The Kozak Dream

The Cossacks by Shane O’Rourke

The symbolic importance of Cossack culture cannot be overestimated for the oppressed masses of Poland Lithuania and Muscovy. To see or even hear about a boyar or great lord treated with contempt by a cossack demonstrated to those masses that an alternative and viable social order did indeed exist.

This was to prove far more threatening to Poland-Lithuania or Muscovy and the Russian Empire than the cossack swords and muskets on their own could ever be.

For those who believed and became cossacks the effect was so liberating, so all consuming that they in effect they became different people. Even for the million who remained behind in bondage the power of the cossack idea to stir the belief than an earthly liberation was possible was as potent as those appeals that promised a heavenly liberation. . . .

Cossack ideals of freedom and equality were the stuff of popular dreams. For humiliated and oppressed peasants the cossack represented a living and viable alternative to the existing social order.

Cossack insurgency alway had the potential to explode out of its regional and local character into a matter of kingdom wide significance, drawing into its ranks hundreds of thousands of desperate people by design and spontaneously.

Rumor alone of cossack rebellion was often enough for the enserfed masses to shake off their sullen obedience to a hated system, proclaim themselves cossack and wreak a blood vengeance on their oppressors.

The memory of the abrupt transition from a glower docility to a mob fury terrorized the imperial nobility down to the end of the old regime,

and this was no atavistic nightmare dimly held in the collective consciousness of the nobility but a living menace.