Mapping the Host

Ja-Jeong Koo attached great importance to the rhetoric of brotherhood, so manifested at the days of the Rada’s closure. He argued that the convocation of the Rada was a moment of revolutionary significance in the process of fundamental transformation of the Kuban Cossacks’ self-image, which asserted “the new organic Cossack identity” and led to “the evolution from soslovie to ethnos,” accomplished during the time of the Revolution of 1917 and the Civil War.47 I suggest looking at this rhetoric from a different angle. I argue that, instead of being a starting point of convergence of several previously dissociated “subhosts,” as Koo pointed out, the discussions of the land question waged at the Rada and local press were quite a radical departure from the official image of the uniform Kuban Host, established in the 1860s.

The deputies of the Rada divided themselves into several groups not along the lines of Kuban oblast’s administrative division but according to geographic and historical criteria. Thus, the deputies found themselves not as the representatives of Maikop district or Eisk district but as the spokesmen of Chernomoria, Old Linia, New Linia, and Transkubania. The reason for it were different regulations that determined the amount of land per capita, since each territory initially possessed different legal status and was demarcated separately.48 The invocation of these four regions was a technical matter, deriving from the size of land plots. And yet, from the very outset, the regional division was interpreted in social and cultural terms. The Cossacks of New and Old Linia were referred to simply as the Line Cossacks, as contrasted to the Black Sea Cossacks and the Cossacks of Transkubania. At the opening session of the Rada, Mikhailov appealed to the Cossacks as if they constituted three different groups: "Black Sea, Line, and Transkubanian Cossacks, exchange here your thoughts on the raised issue, talk ardently, tell the truth to each other even if it is unpleasant.”49

At the concluding session of the Rada, the chair of the Black Sea Cossack representatives proudly asserted that “the black cat that had crossed the paths of the Black Sea, Line, and Transkubania Cossacks a long time ago, no longer exists,” referring to the same three groups. As he added, thanks to the Rada, the Kuban Cossacks became “united into a single fraternal family of the Host.” But the Kuban Cossack fraternity, itself, was meant to be a fraternity of these precisely three groups.50

The framing of agrarian discontent in socio-historical terms was not an exclusive peculiarity of discussions within the walls of the Rada. Polemics, unleashed on pages of the press in the previous months, too, readily employed these very same divisions in order to seek equitable distribution of land (for some) or to defend their land against encroachments (for others). Authors boasted venerable origin of their respective communities to support their claims and, consequently, denied the right of others to be treated on equal footing. Several authors from Chernomoria, for example, went as far as to call the Cossacks of Transkubania “rabble” on the ground that they had come from various places, had been artificially included into the Cossack estate, and in view of this did not possess the honorable genealogy of a sort of the Black Sea or Line Cossacks. As one correspondent put it, the Cossacks beyond the Kuban “had nothing in common with the past of the glorious Kuban [sic!] or Black Sea Cossacks.”51

In the same way, another correspondent from Transkubania (who happened to be his namesake) noted that stanitsas of the mountain territories were populated partially by the Cossacks of the glorious Don Host, partially by soldiers of the glorious Caucasus army that conquered the Caucasus, and partially by Little Russians from Kharkov, Poltava and other gubernias, who were kindred to the Black Sea Cossacks.

At the same time, he continued, “if we speak about rabble, then, Zaporozhia, from which the glorious Black Sea Host emerged, was rabble as well.” In view of this, the correspondent asked, “how could it be that they are the native sons, and we are the stepsons?”52 This kind of rhetoric was echoed during Rada's sessions. As reported by one of its members, a certain representative of Black Sea Cossack stanitsas called the Cossacks from Transkubania “adoptees,” referring to their inferior and nonnative status within the Kuban Host’s family.53

These discussions, which preceded the Rada, and which continued with new vigor at its meetings, brought seemingly obsolete appellations back into the official discourse. Historical communities of Chernomoria and Linia reemerged again as subjects of legal practice, and it was particularly true for the Black Sea Cossacks. On the one hand, deputies representing the inhabitants of Black Sea Cossack stanitsas eagerly appealed to historical rights of Chernomoria on its own territory, this time defending it not from inogorodnie settlers, but from their fellow Kuban Cossacks of non-Black Sea Cossack origin. Even the author of the semi-official brochure about the Rada characterized Chernomoria, as it was represented at the Rada, as "the restored Zaporozhian Host, which settled on its own lands within definite borders and formed a completely separate region.” On the other hand, speakers from other stanitsas no less eagerly portrayed the Black Sea Cossacks as a miserly collective owner of spare land and reproached them for their unwillingness to share it with their needy brethren.54

The Black Sea Cossacks’ eventual generosity was rewarded at the last day of the Rada. In the Host’s cathedral, the priest Arsenii Belanovskii turned it into a triumph of the Zaporozhian symbolism.

How many years have passed since Hetman Sahaidachnyi, fearsome to enemies but always dear and close to the Cossack heart, put all his energies and his life for the benefit of “his native children and Ukraine [svoikh rid-nykh ditok i Ukrainu"l How can the memory of this “eagle of Zaporozhia” ever die in the Cossack’s heart? How can anyone, who loves his motherland, forget that this gatherer of the shattered Ukraine freed the shrines of the Orthodox faith from defilement, let the enslaved Dnieper breathe freely, and ... went into battle with people’s darkness and ignorance, taking care of the Cossacks' enlightenment?

The God, proclaimed the priest, would disown the Cossacks who would forget their ancestors. "And now I will say with particular solemn joy - and I am saying it here, in the Holy of Holies, at the throne of God - that you, the Kuban-Black Sea Cossacks did not forget your heroic ancestors.” Belanovskii praised the Host as not merely the descendant of the Zaporozhian forefathers, but as a collective reincarnation of the spirit of chief Zaporozhian leaders. Coming together at the Rada “under the mace of the Zaporozhian unanimity,” the Cossacks, he proudly asserted, “resurrected” the spirits of their Zaporozhian ancestors.55

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