Monday, October 28, 2019

Buddhists, Only Major Religion Soviets Actually Banned, to Erect Memorial to Victims of That Abuse

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 25 – All religions were harassed and their leaders arrested and killed during Soviet times, but only one was actually declared illegal – Buddhism – and the reason it was – a supposed link to foreign powers – has an echo in current Russian practice against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Protestant groups.

            Later this week, on October 30, the Day of Remembrance of Political Prisoners, the Buddhist community of St. Petersburg, joined by representatives from the three Buddhist republics (Buryatia, Kalmykia and Tuva), is slated to erect a memorial to followers of that religion who were killed by Stalin in the 1930s (

            The understated two-meter-tall metallic plinth, to go up in the northern capital’s Levashov Cemetery which in Stalin’s time was an NKVD killing field, was designed by Vyasheslav Bukhayev, a member of the Russian Academy of Arts. Its appearance, something Buddhists have long sought, will attract attention to the travails of a faith few know much about.

            There are approximately 1.5 million Buddhists in the Russian Federation, just over one percent of the population, although they form majorities in two republics, Kalmykia and Tuva, and a significant minority in Buryatia.  And they have made a dramatic comeback from Stalin’s time and are classified as one of the four “traditional” religions of that country.

            But early on in Soviet times, the Bolsheviks persecuted the Buddhists seeing them as something foreign and threatening to the USSR. By the early 1930s, their leaders were being arrested and then shot, and with the approach of World War II, Stalin actually declared them illegal given their links abroad.

            The Buddhists remained banned until 1945. But their recovery from that status was slow until perestroika when they blossomed. There are now 22 Buddhist temples in Kalmykia, 16 in Tuva, and more than 30 in Buryatia. There is a Buddhist university and numerous Buddhist publishing houses and a Buddhist center in every large Russian city (

            All this deserves attention because of Buddhism in its own right, but it is perhaps especially important because it shows that Moscow can move from mistreating a religion because of its supposed foreign ties to an outright ban, a step the current Russian government insists it isn’t doing but whose actions regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest otherwise. 

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