Vladimir Gromov: “There are more officials engaged in Cossacks in Russia than the Cossacks themselves”
A Kuban chieftain about the discredit of the Cossack community and why one cannot walk the streets with a nagaika
The Cossacks bring their colours in the picture of Russian life, not only in the south of the country — people in the appropriate uniform can patrol the streets as voluntary citizen's watch groups or to protect public order in the elections, and they also may be dispersing opposition rallies, as it happened in Moscow in 2018. What the Russian Cossacks are today and what are its real goals and ideas — read in the interview of Realnoe Vremya with Vladimir Gromov, the ataman of the Kuban Cossack army in 1990-2008, the former vice-governor of Krasnodar Krai.
“They used to say over and over again both in Tsarist Russia and in Soviet times: the Cossacks are a class”
Mr Gromov, the Cossacks began to revive 30 years ago. Have the goals of the Cossacks changed during this time?
They certainly have. Then, during perestroika, the social prerequisites for the revival of the Cossacks were ripe — at that time, the ethnic consciousness of the descendants of the Cossacks who lived in the villages and farms was still preserved. These people were brought up on Cossack culture and traditions and realized that they were Cossacks. People who were true carriers of the Cossack culture began to create folklore groups, folk songs of the Cossacks began to sound more often not only at holidays but also at concerts and festivals.
In addition, since the 1970s, in our country, there has been the interest of people to their past — to the history of their family, native land, village, farm. Such interest emerged because the society was already fed up with political, and specifically speaking, party history, which excluded regional history from its content, did it secondary and unworthy of the attention of the Soviet people. By the way, by the 1990s, I had defended my thesis and worked at the Department of National History, and once I was offered to lecture by on this topic to the society Knowledge. I reluctantly agreed, saying that I was ready to lecture on the history of Kuban, Krasnodar — I thought that this topic was not in demand and I would be left alone. But the theme of the region, on the contrary, was very popular, it was possible to earn a lot of money on it.
Against the background of the interest in the history of the region, ethnographic studies began to be conducted, and these studies have shown exactly what the Cossacks represented itself. Up to the ’90, in tsarist Russia and the Soviet times, they were always saying only one thing: the Cossacks — a class, completely ignoring and not understanding the essence of the Cossacks. The Cossacks are culture, traditions, and self-consciousness, including ethnic ones. And, finally, it is military service which was carried by the Cossacks.
The form, not culture of the Cossacks, came to the fore. Nobody is interested in the culture, the content of the Cossacks anymore
Therefore, perestroika faced the task of reviving the Cossacks as an ethnic and cultural community of people, and this is a very correct position. If the goals of the revival of the Cossacks is dominated by one thing, and the other things are not paid attention to, then we get a bird with one wing. And that's what eventually happened. You see, the revival of the Cossacks was thought for several generations, this community must be revived primarily through the family, through the school, through the Cossack society.
But soon there was the goals and objectives were substituted. The form, not culture of the Cossacks, came to the fore. Nobody is interested in the culture, the content of the Cossacks anymore.
“The current generation of the Cossacks is not ready to form military detachments”
Let's go to the main tasks for the Cossacks. Involving them into voluntary militias — isn’t it an important modern matter for the Cossacks?
Voluntary squads are a useful thing, but not the main thing in the life of the Cossacks. It is impossible to get any proper relation line of the Cossacks and the state while for the Cossack there is no military service.
But in order to create Cossack units or border outposts, we should have a contingent that meets the requirements that are needed for a particular kind of troops. But the current generation of the Cossacks is not ready to form such Cossack units, regiments or formations. Yes, you can call them Cossacks, but Cossacks will not serve there because somewhere they are Cossacks, but somewhere they are not. People will simply serve as Cossacks, but no more. Therefore, the allocation of Cossack units in the system of the same border service — it is very difficult.
Yes, they say that there are seven, then nine, then twelve million Cossacks, but where are these millions after all these repressions that the Cossacks underwent? No, there are not very many Cossacks today. They cannot be much if people only “work” as Cossacks, but it is sometimes impossible to collect those Cossack societies that still exist.
Yes, they say that there are seven, then nine, then twelve million Cossacks, but where are these millions after all these repressions that the Cossacks underwent? No, there are not very many Cossacks today
Why is there an increase of those who “work” as Cossacks, only putting on a uniform?
The growth of societies comes from the fact that someone wants to take some public office, showing that there are many people behind him, to whom the state should pay attention.
I will tell you this: now the officials who are engaged in the Cossacks in Russia are more than the Cossacks themselves! Everyone tries to show his or her importance and indispensability and if it gives the “effect”, the number of the Cossack officials and the Cossack societies grows even more.
But can’t Cossacks help the younger generation, for example, in pre-conscription preparation? After all, among the Cossacks there surely can be found those who have served and still serve, if not for the age and the impossibility of creating Cossack units?
The Cossacks were and are involved in the pre-service preparation, but when taken all in all they say that for the Cossack the most important is patriotism... Excuse me, but those who are not Cossacks are not supposed to be patriots? Patriots should be all citizens of Russia, if they are awarded the title of citizen of the country.
Do the current Cossacks have any big idea if there is no possibility to perform military service?
No, today the Cossacks have no any idea. The Cossacks often ask me: “Where are we going?”, to which I answer them: “I'm not going anywhere, but where you are you going, ask those who lead you.”
The Cossacks were and are involved in the pre-service preparation, but when taken all in all they say that for the Cossack the most important is patriotism... Excuse me, but those who are not Cossacks are not supposed to be patriots?
“If you apply the nagaika to people, it will be ashamed to go out in Cossack uniform over time”
Where is the state, with which the Cossacks are closely linked, leading them? More and more often one can hear about unpleasant things connected with them — they dispersed the same oppositionists in Moscow last year.
The state just doesn’t need most of the current Cossacks, and those who are friends with the state are basically not Cossacks, but simply recruited people. I've been here talking about the created Cossack party — the laws prohibit the formation of parties on an ethnic basis.
Of course, it is bad that some people in uniform here and there go to different political campaigns, it is bad when Cossacks are attracted to dispersal of meetings by nagaikas. I prohibited the Cossacks to carry the nagaika — they have never carried it, they were taken only when rode on the horses. And those who go with nagaikas are not Cossacks. If the nagaika is applied to humans, then over time it will become ashamed to go out in the Cossack uniform. But many people lived for years with the ideas of the Cossacks, and then spent strength and health to revive it.
How should those who have gone to fight on the side of DNR and LNR in the Cossack uniform be treated?
It's hard to say. Probably, they are more volunteers; it is already not the time when the Cossack society sends somewhere for military purposes. The Cossacks now cannot be independent from the state. But some Cossacks can.
Mr Gromov, then where can we find true Cossacks? Maybe there are more of them in folk ensembles and vocal groups than in vigilante groups?
In fact, these Cossacks who can gather, sing, dance and, at the same time, to debate — they are very few. Now it's two sides of the same street.
True Cossacks who can gather, sing, dance and debate — they are very few. Now it's two sides of the same street
So, the real Cossacks remained in the past?
Yes, now the Cossacks are being discredited, people are made disappointed in them. But the true Cossacks will still sprout. How? The Cossack families should throw all forces on children and grandchildren — it is necessary that they know the culture and traditions of the Cossacks, understand that they do not go to a Cossack school, but above all, they are Cossacks. And then everything will sprout. I really like the Chinese saying — “They Tried to Bury Us, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds.”