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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Russia's Buddhist republic sees the light

November 18, 2008

Russia Today
November 17, 2008

Russia's republic of Kalmykia is the only region in Europe where
Buddhism is the dominant religion. Temples were destroyed there
during the Soviet era and Buddhism went into decline. But in a new
age of tolerance, the steppe region is enjoying a religious renaissance.

Temples, Buddha statues and pictures of the Dalai Lama abound in
Kalmykia's capital Elista.

Its Temple of Buddha Shakyamuni is the largest Buddhist temple in
Europe. Visible from every part of the city, it serves as a giant
centre piece around which life in the tiny capital revolves.

Specialist painters from Tibet are painstakingly redecorating the
temple's interior - a process that could take another four years.

Across the republic, Kalmykian and Tibetan monks work side by side.

Abbot Anja Gelong says: "Buddhism is such an important part of our
lives here. Everyday, anyone can come to the temple and meet with any
monk to talk about anything they want."

And come morning prayers, the temple is full. A blessing from a
visiting Tibetan Lama Geshe Thinley draws a crowd of thousands. A
regular visitor to Kalmykia for the past 15 years, he's impressed
with the changes.

Chess fan, self-made millionaire and head of the republic since 1993,
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has personally overseen Kalmykia's Buddhist renaissance.

"All Buddhist churches and temples were destroyed during the Soviet
period. Fifteen years ago there were none, and now there are 67
Buddhist temples and Christian churches in Kalmykia.  I paid for most
of them from my own pocket," Ilyumzhinov said.

However, not everyone is happy. Some say the $US 8 million spent on
building temples could have been better used alleviating poverty in
one of Russia's poorest regions.
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