Cossacks: breaking myths without the whip

Vladimir Putin supported the creation of Cossack units in the National Guard a few weeks ago. The Cossacks have been helping to put order in some places for years: a kind of riot police on horseback with their ‘nagaika’ or whip at the ready. The picture does not help to win a popularity contest.

The Cossacks in the sunny Kuban region don’t want to be the ‘bad cop’. They were one of the resistance forces against the Bolsheviks during the civil war of a century ago. Since they were rehabilitated by Boris Yeltsin, they have tried to recover their traditions and preserve their identity.

The town of Ust-Labinsk, an hour’s drive from the city of Krasnodar, hosted this weekend the largest Cossack culture festival in the country, organized by the Volnoe Delo foundation, created by industrialist Oleg Deripaska. Folklore, song, culinary and craft traditions to break some myths. Starting with that Spanish saying «they drink like Cossacks»: in reality, drunks are frowned upon by the Cossack community and at the festival, not a drop of alcohol is served.

The old and the new walk through the meadow. In the pocket of his traditional ‘cherkeska’, a long tunic of Circassian origin, the mobile has gained prominence instead of the ‘kinzhal’ (dagger). Fried cheese and spicy meat make organic quinoa a sad black and white movie. «Cossack culture has survived many centuries and many changes,» says Andrei, a Cossack with a mustache. Holding her arm, Evgenia, a descendant of Cossacks, promises to pass these traditions on to her children. Urban speed won’t kill a centennial gallop. Although back home the Cossacks meet again … in a monumental traffic jam in Krasnodar.

Full version, in Spanish: Cosacos, el poli bueno

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