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Persecuted by the Soviets, Russia's Hare Krishnas Continue Their Fight for Acceptance

Published: July 12, 2014 (Issue # 1819)



  • Russia's Krishna population is estimated to be as high as as 250,000, said Jha of the Association of Indians of Russia.
    Photo: Pascal Dumont / SPT

The Hare Krishna movement has been trying to build a temple in Russia since 1990. They still don't have one.

It's not for lack of funds. Ever since worshipping Krishna was legalized in the Soviet Union 26 years ago, the group has struggled to capitalize on Russia's "religious renaissance."

Despite a devout core of local followers, Russia has been slow to accept the Hare Krishnas, who routinely feature in reports about religious-freedom violations and face allegations of being a "totalitarian sect."

The group is singled out because of its distinctly foreign customs, which stir the distrust of outsiders inherent to many Russians, said religious studies expert Sergei Filatov.

"They are just too bright and noticeable," said Filatov, who works at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Krishna worshippers say that the situation has improved since Soviet times, and is continuing to get better. But the latest construction permit for the temple was revoked just last year and has yet to be renewed.

Rock, Krishna and Other Dangers

Though Krishna was born 5,242 years ago, according to the holy texts, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was only founded in 1966 in New York.

The Hare Krishna movement began to catch on beyond the Iron Curtain in 1971, when founder Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada travelled to Moscow despite the Soviet Union's militant devotion to atheism.

While Soviet officials were less than keen on religious movements, in this case they simply did not understand what was going on: Bhaktivedanta Swami was believed to be a Hinduism studies expert when he arrived, evading suspicion, said Sanjeet Jha, an Indian-born Krishna follower who heads the Association of Indians in Russia.

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