MOSCOW (Jan. 20)
A proposal by one of Russia’s top national security officials to allow the Cossacks of southern Russia to carry arms has caused alarm among politicians and human rights activists.
The comment also prompted an anti-Semitic remark by a member of the Russian Parliament.
Boris Berezovsky, deputy secretary of the Security Council, last week told a congress of Cossack leaders in southern Russia that Cossacks on the borders of Chechnya should be allowed to carry arms to defend themselves against insurgents from the breakaway Russian republic.
Berezovsky, a tycoon-turned-politician who is Jewish, has had a key role in negotiations with Chechnya. He is considered a staunch advocate of the interests of ethnic Russians in the region.
Berezovsky had Israeli citizenship until late last year, when he renounced it after Russian newspapers reported that he had dual nationality.
For centuries of Russian history, Cossacks have been notorious for their anti- Semitism.
According to recent human rights reports, Cossacks regularly persecute non- Russians, such as Armenians and Chechens, living in southern Russia.
Cossacks — a Slavic subethnic group that traditionally lives in southern Russia as well as in the Volga region, Siberia and the Urals — served as border defenders during czarist times.
In recent years, Cossacks started playing an increasing political role in the areas where they live.
Human rights activists sharply criticized Berezovsky’s proposal. One said that allowing Cossacks to carry weapons may lead to civil war in Russia.
Some members of the lower house of Parliament found it ironic that Cossacks, who participated in numerous acts of anti-Semitic violence in the last four centuries, were now seeking permission to carry arms from an official of Jewish origin.
Sergei Baburin, a non-Communist leftist politician who is one of the lower house’s most influential members, was quoted as saying, “Who would have thought that the Cossacks would come to that? Their ancestors must be turning in their graves.”