The Tsai ’s loyal Cossacks

The Rada had almost nothing in common with the initial idea conceived by Kuban Cossack conservatives. The only reminiscence of the Rada’s original task—to assert the Cossacks’ loyalty to the crown—were Mikhailov’s words, expressed at the assembly’s closure ceremony, in which he encouraged the deputy audience to send delegates to the new Duma who “would not be ashamed of their Cossack rank and for their service, so important for the Tsar.”56 The administration did not allow the Cossack delegates to discuss other issues of political relevance. Given the potential perils of the Rada’s turning into a platform for seditious proclamations, authorities ensured that it would remain aloof from any discussions concerned with politics. According to Shcherbina’s memoirs, Mikhailov warned him in private that discussions at the Rada should not touch upon political matters - a condition, imposed by the Emperor himself. Otherwise, Mikhailov assured, he would be obliged to dissolve the Rada immediately.57

Shcherbina recalled that the Rada had an occasion to make sure how thoroughly the administration monitored the implementation of the directive. One time, a certain Rada member raised the issue of the 2nd Urupskii regiment’s mutiny, proposing to send a delegation to Nicholas II to express loyalist feelings and beg pardon for the Kuban Host’s guilt. Mikhailov’s senior assistant, Mikhail Babych, prevented the discussion, which all but broke out. He pardoned the Rada for the first time but threatened to shut it down if it happened again.58

The issue of the mutiny, though, made its way into the Rada’s floor as Mikhailov spoke on it at the concluding session. Evoking the plotline of Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba, the ataman resorted to the famous Zaporozhian fiction as an allegorical reference point for the explanation of what had happened. When Bulba learned about the treason of his own son, Mikhailov said, he did not allow anyone to punish the son. Instead, Bulba killed him himself. The Kuban Cossacks that suppressed the mutiny, Mikhailov continued, are the Bulbas of the nowadays.

The Kuban Cossacks are not guilty of any crime and they do not have to apologize for anything. Those, who are ashamed to be Cossacks or for whom being a Cossack is disadvantageous, then - good riddance, let them go out from the Host.59

Beyond the assembly’s hall, however, the issues of the mutiny and of the Rada’s convocation often blended into a single whole - a question of the collective guilt and collective loyalty. The author of the song at the delegates’ dinner sang that

The Black Sea Cossacks are loyal fellows, So loyal are their stanitsas, Nowadays the Tsarina’s charter Will prove it. [...]

Chornomortsi virni khloptsi,

Virni ikli stanytsi,

Shcho dokazhe v nashi vremia Hramota Tsarytsi...

Nicholas, our Tsar and Father,

Tell us just a word,

Hey, you, Black Sea Cossacks, -

So we are all ready.60

Nikolaiu Tsar’ nash Bat’ko, Skazhy odno slovo, Hei nu khloptsi, chernomortsi, -Tak my vsi i hotovi.

In another song, written by an unknown Cossack from a stanitsa in Transkubania, this question went more articulated:

Tsar, do not be angry with us Not all are guilty That among us showed up Damned betrayers.

Ne hnivaisia na nas Tsariu

Ne vsi vynuvati, Shcho mizh namy ob’iavylys’ Zradnyki prokliati.

Upon the whole Host

They put a black stigma

And covered with shame

The honest name of the Kuban Cossacks.61

Na vse viisko p’iatno cherne Vony polozhyly

I kubantsiv chesne imnia Soromom pokryly.

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