg.

© Pravoslavie.ru. 07 February, 2013


 


Posted by Paul Gilbert at 3:04 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2013 8:21 AM EST
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Thursday, 31 January 2013
Cossack Party Registered in Russia
Topic: Cossacks

 

The Cossack Party of the Russian Federation became the 58th political party officially registered in the country, the Ministry of Justice said on its website on Thursday.

Alexander Smirnov, a retired major general, is the head of the party, which was founded in late November 2012.

The party’s registration became possible after a new law cutting the minimum number of party members from 40,000 to only 500 came into effect last April.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union’s one-party system in 1991, a number of political parties (including some with exotic names like the Beer Party) quickly emerged, only to disappear.

Until 2004, the minimum number of party members was 10,000. Since then, it was gradually increased.

In its platform, the party says it is going to participate in elections at all levels. Under the current legislation, a party needs the support of five percent of voters to win seats in parliament.

A number of Cossack societies, mainly comprised of the descendants of original Cossacks, operate in Russia and abroad under the aegis of a special presidential council created in 2009.

Special Cossack patrols help police to maintain order in some cities, mainly in southern Russia.

© The Moscow Times. 31 January, 2013



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 5:49 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2013 5:53 AM EST
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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Cossacks Evoke Spectre of Imperial Russia
Topic: Cossacks

 

Renowned for their sword-fighting prowess and horsemanship, the Cossacks are taking on new enemies – beggars, drunks and improperly parked cars on the streets of Moscow.

With the approval of city authorities, eight Cossacks clad in fur hats and uniforms patrolled a Moscow train station yesterday looking for signs of minor public disturbances.

The Kremlin is seeking to use the once-feared Tsarist paramilitary squads in its new drive to promote conservative values and appeal to nationalists.

The southern province of Krasnodar – which includes Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics – launched Cossack patrols in September to crack down on Muslim migrants from the neighbouring Caucasus.

Cossacks trace their history in Russia back to the 15th century. Serving in the Tsarist cavalry, they spearheaded imperial Russia’s expansion in exchange for special privileges, including the right to govern their villages.

In the 2010 census, about 650,000 Russians declared themselves Cossacks. Yesterday’s patrol was a test run for whether the group can become an armed and salaried auxiliary police force, with the power of arrest, patrol leader Igor Gulichev said.

Mr Gulichev’s group, which he said numbers up to 85, has patrolled south-western Moscow with police approval for the past year, and has brought about 35 arrests. They are unpaid but receive free public transport passes and uniforms.

The conservative Cossacks have increased their political activity in response to an impromptu protest that feminist punk rockers Pussy Riot staged in Moscow’s main cathedral in February.

Groups of Cossacks recently barred visitors from entering a Moscow art exhibition that daubed Pussy Riot’s trademark balaclavas over Orthodox Christian icons, and they led a successful campaign to cancel a staging of Vladimir Nabokov’s racy novel, Lolita, in St Petersburg.

A government-backed Cossack political party held its first congress in Moscow last weekend. Communists have called it a cheap attempt to siphon pensioners’ support from their party, which is widely known by the same acronym. Six other groups have applied to form splinter Cossack parties.

Mr Gulichev, whose official title is deputy ataman, a Turkic word meaning commander, said he expected his group’s responsibilities would expand to fighting drug trafficking and terrorism, mirroring the special relationship Cossacks had with the tsars.

“Cossacks have always been on the frontiers of the Russian empire, fighting foes and adversaries, illegal immigration – repulsing raids, as people say today,” he added.

President Vladimir Putin was inducted into what is known as the Cossack host in 2005 and given the rank of colonel, previously held by tsars.

A 400,000-strong all-Russia Cossack host directly subordinate to Mr Putin is scheduled to be launched by the end of the year.

© Scotsman. 29 November, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 6:31 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 29 November 2012 6:37 AM EST
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Thursday, 18 October 2012
Cossacks Gather in Moscow to Mark 200th Anniversary of Victory over Napoleon
Topic: Cossacks

 

The “Cossack village of Moscow” festival is now underway on the territory of the “Luzhniki” Olympic complex. It commemorates 200th anniversary of the Cossacks gathering that set the task of expelling Napoleon forces from Moscow.

“The Cossack corps led by Ataman Matvei Platov completely destroyed my horses, artillery and bags”, Napoleon said remembering his unsuccessful campaign in Russia. In the Great Patriotic war of 1812, Cossacks distinguished themselves by displaying cleverness, decisiveness and bravery. Later, they entered Paris in the vanguard of European forces. Their descendants still honour the traditions, says Cossack Colonel Alexander Gavrin.

“The festival is staged at the time when members of the Council for Cossack Affairs under the President of the Russian Federation meet in Moscow. From time immemorial, Moscow has been the centre that unites all Cossack regiments. Before the Revolution in 1917, there were 12 Cossack regiments, while at present, 11 regiments have been registered by the government. Representatives of all Cossack villages, from the Russian Far East, Ussurisk and Amur to Tver gather in the Russian capital. Cossacks have long lived in multinational Russia and have never betrayed the country. They have always served their motherland with good faith and fidelity, Alexander Gavrin said.

The main event of the festival in Luzhniki is the construction of an Orthodox church. The whole church is built in a single day. Here is an opinion from organizer of the festival Olga Ivanova.

“The festival opens with a performance by the army chorus of the Moscow District’s Central Cossack force. Sholokhov Moscow Cossack cadet’s corps march and a performance by Kuban Cossack force’s honorary guard will close the festival. Muscovites and the visitors of the Russian capital will get an opportunity to watch master-classes in historical fencing. The festival includes a huge children’s programme, competitions, round dances and other entertainment,” Olga Ivanova said.

The festival also features a large fair of traditional handicrafts. The hosts of Cossack villages offer visitors “kvass”, honey and other treats and snacks.

© The Voice of Russia. 18 October, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 7:50 AM EDT
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Monday, 1 October 2012
Russia Hosts Fourth World Cossack Congress
Topic: Cossacks

 

Photo: The Novocherkassk Army Assumption Cathedral hosted a memorial service on the event's opening day 

Novocherkassk, the capital of Don Cossacks in southern Russia, is hosting the Fourth World Cossack Congress this week, which convenes about 500 participants from the CIS and from 40 countries outside the CIS, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports.

Foreign participants will drive into the city via two Triumphal Arches built to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1812, to which Don Cossacks, commanded by legendary chieftain Matvei Platov, contributed a great deal.

The Novocherkassk Army Assumption Cathedral will feature a memorial service on the event’s opening day, and memorial plaques will be installed at the cathedral’s burial vault. A Cossack parade will take place at Chieftain Platov Square followed by other commemorative events.

At the same time, representatives of Don Cossack Host – a public association uniting over 100,000 local Cossacks – will not attend the congress. Historically, the world congresses are only for “official Cossacks,” while the public association holds its own conventions and parades.

Don Cossack Host Chieftain Nikolai Kozitsyn complains that the authorities have always used the Cossacks for their own purposes, dividing them arbitrarily into “the red” and “the white,” or into “unofficial” and “official” Cossacks.

The World Cossack Congress will run until October 1, featuring gala performances, fairs and exhibitions, and an equestrian festival.

© Russkiy Mir. 01 October, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 8:12 PM EDT
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Monday, 13 August 2012
Cossacks on Bicentennial Victory Ride to Paris
Now Playing: Language: Russian. Duration: 1 minute, 36 seconds.
Topic: Cossacks

Two dozen daredevil Russian Cossacks, known for their deep-rooted horse-riding and fighting traditions, are heading to Paris. Fear not! All they want is to celebrate the bicentenary of the country's victory over Napoleon in the War of 1812.

­Twenty-three Cossacks who set out on horseback to ride from Moscow to the French capital are descendants of those who once fought against Napoleon’s army.

Their primary objective these days is to pass through six countries – Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and France – to arrive at the Palace of Fontainebleau by October 19. The horses the Cossacks are riding are a special southern Russia breed ideal for long journeys.

Residents of the cities the Cossacks will pass through will have a chance to appreciate their strong battle and horse riding skills, which once helped them beat the French.

Among their signature stunts are riding a horse while standing up; sitting on the horse the “wrong way” and being able to shoot backwards.

Among the key battles in Napoleon’s Russian campaign was the Battle of Borodino which involved 250,000 troops and was the bloodiest single day in all the Napoleonic Wars.  

Describing that battle, Napoleon said that the French proved themselves to be worthy of victory, while the Russians proved they can be called invincible, in many ways thanks to Cossacks.

© Russia Today and RIA Novosti. 13 August, 2012



Posted by Paul Gilbert at 12:02 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2012 6:59 AM EDT
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