Friday, April 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin Promises to Support Russia’s Buddhists ‘100 Percent’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 12 – Saying that he was proud that Russia is the only country in Europe where Buddhism is officially recognized as a traditional religion, President Vladimir Putin told the leaders of the two million followers of that tradition yesterday that he and the Russian government will back that community “100 percent.”

            During his tour of the Trans-Baikal region, Putin visited the Ivolgin datsan, the seat of the Buddhist Spiritual Directorate the Soviets in 1946 to represent the Buddhists of Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva as well as other regions and met with Damba Ayushev, who serves as the head of that body (

                The Russian president praised Russia’s Buddhists for helping others in both their “grief and joy,” noting that it was “well known how Buddhists helped during the First and Second World Wars,” and he expressed regret that they suffered in Soviet times “just as other confessions did but always remained with the people” (

            Having secured the agreement of the Buddhist Spiritual Directorate for his idea that university students should serve in the military during summer holidays and noting that the Buddhists are distinguished by their modesty, Putin said that they “could count on the support of the state in all things” (

                Specifically, the Russian leader said that he was ready “to continue financial support” for the Zayaev Buddhist University and the Agin Buddhist Academy and provide funds for the development of Buddhist architecture and sculpture.  And noting that Russia’s Buddhists have always been modest in their demands, Putin invited them to propose other projects.

            The Buddhists for their part asked first of all for the construction of a new road between their datsan and the outside world – Putin himself came and went by helicopter – support for expansion of the Buddhist center in St. Petersburg and land for a Buddhist shrine in Moscow which doesn’t have one despite Buddhism’s status as a “traditional” religion.

            Putin’s response to that was not reported, but one news agency did note that as recently as December 2012, residents of the Russian capital’s Otradnoye district had demonstrated against the construction of a Buddhist facility there (

                Nor has there been any public comment on what surely figured in the private discussions between the Russian president and the Russian Buddhist leadership: the desire of the latter to expand ties with the Dalai Lama and the reluctance of the former to take steps that would anger the Chinese authorities.

            The Dalai Lama has been to Russia six times since 1979, but his last visit was in 2004. Then he spent 36 hours in Kalmykia.  Russian Buddhists have invited him many times since then but have been unable to get the necessary visa (

            The exiled Buddhist leader for his part has shown increasing interest in the Buddhists of the Russian Federation, hosting special sessions for them at his residence in India over the past three years (

            Also not mentioned in the Russian accounts of Putin’s visit but perhaps equally sensitive are the expanding ties between the Buddhist communities of the Russian Federation and their co-religionists abroad, including with the active Kalmyk community in the United States (

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