Staunton, December 14 – Residents of the Otradnoye district of Moscow, backed by local Russian Orthodox priests, have spoken out against the construction of the first Buddhist temple in the Russian capital since the 1917 revolution, arguing that its appearance alongside an Orthodox church, a mosque and a synagogue would spark ethnic clashes.
Yesterday, “Izvestiya” reported thatmore than 400 residents of the district had signed a petition against the construction of the temple, long sought by the more than 20,000 Buddhists in Moscow and for which their community has already spent several hundred thousand rubles for architectural design (izvestia.ru/news/541503).
Mikhail Velmakin, a deputy of the district’s municipal assembly, told the paper that “residents in the district have said that during religious holidays, it is difficult for them to move around because of lines.” He said that they fear the Buddhists would only make that situation worse.
The Buddhists have sought to explain that they will not cause any problems, but Moscow officials have indicated that they will not approve any projects which local residentsoppose. “If they do not want a Buddhist temple to be built, no one will build it, Aleksandr Latyshev, the district government’s press secretary said.
At a hearing about the possibility of constructing a temple, Lyudmila Izotova, an elder at the local Orthodox Church, warned the officials to follow through on this promise. “If the bureaucrats do not respect the opinion of residents,” she said, “the latter will state a protest. She added that the district doesn’t need a temple because “there are too few Buddhists living there.”
Izotova was supported by Serggey Tkachenko, the pastor of her church. He said that “assembling all confessions in one place is a major error of the authorities.” Tkachenko added that in his view, they had already made a mistake by allowing the construction of a mosque and synagogue nearby.
Dulma Shagdarova, president of the Moscow Community of Buddhists, said she and her fellow believers in one of Russia’s four “traditional” religions had been pleased by the idea that their temple would be near the facilities of other faiths and are “shocked by the ‘aggressive behavior’ of the Orthodox community.”
Leonty Byzov, a specialist on religion at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology, said that it was important to put Russian opposition to the Buddhists in context. Over the last two years, he noted, Muscovites have actively opposed the construction of 35 religious facilities of various faiths.
But the fact that the Buddhists do not have even one religious facility in the Russian capital is striking, and the Moscow Community of Buddhists had placed great hopes that they would finally gain one, something their leaders have said could “become a center for inter-cultural dialogue in the interests of the Future of Russia” (moscow-buddha-temple.ru/ru/).
(For a more general description of Russia’s Buddhists who have lived in Buryatia and Tuva for centuries but now are to be found in many Russian cities, see the four-part article by A.N. Fedoseyev posted online this month at i-rsi.ru/articles/religiya/buddizm_v_rossii_chast_1/i-rsi.ru/articles/religiya/buddizm_v_rossii_chast_2/,i-rsi.ru/articles/religiya/buddizm_v_rossii_chast_3/, and i-rsi.ru/articles/religiya/buddizm_v_rossii_chast_4/).