Staunton, December 23 – Of Russia’s four “traditional” religions – Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism – the last while no longer the smallest is certainly the least covered. In general, it is only when there is a scandal either domestically or involving efforts to invite the Dalai Lama to Russia that the Moscow and international media attend to them.
But Russia’s Buddhists are becoming not only more numerous, given population growth and religious expansion among Tuvans, Buryats, and Kalmyks and Russian conversions to that faith (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/02/window-on-eurasia-many-russians.html), but also more active.
Not only are they protesting their past mistreatment – the Buddhists were the only religion the Soviets actually banned (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/10/buddhists-only-major-religion-soviets.html), but they are demanding that their opinions be taken into consideration as Moscow elaborates policies on religion.
In the past, the Buddhists normally followed whatever line the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodoxy Church set in coordination with the Kremlin; but now they are openly calling on Moscow to pay attention to the special features of Buddhism and its particular needs as the state assumes a larger role in religious life (nazaccent.ru/content/34781-buddisty-rossii-prosyat-uchityvat-ih-mnenie.html).
This new assertiveness has surfaced first in the republics where they form a plurality or more (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/conflict-between-russias-chief-buddhist.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/04/even-buddhists-are-becoming-restive-in.html), but now it is expanding online and uniting the three Buddhist nations.
An article in New Research on Tuva, “Russian Buddhism and Social Media” by Timur Badmatsyrenov, Fyodor Khandarov and Dardin Badarayev documents this process, one that epitomizes a larger development, the rise of Buddhist virtual communities on the Russian internet (nit.tuva.asia/nit/article/view/981/1374).
They report that the largest of these communities, Sarye Shazhyn, now has 37,000 members, making it one of the largest religious online groups in the Russian portion of the Internet and assuring both that the three Buddhist peoples will come together and have more influence than they have had separately.
But most important, these scholars say, by defending Buddhism, this site and others like it will help defend the ethnic and cultural worlds of the Tuvans, Buryats and Kalmyks, three peoples who generally have remained on the periphery of Russian thinking and even Russian thinking about ethnic and religious issues.