The number of visitors here has shot up over the last week; mostly they’ve come here from search engines, looking for material on Asgarda. I couldn’t understand where this interest suddenly came from, until Boing Boing (whose RSS feed I follow) ran a piece – from which I learn that a design magazine, Planet, had featured the photographs I first saw on English Russia, and then wrote about*.
For the benefit of those visitors, my understanding is that the Asgarda movement is a spin-off of a Ukrainian cultural movement that’s trying to re-discover/re-invent an old Cossack form of fighting dance, which they call “Бойовий Гопак” (“Гопак” being the purely dance version). This gives ample room for flame wars, since Cossacks occupied many parts of the old Tsarist empire, including Ukraine, Russia, and various Central Asian countries, many of which are now tying to exclusively claim them as part of their own national heritage. Furthermore, many Cossacks also lived in the Ottoman Empire, and served Istanbul, not St. Petersburg. Furthermore, as far as I can see, there was a large divide between the members of the Cossack hosts, and the ordinary Slavs living in Russia/the Ukraine/etc. In modern-day Russia, the hosts have received a lot of recognition and autonomy, and are genuine continuations of the historic Cossack culture. I have absolutely no idea what the situation is in Ukraine.
I became aware of the Cossack “fight-dance” through an interest in the Russian martial art of Systema, the Ryabko branch of which traces its roots back to the Cossacks. I also have an interest since my Siberian ex-girlfriend is a Tatar Muslim, whose ancestors would have been on the other side, perhaps…
This is demonstrated by Russian Cossacks** in this clip:
The Asgarda movement, as I said, seem to be a part of a Ukrainian movement that’s trying to develop their own version of this:
As you can see, this has both men and women training. There was another clip that clearly showed Katerina Tarnouska, Asgarda’s founder, training alongside men, but it’s been taken down now. Anyhow, the whole “women seek complete autonomy from men” angle clearly seems like something tongue-in-cheek, said to wind up a visiting journalist. One anonymous commenter (comment #42) on the Boing Boing article says:
Oh man, this is all hilarious.
Let me tell you what it is all about. Asgarda was (I am not sure if it still is functioning) just a martial arts school based on the Ukrainian own style, Hopak. Only adapted for girls. These pictures were taken by some French photographer, who was traveling around Ukraine and are just for photo session sake.
I happen to know few girls, who were studying in that martial arts school, including the one on photo here. When I told them about all that hype around Asgarda, they laughed so hard, that I thought, that I will lose them 🙂
The bottom line is do not believe everything you read. You’ll be surprised how many foolish things they try to put into your head/
…which seems to have the ring of truth to it to me!
* NB I have no connection with any of these people at all; I just know what I’ve read online, just like you.
** These guys are members of the Spetsnaz, the Russian Special Forces. Spike TV ran a statistical analysis*** of Spetsnaz vs US Green Berets, and concluded that the Spetsnaz would win. Watch the clip here.
*** They also ran one on “Shaolin Monk vs Maori warrior“, which may interest regular readers, since the monk uses “emei ci” against the maori…