The Russians are trying to reignite their own version of Manifest Destiny with their own version of the Homestead Act, offering land to citizens willing to settle the Wild East. This is a program with appeal to the old Cossack blood of those like Yuri Bugaev.
Mr. Bugaev is a dedicated, if largely sedentary, Cossack, a centuries-old fraternity of Slavic warriors, freebooters and freedom-loving rebels. A romantic throwback to earlier generations of Cossacks who settled and secured the borders of the Russian empire, he sees getting his Cossack brethren and other Russians to move out east as the only way to keep mostly empty Russian lands safe from China.
There is some question as to whether the Russian people as a whole are up for it. They’re not less sedentary and comfort-oriented than modern Westerners. But the project does have its romantic appeal, doesn’t it?
The project is a big deal for President Vladimir V. Putin who declared in 2013 that the development of Siberia and the Far East must be “our national priority for the entire 21st century.”
How to get people to settle in the Far East is a question that has preoccupied and confounded Russian rulers since the establishment of a Russian naval base on the Pacific Ocean at Okhotsk in the 17th century. Cossacks, convicts and desperate peasants have often been the only takers.
Yeah, the story of frontiers everywhere, really. And, typical of frontiers everywhere, syndicates make the deal attractive to stay-at-homes:
Yuri has formed “the Far Eastern Hectare Social Movement, a private outfit set up in St. Petersburg to drum up interest in the free land program and to organize new settlements. Its website explains that it is possible to be a pioneer without even leaving home, at least to start with. People can simply apply for free land and pool what they get so a larger plot can be developed by a few adventurous souls.
“If this works, those who contribute land but stay behind in St. Petersburg can move east later, after most of the hard work is done.”
The Kickstarter for “Warriors of the Wild Lands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans” continues. Thanks for the support. Please continue to spread the word, and if you haven’t jumped in yet — get your moccasins on and hit the trail!