Russian Oligarch Now Controls When Buddhists Can Visit Religious Site

            Staunton, February 7 – Oligarch Roman Abramovich’s Yevraz Corporation has succeeded in forcing Buddhists to leave their monastery in Sverdlovsk Oblast but has agreed to allow Buddhists to visit this sacred place three days a week if they get advanced permission from the company, an arrangement that is worrisome in two ways.

            On the one hand, it represents yet another defeat for a religious group at the hands of powerful friends of Putin. And on the other, it gives those friends powers to regulate religious life directly rather than via the government, thus limiting the ability of the Buddhists to defend their interests (

            Under the new arrangements, the company will have complete control of the complex from Monday through Thursday each week, but between Friday and Sunday, Buddhists will be allowed to visit the site if they get permission from the company. Supposedly, their shrines will remain untouched, but the Buddhists are worried.

            The Buddhists fear that the company will extend its mines under their religious complex or deface parts of it or use the land around the sacred sites to dump trailings from the titanium and magnetite mining operations. They have received promises from the company and regional officials that won’t happen, but they have no written guarantees.

            Semyon Zagorodny, the head of the Path of Buddha community, says he is certain that there will be problems, some perhaps unintentional but problems nonetheless. Consequently, while he and his group have bowed to an ultimatum that they leave the site and move to another one, this is unlikely to be the end of this saga (

            It has already been going on for more than 25 years. In 1995, the Buddhists established a shrine there, but later, Abramovich’s corporation filed mining claims on the land and began a court case to force the Buddhists out. That case lasted for five years without a final result. Finally, Moscow and regional politicians intervened and the Buddhists lost to the oligarch.

            They hope that the Buddhists will be satisfied with a new monastery now going up not far away; but the faithful fear that having given them that land, the authorities will be even less willing to protect their shrines on land near Abramovich’s mines.


Paul Goble

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