Cossacks - Modern Day Russian Cossack Identity

Modern Day Russian Cossack Identity

Unlike in Ukraine, where the issue of Cossack status and identity seems to have been resolved, in modern Russia, the question of "Who is a Cossack?" can and does create major controversies. There are ethnic or "born" (prirodnye) Cossacks, those trace or, at least, claim to trace their direct ancestry to Cossacks of the old, Tsarist era. These are mainly Orthodox Christian people, who consider themselves to be Slavic.

Others, however, who are not "born" Cossacks, can become Cossacks through initiation. They are not necessarily Slavic or Christian. For example, since 2004, in the city of Perm functioned modern Russia's first Muslim Cossack unit.

Not everyone agrees that "initiated" Cossacks should be considered Cossacks at all. Nor is there consensus on what is considered a proper form of initiation.

There are people who simply put on a Cossack uniform and, essentially, pretend to be Cossacks, perhaps because there is a large ethnic Cossack population in their area and it is more convenient to try to fit in; or because that is simply a popular fad at the moment. Such individuals tend to be scoffed at by "real" Cossacks and referred to as 'ryazhenye' (ряженые, 'dressed up phonies').

Because of the controversies surrounding the identity issue, true population numbers of Cossacks in Russia still cannot be worked out. There are said to be 7 million people in Russia who consider themselves ethnic Cossacks. Most Cossack leaders estimate the number of ethnic Cossacks as between 2.5 and 4 million.

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