Staunton, October 30 – Something almost unprecedented is happening in Russia: the leaders of two of its four “traditional” and officially recognized religions are attacking the authorities. Muslim leaders are backing a Muslim soldier who killed those persecuting him, and the head of the Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia has directly attacked the head of Buryatia.
The Buryat case is the more important because the individual making the criticism is the Hambo-lama Damba Ayushev, the head of the officially backed Traditional Sanga; and his criticism has not been a one-time thing but has been about a variety of issues and now has become personal and even nasty.
In September, the Hambo-lama sharply criticized Aleksey Tsydenov, the head of the Buryat Republic, for failing to meet with demonstrators who were protesting the outcome of an election there as well as for failing to support the Buryat language against Moscow’s approach (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/russias-buddhist-leader-sharply.html).
Ayushev’s criticism inflamed Buryat public opinion and undoubtedly explained their size and length and why Moscow and Tsydenov felt they had no choice but to suppress them forcefully (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/09/harsh-suppression-of-buryat-protests.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/09/five-reasons-for-protests-in-buryatia.html).
Now, the chief official Buddhist has gone after Tsydenov for an action that will only make the situation even more explosive. He charges that the republic head has lavishly entertained people in a restaurant owned by a dissident group of Buddhists, the Center for Tibetan Buddhism, thus challenging the status or at least amour proper of Ayushev.
The Buddhist leader made the charge on Facebook, and it has now been highlighted in an article in Moscow’s Kommersant (facebook.com/damba.ayusheev.8/posts/919096008475909 and kommersant.ru/doc/4142054), raising the stakes for both men and making it far more difficult for either of them or their supporters to back down.
Indeed, Tsydenov may be making the situation even worse for himself by having one of his aides leak to Kommersant the story that Ayushev is angry only because he did not receive 30 million rubles (500,000 US dollars) from the republic government that the Buddhist leader had been expecting.
According to TimurDugarzhapov, the deputy director of the National Museum of Buryatia, “the conflict is deepening and this will not benefit the republic.” The fact that the two have dug in as they have suggests that the situation in a republic most ignore most of the time could become truly explosive, with religion reinforcing nationalism to fuel new protests.