For many centuries, the Cossacks have been one of the symbols of Russia and a reliable pillar of the Tsar’s power. During the Russian Civil War (1917-1923), most of the Cossacks supported the White Movement, whose defeat brought the old ways to an end. Supporters of the previous government were forced to either change their political beliefs or leave the country.
Historically, the main places of Cossack settlement were the Kuban lands (Rostov Oblast, Krasnodar Krai), the Urals, Transbaikalia, and others. After the defeat of the White Movement in the Far East and Siberia, in the early 1920s the Transbaikal Cossacks who had taken part in the struggle against the Soviet authorities began to emigrate en masse to other countries. Unsurprisingly, the policy of the Soviet leadership at the time envisaged the complete elimination of Cossacks as a class. One way of weakening the position of the Cossacks was their forced mobilization into the Soviet army. But the Cossacks, being staunch opponents of the Bolsheviks, refused to defect to the new authorities, preferring to leave their homeland.
Cossacks who intended to leave Soviet Russia began to depart with their families for northern China – Manchuria, Harbin and Shanghai. Their choice was based on the fact that these regions were close to the Russian border, which they hoped would be a good place to “wait out” the harsh times. The Cossacks hoped for a speedy fall of the Bolsheviks and a change in the political balance of power in the country.
After World War II, the Communists came to power in China, where a significant number of Cossacks already lived. To avoid possible political persecution, Cossacks began to leave their new homes and move on to other countries. Thus, in the 1960s the Transbaikal Cossacks made their way to Australia, which was then moving steadily in a pro-Western direction, with active support from the United States.
Despite the economic difficulties of moving to such a distant land, the Cossacks managed to maintain their cultural identity. When the rebirth of the Cossacks in Russia began in the 1990s, Cossacks from Australia were enlisted into the Transbaikal Cossack Host. Today, Australian Russian Cossacks are passionately following the fate of their historic homeland and wholeheartedly support the policies pursued by the Russian government.
At present, the Cossack community in Australia is very protective of the preservation of the Russian language and culture. The ataman of the Australian Cossacks, Semyon Boykov, is a descendant of migrants, who has taken an active part in the development of this group of like-minded people.
Unfortunately, there are a number of Russian-speaking emigrants in Australia who oppose the Kremlin’s policies. The white-immigrant-founded newspaper Unity, whose editorial board sees as its main aim rallying all Russian-speaking Australians around an interest in all things Russian, has removed the Russian tricolor from its cover and condemns the special military operation in Ukraine carried out by the Russian Armed Forces. But in the view of the Australian Cossacks, such behavior is a disregard for their historic homeland and a rejection of their roots.
Some sections of the Russian-speaking community in Australia have a negative view of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In particular, individual Orthodox clerics in Australia make such remarks. However, despite tangible public pressure, the Australian Russian Cossacks flatly refuse to condemn Russia’s actions.
Semyon Boykov is convinced that people who celebrated Russia Day every year at the Russian embassy in Australia, receiving awards, subsidies and grants, have no moral authority to condemn the special military operation. The ataman considers that time will put everything in its place, so such citizens should reflect on their behavior and express support for the actions of the Russian leadership. Semyon Boykov believes that Russians abroad are obliged to express their approval of Russia by wearing St. George’s Ribbons on their clothes during the holy holiday of Victory Day on May 9, when demonstrations are held, and by placing St. George’s Ribbons on their cars along with the new “Z” sign, signifying support for the Russian army. The ataman is convinced that in this way compatriots can express their solidarity with Russia.
Meanwhile, the media in Australia are actively campaigning against the public use of pro-Russian symbols – the St George’s Ribbon and the “Z” symbol – in an attempt to paint supporters of Vladimir Putin’s policies as extremists. There have even been calls on social media to deport the Australian Cossacks back to Russia. Of course, this task is completely unrealistic because Semyon Boykov and his associates have only one nationality, Australian.
It is important to note that many Australians revere the exploits of the Soviet people who suffered heavy losses and made a decisive contribution to the victory over Nazism in 1945. For example, on May 9, 2021 in Sydney, the Australian MP for New South Wales, Marjorie O’Neill, took part in the celebrations to mark the Soviet victory in World War II and laid flowers at the Soviet Soldiers Memorial, wearing St George’s Ribbon.
The main social activity of the Australian Russians is in the information field. Thus, some time after the start of the special operation, they held a rally in support of the actions of the Russian authorities in Ukraine. Cossacks also run news channels on social media, helping to spread accurate information about Russian policies. These news sources have an impressive number of subscribers. Because Australian Cossacks are bilingual, i.e. people who are equally proficient in more than one language, the channels are in English. It is for this reason that the majority of subscribers are English-speaking audiences.
The immediate plans of the Australian Russian Cossacks include a May 9, 2022 event. Ataman Semyon Boykov has held talks with the Russian Embassy and concluded that Victory Day in 2022 should be celebrated as widely as possible to demonstrate to the world the solidarity of Russian people all over the globe. In his view, Russia’s fate is being decided at the moment, so in these days all those who support Russia’s actions need to be united.
The Australian Cossacks are a clear example of how time and distance do not matter when you cherish and respect your country and its history. With their love for their historic homeland, Semyon Boykov and his men convey Russia’s principled position to people all over the world.
Of course, there are citizens in Australia who call for the dissolution of the Cossacks, but their calls will go unheeded because the Cossacks are under Russian patronage. One of the main vectors of Vladimir Putin’s policy is to protect and support compatriots abroad. The Australian Cossacks are no exception.
Undoubtedly, the prospects for the Cossacks in Australia are bright. It is likely that more people will wish to join Semyon Boykov’s Cossack community. This is primarily because Cossacks are the main active pro-Russian force in Australia. In defending Russia’s interests in the world, the Australian Cossacks are providing invaluable assistance to their historic homeland, once again serving as its hope and support.
Petr Konovalov, a political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.