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The Last Cossack Rebellion?: The Campaign to Implement the Zemstvo on the Don

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This article addresses the reform program of Don cossack liberals, central to which was the elective Zemstvo. With the onset of the reform era of the 1860s, Don liberals proposed a battery of fundamental reforms for the Don host. They were prepared to sacrifice the cossacks’ unique identity as a military estate in return for economic and cultural progress. In spite of some minor gains, such as allowing Don cossack nobles to sell their private land to non-cossacks, liberals remained frustrated in their main goal - the implementation of the elective Zemstvo. The Don noble assembly, the liberals’ primary institutional base, jousted with the War Ministry over the issue until the fall of the Russian Empire. Debate over the Zemstvo assumed the form of a struggle over who was the legitimate leader of the cossacks. Moreover, frustrations over this issue changed the nature of Don liberalism. While Don liberals were cosmopolitan in their outlook in the 1860s, over the decades, they became more “cossack-centric,” assuming the role of advocates for the cossacks. This development contributed to a political atmosphere on the Don favorable to cossack separatism when the tsarist regime collapsed.

Affiliations: 1: University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, MD, USA, Email:, URL:


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