Saturday, May 11, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Buddhists Finally to Get a Shrine in Moscow but Not Yet One in Victory Park

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 11 – Buddhists, one of Russia’s four “traditional” religions, are finally going to get a shrine of their own in the Russian capital, despite vigorous opposition from Russian Orthodox groups. But they are still far from having a facility in Moscow’s Victory Park on Poklonnaya gora apparently because of divisions within their own community.

            Dulma Shagdarova,, the leader of the Moscow Buddhist Community, said this week his group has finally received government approval to put up a Buddhist shrine in Moscow’s Otradnoye district and that construction will begin once “all remaining bureaucratic procedures” are fulfilled (

            Russian Orthodox and neighborhood activists have opposed the construction of any Buddhist shrine in Moscow, most notably at a contentious meeting last December.  At that time, the opponents shouted “Build Buddhist shrines in Burytia” and “Moscow is an Orthodox Capital.”

            One local resident complained that “there are already two mosques, a synagogue, and an Orthodox Church” in the district where the Buddhists want to build. “Isn’t that a lot for a single district?” – yet another example of the NIMBY (“not in my back yard”” principle at work in today’s Russia.

            But some Russians supported them, Shagdarova says, and he pointed out to all that the shrine will be built far from apartment buildings and therefore should not disturb anyone. Moreover, he asked rhetorically, isn’t it time that the fourth traditional religion of the country get a facility at the center of the country?

            But if the Buddhists are about to get a shrine in Otradnoye, they are still far from having any religious facility at Victory Park on Poklonnaya gora, apparently less because of Russian opposition than because of divisions within their own community (

            The Moscow agency responsible for that site, the Administration for the Reconstruction and Development of Unique Objects of the Department for Urban Construction Planning, has sought to stay out of the intra-communal fight, and neither officials there nor all of the participants have been willing to talk about the reasons for the delay, said.

            Official approval for a Buddhist facility on Poklonnaya was given in 2006, and Moscow city officials even designated land for it.  “But each time arguments arose among the Buddhists” themselves about whether it should be a stupa or a shrine, what size it should be, and whether it should include a Buddhist school, the news agency said.

            Because the community has been unable to agree, city official have proposed to create a special commission consisting of the heads of the three Buddhist republics – Buryatia, Kalmykia and Tuva – and an equal number of representatives of the followers of this religion. But that has not solved the problem yet.

            As one Buddhist activist put it, “all these republics are very ambitious and their leaders are to,” and they will continue to squabble until some order comes from above. Indeed, the three republics are still fighting over which one is the most important Buddhist center.

            The Buryats insist they are because they are the largest; the Kalmyks say they are because they were the first to begin practicing Buddhism, and the Tuvans claim pride of place because they all, unlike the Kalmyks, fought only on the Soviet side during the second world war.

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