Staunton, September 10 – On Monday, Die Welt published an interview with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the world’s Buddhists, in which he sharply criticized Vladimir Putin for being “egocentric” and for seeking to isolate Russia from the rest of the world by rebuilding a Berlin wall, something the Dalai Lama said was “suicidal.”
His words attracted attention around the world but nowhere have they had more immediate and serious consequences than in Kalmykia, a Buddhist republic in the North Caucasus. There, as Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports today September 10, politicians are scrambling to find a way not to offend Putin or the Buddhist electorate.
Their efforts in this regard are all the more obvious because of the elections for the head of the republic and the legislative assembly in its capital, Elista, that will take place this Sunday, according to Andrey Serenko, who serves as the Moscow newspaper’s correspondent in Volgograd Oblast and Kalmykia.
Kalmyks learned about the Dalai Lama’s words from the Internet, and Sanal Lidzheyev, a Kalmyk political expert told him that their appearance “have put both the party of power and the opposition in an uncomfortable position” because they don’t want to offend the Kremlin or “speak out against the Dalai Lama who is an absolute authority for the majority of Kalmyks.”
Only two of the four candidates for head of Kalmykia have been willing to say anything. Communist Nikolay Nurov said that he is “certain” that the Dalai Lama’s words were “taken out of context” because “he would hardly speak so sharply about our president. [His] attitude toward Russia was always warm. But in any case, his statement is his personal view.”
Petr Vyshkvarok, the LDPR candidate, said that he thinks that “the policy of our president is correct. Russia must be strong. As concerns the statements of spiritual leaders, they have the right to any point of view while remembering that politics and religion in our country are separate from one another.” He added that “it is completely possible that the Dalai Lama is offended by the fact that his visit to Russia has still not taken place.”
Green Party candidate Khongor Marilov refused to comment saying that he was not familiar with the Dalai Lama’s text, and backers of the incumbent head, Aleksey Orlov, said that he couldn’t be reached because he was travelling. “Yesterday,” Serenko reports, “Orlov’s mobile telephone did not answer.”
A whole series of other Kalmyk politicians, both those who are part of the party of power and those who are its opponents, also refused to comment, apparently having concluded that saying nothing is the best way to avoid offending either Putin or Buddhism.
One who at least was prepared to speak on the record was Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the former head of Kalmykia. He said he very much doubted that the Dalai Lama had in fact said what Die Welt quoted him as saying given that he Ilyumzhinov had met with him often “and had never heard from his mouth anything like this about the Russian president.”
The former Kalmyk head said that one reason that the Dalai Lama might have said what he said is that he hasn’t been allowed to visit Russia since 2004, and “for the last ten years,” he has had to learn about the country from the Western press. Were he to be allowed to come and see “with his own eyes” the changes that have been made, he would feel differently.
In this way, Ilyumzhinov has found the best of all possible ways out of the dilemma of Kalmyk politicians regarding the Dalai Lama. He has essentially dismissed what the Buddhist spiritual leader has said but has used the occasion to push for a visit by the Dalai Lama to Kalmykia and Russia, something both the Dalai Lama and Russia’s Buddhists very much want.