Russia

Sochi: The Return Of The Cossacks

Patriotism over tolerance, says the military-minded ethnic population helping to ensure (though unarmed) Olympic security as Cossacks reassert their historic role.

 Three cossacks at a Stavrapolski Cossack academy in southern Russia
Three cossacks at a Stavrapolski Cossack academy in southern Russia
Marie Jégo

SOCHI — Dressed to the nines in his black-and-red uniform, Valeri Vassilievich Efremov agrees to be photographed in the middle of the Olympic Park — but not to smile. "You know what they say: Smiling is the prerogative of idiots," he says.

As a deputy ataman (leader) of the Kuban Cossacks, Valeri Vassilievich, a former soldier now in his 40s, is not here to jest. He commands 500 men, and is in charge of ensuring the security of the Sochi Olympic Games.

Since January, Cossacks in their papakhas (astrakan hats) and their traditional outfits have been patrolling the streets of Sochi, the Olympic sites, the train stations and the airports. Some factions can also be found at the border with Abkhazia. This Georgian region, which claimed its independence with Moscow's blessing in 2008, remains today a no-man's land where all sorts of trafficking take place.

Unarmed, the Cossacks are assisting the tens of thousands of policemen, soldiers, and agents from the immigration services who have been appointed to watch over the Games, but they're not allowed to patrol on their own.

Their presence draws different reactions from the public, from delight — "Aren't they handsome?" a newsdealer comments — to uncontrollable laughter. "They look like they belong in an operetta," mocks Varlam, a man from Georgia who is working as a driver between Adler and Sochi.

From the Cossack headquarters, located during the Games in a well-tended area of the Olympic Park, vice ataman Efremov is delighted by the resurgence of his community, whose creed he sums up like this: "orthodoxy, patriotism, respect for the traditions." He adds, "We are more patriotic than tolerant."

For him, there's no doubt that "the population would rather have to deal with Cossacks than police officers," since "Cossacks are the people."

According to the official doxa, they are unbeatable at fighting against street crime. "The Russian state needs us," says Efremov. "Our mission is recognized by federal law and our uniform was approved by a presidential ukase decree."

From the reign of Ivan the Terrible until Stalin's purges, the Cossack army had been in charge of securing the borders of the Russian Empire; and they were only rehabilitated after the fall of the USSR, in 1991.

These last 20 years, in the regions of the rivers Don and Volga and also farther to the south, towards Rostov and Krasnodar — the region where Sochi is located — the stanitsas (Cossack villages) started reappearing, while Cossack schools, where education is free and military discipline is the norm, have enjoyed a growing popularity among parents that were haunted by moral decadence.

Minority rights, Muslim threats

But the Cossack renewal gained even more strength after Vladimir's Putin conservative turn at the beginning of his third term, in May 2012. Three months later, Alexander Tkachyov, the Governor of the Krasnodar region, certified the first Cossack patrols' law enforcement mission. The Governor, who is known for his foul language where the non-Russian minorities who live in the region are concerned (Armenians, Georgians, Abkhazians, Azerbaijanis and many others), is himself of Cossack origins.

To justify his decision, Tkachyov explained that the Russians were "in an uncomfortable position" due to the high number of migrants in the wealthy region, which is also a prized holiday destination among the country's political elite. The Governor, concerned about the well-being of the "majority, Russian population", positioned himself as the defender of those who "after having conquered this fertile and welcoming region are, little by little, losing their position — including Cossacks."

Valeri Vassilievich is more moderate. "It's like the fight between cowboys and Indians in America. It was a civil war. We've also been there."

His ancestors indeed participated in the conquest of the Caucasus region, but that chapter of the country's history is behind them. "People want a normal life." But references to the eradication of the Circassians, the Ubykhs, the Shapsugs and many other ethnic groups from the Caucasus are impossible to find, and local touristic guides describe them as "small peoples," as opposed to the "great people" of Russia.

With the celebrations around the Sochi Games, the resentment of the forgotten peoples is strong. For them, 2014 should mark the 150th anniversary of the forgotten genocide of 1864, during which these populations were either massacred or displaced to the Ottoman Empire. The efforts of the community to have this recognized have so far been in vain.

It is this resentment that Islamist leader Dokka Umarov, dubbed "Russia's Bin Laden", is trying to exploit when he speaks of the Sochi Games as "satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors" in one of his numerous propoganda videos.

The official version of history chose to instead remember the Cossacks, the military victories and the victory parade of the Russian troops in the Krasnaya Polyana valley. The same that has now become a trendy winter sports resort.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

​✅ SIGN UP

This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

It's easy (and free!) to sign up to receive it each day in your inbox: 👉 Sign up here

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Keep reading... Show less
Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ