The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief
RUSSIA: When will Dalai Lama next visit Tuva?
The Dalai Lama's only visit to the traditionally Buddhist Russian republic of Tuva was in 1992. Since then, none of the "very many attempts" to invite him to the republic has come close to success, a former kamby-lama (head Buddhist of Tuva) told Forum 18 News Service. "Religion shouldn't interfere in politics, but we want to see him," Norbu-Sambuu Mart-Ool noted to Forum 18. The Dalai Lama has several times visited Russia's two other traditionally Buddhist republics of Buryatia and Kalmykia. But the main obstacle to a visit to Tuva - which borders Mongolia – seems to be Russian relations with China, which opposes a visit taking place. Mart-Ool told Forum 18 that the efforts of Kalmykia's president were instrumental in ensuring the Dalai Lama's two-day visit to that republic, following several years of visa denials, but lamented that "our council of ministers is not so active." Tuva's main religious affairs official told Forum 18 that the republic's Buddhist community alone issues invitations to its Tibetan spiritual leader, while adding that the Tuvan government would provide assistance with transport and premises.
In Mart-Ool's view, the efforts of Kalmykia's president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, proved instrumental in ensuring the Dalai Lama's two-day visit to that republic late in 2004 following several years of visa denials to Russia: "Our council of ministers is not so active." Speaking to Forum 18 beneath a large portrait of the Dalai Lama in his office on 1 July, Tuva's main religious affairs official Kambaa Biche-Ool confirmed that the republic's Buddhist community alone issues invitations to its Tibetan spiritual leader, while adding that the Tuvan government would provide assistance with transport and premises should a visit take place. There has so far been no answer from Russia's Foreign Ministry to a visa request for the Dalai Lama to visit Tuva made in spring 2005 by current khamby-lama Sat Apysh-Ool, he told Forum 18.
In April 2004 Russia's Foreign Ministry openly insisted that relations with China must play a part in determining a visit by the Dalai Lama. On the eve of the Tibetan leader's subsequent arrival in the Kalmykian capital Elista – during which he made no contact with state representatives – Russian news agencies reported China's foreign minister Li Zhaoxing as stating that: "China will not forgive a country which allows its territory to be used by the Dalai Lama to conduct propaganda of separation and sow discord with the People's Republic of China."
Revered as the ninth Bogdo Gegen, the third most important spiritual teacher in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, Jetsun Dhampa has had rather more success visiting Russia in recent years, despite being refused a visa in 2000. Norbu-Sambuu Mart-Ool told Forum 18 that the ethnic Tibetan was greeted by large crowds at Kyzyl's Five Years of Soviet Tuva Stadium in September 1999, that he made a second visit in 2003 and was unable to return in 2004 only due to ill health. On 21 July 2005 Tuva Online news website reported that Bogdo Gegen Jetsun Dhampa would be touring Buryatia, Kalmykia and Tuva in early August.
Dr Marina Mongush, an expert on Buddhism in Tuva based at the republic's Humanities Research Institute, explained to Forum 18 on 30 June that successive reincarnations of Bogdo Gegen had historically been responsible for the spread of Buddhism in Tuva and that all the republic's khuree (Buddhist monasteries) were subordinate to him prior to their destruction in the 1930s. Until the socialist take-over in 1921, Bogdo Gegen was both sovereign ruler and spiritual leader of neighbouring Mongolia, where the Buddhist community has yet to receive a government response to repeated requests for him to make an official visit to the country since 1990 (see F18News 27 November 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=197 ).
In addition to mixed success in inviting these Tibetan spiritual authorities to Tuva, the republic's Buddhist representatives have not been able to win the state's support in keeping others out, according to Mart-Ool. Two Tibetan lamas who initially came to Tuva ten years ago under a 1993-95 agreement on cultural and religious co-operation between the Tibetan and Tuvan governments now have Russian citizenship and work privately, he told Forum 18: "We can't do anything about it." Religious affairs official Kambaa Biche-Ool confirmed that the state authorities had not obstructed the two lamas, Geshe Dakpa Gualtso and Geshe Tkhupten Lobsan, from registering Buddhist organisations independently from the Kamby-Lama's Directorate in 2001 and 2004 respectively.
Also able to work separately from the kamby-lama's organisation – to which the republic's 16 other regional Buddhist communities are affiliated – is a third Tibetan with Russian citizenship, Dzhampa Tinlei. Mart-Ool maintained to Forum 18 that Tinlei - until 2000 the Dalai Lama's representative in Russia - follows a different tradition within the Gelug school from that traditional to Tuva, "that's why we don't get on with him." On 30 June Forum 18 observed Tinlei giving a public lecture on Buddhist philosophy to approximately 350 Tuvans in central Kyzyl.
Despite the failure of obtaining state assistance in ensuring a monopoly for the kamby-lama's organisation, however, Mart-Ool conceded to Forum 18 that "we do receive help from the state." Both Tsechenling temple and the kamby-lama's residence in Kyzyl were built with state funds, he confirmed, while the recent restoration of Ustuu Khuree in Chadan, western Tuva, was sponsored by Russia's Tuvan-born emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu and the son of Tuvan president Sherig-Ool Oorzhak.
Kambaa Biche-Ool explained to Forum 18 that the state's financial contributions to the local Buddhist community were intended to compensate for the almost complete destruction of Buddhist culture by the socialist Tuvan People's Republic prior to its entry into the Soviet Union in 1944. Biche-Ool claimed not to have a text of what he described as a similar gesture – the 1993-95 agreement with Tibet – nor of Tuva's own religion law. Dr Marina Mongush, however, told Forum 18 that while this local law acknowledges Buddhism, shamanism and Orthodoxy to be Tuva's traditional confessions, it does not afford them any special privileges.
However in education policy and schools, depending on the approach of individual teachers, favoritism towards shamanism and Buddhism does take place and the republic has closed down the only Christian children's home (see F18News 25 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=615 ). Tuva's largest Christian church has also disbanded to avoid official liquidation (see F18News 18 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=609 ).
The southern, traditionally Buddhist, Russian republic of Kalmykia, west of the Caspian Sea in European Russia, also has a policy of state support of Buddhism (see F18News 11 April 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=29 ). Protestants in the republic have been described as "western spies" (see F18News 14 April 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=31 ) and officials have expressed "concern" about the growth of non-Buddhist and non-Russian Orthodox religions, as well as "incorrect trends" within Buddhism (see F18News 15 April 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=32 ).
For a personal commentary by an Old Believer about continuing denial of equality to Russia's religious minorities see F18News http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=570
For more background see Forum 18's Russia religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=509
A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=russi
27 July 2005
RUSSIA: Violence, arson and religious believers
Police in the traditionally Buddhist Russian republic of Tuva seem to be indifferent to violent attacks on Protestants. Pastor Aleksandr Degtyarev of Gospel Light Baptist Church, told Forum 18 News Service that "for them it is minor - they have too many murders to solve." The republic's crime rate is amongst the highest in Russia, with two-and-a-half times more murders than the national average. Physical attacks against religious believers are uncommon elsewhere in Russia, but there has in recent years been an apparent increase in cases of arson attacks on places of worship reported by Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, Adventist, Jewish and Muslim communities. In some cases, police investigations have resulted in prosecution, but in others police either fail to investigate or refuse to acknowledge that arson has taken place. The director of the Moscow-based Baptist Association for Spiritual Renewal, Valentin Vasilizhenko, suggested to Forum 18 that arsonists might prefer to attack places of worship, because the repercussions against them would be far less serious than if they attacked a bank or a business.
25 July 2005
RUSSIA: What should Tuvan children believe?
The traditionally Buddhist Russian republic of Tuva, bordering north-west Mongolia, closed a Christian children's home, Forum 18 News Service was told by a religious affairs official, as "the children go to church and pray without the permission of their parents or guardians." This is disputed by a former resident, Anna Mongush, who told Forum 18 that the real reason for the closure was that the only non-Christian staff member alleged in court that the home was a "sect," after she was sacked for theft, and the state authorities "thought they could get something from its closure." Highlighting broader confusion over religious education policy, Bible translator Vitali Voinov noted that neither Russia's Constitution, nor the religion law, allow for faith-based orphanages and that much in school religious education depends upon individual teachers. Some tell pupils that they should be Buddhists and visit shamans, while forbidding them from attending Christian churches. Foundations of Orthodox Culture is an optional school subject and this causes controversy, the head of the Volga Region Spiritual Directorate of Muslims told Forum 18.
18 July 2005
RUSSIA: Largest Tuvan Protestant church disbands to avoid liquidation
During a January check-up by the religious affairs department in the traditionally Buddhist Russian republic of Tuva, officials complained the charismatic Sun Bok Ym church in the regional capital Kyzyl had violated its charter by sending its pastor to a neighbouring region and failed to inform the department of its new address. Officials of the Justice Ministry's Federal Registration Service, set up last October, began moves to liquidate it through the courts, so the church decided to disband to avoid this fate. Pastor Bair Kara-Sal told Forum 18 News Service he believes a promise by local justice department officials in court that they will not oppose a new registration application. Both Catholic and Salvation Army leaders have complained to Forum 18 that the Federal Registration Service has made nit-picking objections to terminology in their documents and refused to allow them to make simple corrections.