Staunton, January 26 – Moscow’s relations with the Buddhists of the Russian Federation have generally been without serious problems since 1991 except for the Russian government’s general reluctance to allow the Dalai Lama to visit his followers in Russia, something Moscow has been reluctant to allow lest it offend Beijing.
But the Russian government appears to have adopted a harsher approach to the third largest “traditional” religion in Russia which is followed by Tuvins, Buryats, and Kalmyks as well as by converts among ethnic Russians and other groups. That threatens to spark conflicts between Moscow and its own Buddhists and Moscow’s reputation with Buddhists abroad.
Officials in Sverdlovsk Oblast, a predominantly ethnic Russian and Orthodox region, have given the Buddhist community Shedrub Ling until February 1 to vacate what has been a Buddhist monastery on the Kachkanar mountain there (credo.press/235436/ and znak.com/2021-01-26/uralskim_buddistam_postavili_ultimatum_oni_dolzhny_pokinut_monastyr_do_1_fevralya).
The Yekaterinburg officials issued that ultimatum after the Buddhists showed no inclination to obey a January 18 court order directing them to leave the facility. This has led to competing petition drives with 4500 people signing one calling for the Buddhists to remain and 5,000 signing a second demanding that they leave.
The Orthodox Yevraz organization which has laid claim to the monastery says it is quite willing to have the Buddhists continue to visit it on weekends. It even reached what it called a preliminary agreement on that point. But the Buddhists say that they cannot for religious reasons restrict access to a religious site.
The fact that the authorities have not been able to enforce the court decision and that the dispute has grown into such a public one suggests that there are likely to be more problems ahead not only in Sverdlovsk but in other predominantly ethnic Russian and Orthodox regions where Buddhists have made inroads.
At least in part, this reflects an effort by the Moscow Patriarchate to give additional meaning to its notions about “canonical space,” the idea that some areas must always be Russian Orthodox regardless of what the population believes and that the Buddhists as a traditional faith must not challenge those boundaries in any way.