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Monday, May 04, 2009

Courting the Cossacks

Contributed by Max Smith

Along with several other figures in Russian politics, Alexander Dugin seems to be courting the Cossacks. One can notice Cossacks in Eurasian demonstrations in the Crimea, and there is a recent Dugin paper about them from his centre at Moscow State University (MGU). There are also news items illustrating closer political cooperation between Dugin and the Cossacks.

It is not only Dugin who is currently striving for more ties with the Cossacks, but also Dmitry Demushkin (also spelled Dyomushkin) of Slavic Unity (Slavyanski Soyuz, abbreviated as SS). See background below.

Clues to why this is happening are to be found both in the size of the Cossack movement – only Putin's United Russia can match it – and also in the latest composition of the State Duma. Since 2008 the most powerful Cossack chieftain, Viktor Vodolatsky, has a seat in the Duma thanks to a deal between the Cossacks and United Russia. A further 56 duma members have declared themselves to be Cossacks. Additionally, both army and FSB-border guard units are now granting privileges to Cossacks all over the country, not just in the south. Even in the Arctic Murmansk region Cossacks are being integrated into border units.

Unlike the older Russian National Unity (RNE--see background below), the SS claims to be primarily a Slavic movement. This difference is mostly a theoretical one, but the SS undeniably likes to highlight its friends in Ukraine, Belarus and Serbia. This means it is closer to Eurasianism than the RNE, although Dugin hardly wants to be associated with any of them. It may seem politically insane, but this does not hold true for the Cossacks. SS leader Dmitry Demushkin has even been made a colonel of the Cossacks and received a Cossack decoration, and SS delegates attended a major Cossack conference.

Background
The first major post-Soviet Russian fascist movement was arguably the black-clad Pamyat (Memory). A cultural movement in the 1970s, a political movement from 1987, it reached its peak strength around 1990. It never became a nation-wide phenomenon. Pamyat cornerstones were the Russian Orthodox Church, crude antisemitism and admiration for the prerevolutionary extreme nationalist "Black Hundreds". Alexander Dugin was briefly a part of Pamyat before he moved on to the National Bolshevik Party.

Then along came Russian National Unity (in Russian abbreviated RNE) under Alexander Barkashov – which went further, even using a Russian variant of the swastika as its main symbol. Incidentally, Barkashov too had started off in Pamyat. RNE was founded in 1990 and within a few years managed to expand to most Russian regions, and in some areas had an amazing presence on the streets – given its black uniforms and swastikas and the number of Russians citizens with a first-hand experience of National Socialism. RNE was without doubt the largest Russian radical nationalist organization with perhaps as many as a 100,000 members at its organizational peak in 1999.

RNE, like Pamyat, is still around. But ever since the year 2000--the year that party leader Alexander Barkashov was expelled from his own party for alcoholism, among other things--it has been in decline. Some months prior to that, RNE-member Dmitry Demushkin founded Slavic Unity, which in 2006 was transformed into what is officially the National Socialist Movement Slavic Unity, though it is still mostly called just Slavic Unity, SS.

Since its founding in September 1999 the SS has not reached the kind of mass that RNE once had. A recent estimate is a total of 1,500 members, mainly in Moscow and Saint Petersburg but with activist cells as far away as Vladivostok.

It may seem the SS is still a far call from RNE but there are three reasons that the SS warrant the attention of Russia analysts.
  1. For special events, the SS can draw on a pool of several thousand skinheads and other young radical nationalists. See this slide show on Youtube, illustrating the development from RNE to SS.
  2. In 2007 a Russian State Duma Deputy, Nikolai Kuryanovich of the LDPR faction (Vladimir Zhirinovsky´s party), decided to not only join the SS but also openly promote them, even using their Nazi salute. See this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ONDVulODxk. Kuryanovich was subsequently expelled from the LDPR but remained a Duma Deputy until December 2007 and remains a public figure and a captain in the Russian Naval Infantry (Russian Marine Corps).
  3. The SS not only brags that it has its own fire arms (some automatic) but also that it has friends in military units that even lend them machine guns and a BTR-80 heavy armoured car with a heavy machine gun. In the following video the SS leader himself is firing away with these weapons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIdqONBPRuw&feature=related.

1 comment:

Cossack said...

Useful information.