SEED OF KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS ON THE RUSSIAN SOIL
During the eleven years of his preaching in the West, Srila Prabhupada
[Founder Acarya for the International Society for Krishna
Consciousness, ISKCON] traveled around the world fourteen times. Among
other countries he also visited Soviet Russia which at that time was
behind the Iron Curtain. The four days visit of Srila Prabhupada to
Moscow in 1971 miraculously brought many changes to that country of
atheism. During his visit he discussed philosophy with Professor
Kotovsky, a Soviet scholar of Hinduism, but most significantly met with
one young, educated Russian boy who later became his first and only
initiated disciple from the Soviet Union, Ananda Shanti. This Russian
boy single-handedly started preaching the eternal message of Bhagavad-Gita,
and in this way the teachings of Srila Prabhupada became known to the
hundreds and thousands of Soviet people, so much so that in the
beginning of the 1980's the KGB declared ISKCON one of the greatest
threats to the Soviet nation. In this way, the war was declared—the war
of the totalitarian state against the handful of first devotees of
Krishna in Soviet Russia.
THE YEARS OF STRUGGLE FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
The KGB started massive persecution campaigns against the first
followers of ISKCON. For their belief, around hundred of the first
Russian devotees were thrown into prisons, labor camps and psychiatric
hospitals. They underwent tremendous sufferings and tortures, but kept
their strong, unflinching faith in Lord Krishna and His words in Bhagavad-Gita.
One of them, Sarkis Ohanjanyan was only 21 when he was put in prison.
His only "guilt" was that he believed in God, chanted the Hare Krishna maha-mantra
and refused to eat meat. One and a half years later he died in the
winter of 1986 in a labor camp out of malnutrition and tuberculosis.
Before departure he was chanting on the beads made from the prison
bread, and had applied tilaka on his body with the toothpaste.
Olga Kiselyova was put in prison in 1983 when she was pregnant. Her
"crime" was that she helped in translating the
Bhagavad-Gita into the Russian language. After undergoing
tortures and long, arduous interrogations she delivered a baby girl
Marika in prison who died only two months later.
Amala Bhakta Das, father of 5, was sentenced for 5 years of labor
camps, and was only released on the personal plea from Nancy Reagan.
These are only a few stories among many. Early devotees in Russia
sacrificed their health, freedom and sometimes even life for the
preaching and for the service to Srila Prabhupada.
Hare Krishna devotees around the world started a campaign of protest
against religious persecution in the USSR. As a result, in 1988 all
Soviet Hare Krishna devotees were released by Mr. M. Gorbachev and the
new era of religious freedom in Russia had begun.
THE FIRST KRISHNA TEMPLE IN MOSCOW
The beginning of the 90's was the start of the new Russia, and also the
start of a new chapter. The Moscow government gave devotees a ruined
building unsuitable for inhabitation and commercial usage on rent. In a
short time, laboring with love for Lord Krishna, devotees turned that
building into the first Hindu temple in Russia. The Moscow Temple
became the centre of the spiritual life for the Krishna community of
Indian and Russian devotees. Festivals, services, and educational
programs were held daily at that temple. Thus the seed of Krishna bhakti
planted by Srila Prabhupada sprouted in Russian soil. For fourteen
years this building served as a temple, the place where thousands of
Russian people received and nurtured faith in God.
However, in 2004 the Moscow government took the building back and
destroyed it according to the plan of reconstruction of the city
district. Surrounded by growling bulldozers of the "Donstroi"
construction giant, it may soon become the very first Hindu temple in
the West ever destroyed by authorities. Now again the thousands of the
followers of Hinduism in Russia were deprived of a place of worship.
Hundreds of churches, cathedrals, mosques, synagogues are there, but
not a single temple in the city of ten million people. Seeking the help
and support devotees requested different prominent Indian politicians
for help. Mr. Atal Bihar Vajpayee, former prime minister of India met
with devotees on numerous occasions both in India and Moscow and
assured devotees that he will try to convince his Russian colleagues to
help ISKCON in Russia.
THE CULTURE OF COMPASSION
GROZNY, Chechnya, 1995 - Since the beginning of the Russian
counterinsurgency campaign into this breakaway republic, that began on
Dec. 11, 1995, Food for Life volunteers served 850,000 bowls of hot
porridge, freshly baked bread and tea to the local residents. Risking
their lives, devotees in Russia went on humanitarian missions to the
war zones, like Chechnya and Abkhazia. Again and again they proved
that the faith in God and His saving grace was more important to them
than bodily comforts, and selfish pursuits. Devotees helped literally
hundreds of thousands of Russians, Chechens, Georgians, Armenians,
children and adults, victims of war giving them free food. But even
more important, devotees of Krishna gave these deprived people a hope
for better future, spiritual solace, and moral support. Often arrested
by the conflicting parties, robbed and threatened, devotees still
continued to distribute the sacred food to the needy people. One
devotee was also killed while trying to help others. "Hare Krishna Food
For Life" was the only Russia-based non-governmental charity
organization, working in the war zone.
SAKHALIN, Russia 1995 - An earthquake measuring 7.2 flattened this
small city in the far eastern peninsula of Russia. The following day,
Food for Life volunteers were flown in by helicopter by the Russian
Emergency Ministry, to provide hot food to survivors and rescue teams
who worked around the clock to find bodies.
TSUNAMI RELIEF, SRI LANKA, India 2004 - The strongest earthquake in 40
years set off a string of killer Tsunami waves that utterly devastated
the coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and other
nearby islands, killing nearly 200,000 people.
Devotees from Russia were quick to respond again, providing relief
support and hot vegetarian meals to needy people who suffered in the
disaster. In Sri Lanka alone more than 10,000 meals were provided
daily, along with medical care, clothing, and shelter for orphaned
children at the ISKCON orphanage.
MAYOR FINALLY GIVES US LAND
After many years of struggle, the Mayor of Moscow on 21st January 2004
finally signed the order to give the land for the construction of a new
temple in a very prominent location in Moscow. The land is located on
the boulevard which goes straight from Kremlin to the International
Airport in about 10 minute drive from the heart of Moscow. Measuring
1,05 hectare, it would cost at least 10 to 15 million US dollars and
the government gave this land free. The devotees moved into a temporary
temple building on the land. As till date, they still have no water, no
Plans to construct a Hare Krishna temple here however, sparked off a
controversy in Russia where the Orthodox Church dominates and many
regard Krishna followers as dangerous sectarians.
In January 2004, Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish religious authorities in
Moscow spoke out against construction, saying it is against Russian
tradition. The protestors had rallied in Pushkin Square in the centre
of the capital, brandishing icons, flags and banners reading "Friends,
Defend Your Faith", "We Oppose the Expansion of Sects" and "Beware!
Krishna followers go in for brainwashing".
There are at least 100,000 followers of Lord Krishna spread across the
country. Russia's Indian community led by Sanjit Kumar Jha, President
of the Association of Indians in Russia supports the project since
numerous Hindu believers were forced since so many years to pray in a
little room with a 200-person capacity, housed in a building that was
eventually demolished by the Russian government.
MAYOR CHANGES HIS MIND!!!
On 7 October 2005, the Mayor of Moscow Yuriy Luzhkov suddenly cancelled
the order issued by the Moscow Government one and a half years ago
according to which ISKCON Moscow was given a plot of land for
construction of a new temple in replacement for the old temple building
that was demolished. The office of the City Executive Attorney found
some legal discrepancies in the wording of the original order by Moscow
Government and suggested to revise it and issue a new, correct one.
Instead, now on that basis the Mayor cancelled the order altogether.
This was done without any explanation or consultation with ISKCON. His
recent document has two parts in it. The first one cancelled the
previous order. And according to the second one we have no right to
stay on this territory any more. This means, that we are now thrown out
on the streets.
On Wednesday 19th October 2005, the Iskcon centre in Moscow was visited
by the journalists from the main Russian TV-news program "Vremyachko".
They took interviews from HH Bhaktivijnana Goswami Maharaja, President
of ISKCON, Russia and some other Indians. They broadcasted it the same
evening. The interviews were not distorted and left a good impression
on people in general. On their own part the TV commented that from
their sources of information the land is already sold to some big
investor. There are also some rumors that the mayor's wife is involved
or probably the Mayor is under pressure from the Russian Orthodox
As a result ISKCON is now preparing to file a legal case. We are also
preparing to launch an international campaign of protest. The VHP have
agreed that they will become part of a "Defend Russian Hindus"
campaign. In the UK, members of VHP will be on the committee of the
campaign and in India, Ashok Singhal has agreed to lead a mass
campaign. Yesteryear leading actress Hema Malini has also voiced her
concern and willingness to approach the Indian Prime Minister for his
help. The Hindujas have also come forward to voice their concern.
WE NEED YOUR HELP!
Contact Yashomatinandana das
Development Director, ISKCON Moscow