Cossacks


Cossacks
   Social group. The first Cossack (Kazak) hosts, or paramilitary bands also known as voisko, were formed in 14th-century Ukraine. Over the next few centuries, other hosts formed in southern Russia, and ultimately allied themselves with the Romanov tsars, gaining special rights of autonomy for their service as the vanguard of colonial expansion, especially in Siberia where they established new hosts after subduing the local populations.
   During the Russian Civil War, many Cossack hosts supported the anti-Bolshevik forces, and as a result, those who did not emigrate were subjected to intense repression for more than a decade, known as de-Cossackization (raskazachivaniie). The Don, Terek, and Kuban hosts were hit particularly hard.
   Perestroika allowed for the reformation of hosts and the creation of new ones. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cossack movements have flourished, particularly in southern Russia and the North Caucasus, as well as Siberia and northern Kazakhstan. The Russian Federation has granted the Cossacks special rights within the military and the ability to form police or paramilitary units in their traditional homelands, such as Krasnodar Krai (sometimes referred to as Kuban, a reflection of the importance of the Kuban Host in the region’s history). Known for their self-sufficiency, law-abiding ways, social conservatism, and religiosity, the Cossacks are often idealized as the paragon of the new patriotic ideal in 21stcentury Russia, though their vigilante activities, often against immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia, are worrying to many who fear Russia may become a quasi-fascist state. Cossack regiments and volunteer units participated in a number of conflicts in the near abroad, including in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the Chechen Wars; they have also been enlisted in Russia’s counterterrorism efforts.
   Until 2005, Moscow still refused to recognize the Cossacks as an ethnic or national minority and continues to categorize them as ethnic Russians in national censuses. The original Cossacks tended to be Orthodox Slavs; however, generations of intermarriage with Russia’s various national minorities, including Greeks, Armenians, Turkic Muslims, and various Caucasian peoples, has created a unique—if predominantly Russophone—national identity among many contemporary Cossacks. However, when Vladimir Putin introduced successful legislation known as “On the State Service of the Russian Cossacks,” the Cossacks were for the first time recognized as a distinct ethnocultural entity indigenous to Russia.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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