The Cossacks of Russia are a unique group of people. They are not an ethnic
group, but instead, what they have in common is a history of being mercenary
soldiers. They fought for any army that paid them. Now, they are considered the
warrior cast, and as the famous Russian writer, Pushkin, put it, are 'eternally
ready to fight'. Even today, some Cossacks play an active role in military
conflicts, for example, in the 1994 war in Chechnya.
Things are different for
the Cossacks now. In the ancient past, the Cossacks owned the land. This did not
mean that they were wealthy, but at least they felt that the land was theirs and
the people received protection. Some want to be able to enjoy that feeling
again-they want their old way of life back.
The Cossacks are in general a very patriotic people. They feel very strongly
for their motherland, Russia. In the Second World War, many fought on the side
of the Soviets to protect Russia from the German enemy. Being excellent
horsemen, they often rode ahead of the army, as part of reconnaissance teams.
They were the information gatherers that the army depended on. Their skill with
horses is a tradition that has been passed down through the generations. Today,
unfortunately, with the development of roads and vehicles, expert horseback
riders are rarely needed.
Another tradition among the Cossacks was a strong devotion to the Russian
Orthodox Church. This tradition is not very strong now, but Cossacks can still
be found defending churches from thieves and vandals. Sometimes, they are not
even paid to do so. Since 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the
country has seen a vast increase in levels of crime. Again, the Cossacks
sometimes take things into their own hands and try to put a stop to crime.
Today, young Cossack men are sent to school where military training is an
important part of their education. If a male is the only one supporting his
family, he wears an earring in one ear. He will then be exempted from any
dangerous duty. These young men learn how to shoot rifles and how to march
smartly. They also study Cossack history. Their military training puts them in a
good position to help uphold public order.