In 1971 Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of ISCON, came to Moscow and stayed there for 5 days. There’s a photo of swami walking up the Red Square with Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum in front of him. The Cathedral with its oriental cupolas reminiscent of Hindu temples rhymes with Bhaktivedanta’s traditional Hindu dress. Mausoleum expresses a quite different type of sacred power alien and slightly menacing both to the swami and the cathedral. It seems that if a Hindu pilgrim safely passes the Lenin’s tomb, he will easily feel himself at home in the Orthodox temple. But the history went a different way.
First Bhaktivedanta tried to come to the USSR officially as a representative of Hindu culture and wrote a letter to the Ministry of Culture, but was refused. Finally, he was given a transit visa permitting him a short stay but his attempts to arrange a lecture in Moscow University failed. The only thing which he managed to achieve was a brief meeting with Gregory Kotovsky, the head of the department of India and South Asia in the Institute of Oriental Studies and the son of the legendary hero of the October Revolution. Their conversation was later published in English and made an impression that each of interlocutors didn’t understand what the other wanted from him. Kotovsky specialized in modern India’s politics and economics and didn’t understand much of Sanskrit quotations Bhaktivedanta threw at him. The latter didn’t know much about the totalitarian country he visited and the communist utopist ideals seemed to him to be close to his own vision of the future.
The fact that Soviet authorities were not hospitable to him didn’t surprise Bhaktivedanta. When he came to the United States 5 years earlier he also failed to impress American establishment with his Krishna message. But instead a plenty of young people disappointed in the culture of their own embraced this message quite warmly. The same but on a much less scale happened in the Soviet Union. The countercultural trends were present there but not as openly as in the West.
Once a young man who spoke good English and was willing to talk to an old Hindu monk approached Bhaktivedanta in Moscow streets. His name was Anatoly Penyaev. Like many people of his generation he was fascinated with all things Indian, especially religion. This fascination wasn’t encouraged by the atheistic Soviet state but due to good relations with India (one of the leaders of non-alignment movement) it wasn’t discouraged as much as interest in Western Christianity, especially Catholicism. Certain magazines in the 60-s even printed positive articles on yoga, though it was presented as a kind of exotic gymnastics with its religious aspects thoroughly deemphasized. As Penyaev was secretly initiated, this official ambivalence towards “Indian culture” let him become the first Krishna Consciousness preacher in the Soviet Union and travel across the country with lectures on Bhagavad-Gita and bhakti-yoga. Of course, KGB watched him and his likes but didn’t interfere much.
However in 1981 Bhaktivedanta’s followers in the USSR made one serious mistake: they made an attempt to register their community. For Krishnas it was an idealistic move but the authorities took it as an open challenge. KGB with its huge network of informers couldn’t but notice that Krishna emissaries from abroad visited Russian devotees more or less regularly. And even worse some of those emissaries were Americans. Obviously CIA found a new channel of penetration into the communist fortress under the guise of Krishna freaks. By the beginning of 80-s KGB practically finished the dissidents’ movement some of the human rights activists were forced to immigrate others sent to labor camps. But the mighty repression apparatus couldn’t run idle and needed new raw material. Krishna devotees were a god-send!
In one of the 1981 issues of the journal “Communist” published by the Central Committee of Communist Party the then deputy chief of KGB Semen Tsvigun wrote an article in which it was said: “There are three great threats to a Soviet way of life Western culture, rock’n’roll and Hare Krishna”. Next year a special team “The Search” was formed inside KGB with Major Ernest Fedorovich Belopotapov as its head. The search was an easy one as Krishna devotees supplied the Council of Religious Affairs with the list of the names they prepared for registering. And they were registered, indeed. All in all 11 cases were set up across the Soviet Union: one in Armenia and Lithuania, two in Abkhazia, two in Stavropol, three in Moscow, one in Leningrad (now St.Peterburg) and one in Krasnoyarsk. The victims were taken to court for violation of the article 227 of the Criminal Code of the USSR. They were accused of “making harm to health under the guise of religious rituals and not fulfilling their civil obligations”. The case of Sergey Zuev (Brahman Radha Damodar Das), now the chairman of the Governing Council of the Centre of Krishna Consciousness Societies (CKCS) in Russia, was a typical one. “Major Belopotapov came to me personally, - says Mr. Zuev, - and started to threat to fire me from my job. I was teaching at the Moscow Institute of Aviation which I graduated from. The major said they had proof that I work for CIA and demanded that I should recant and inform them on my spy activity. I refused to be an informer and was fired. I was arrested in summer of 1983 and sentenced in February of 1984 for two and a half years. We were mostly accused of propaganda of vegetarianism which practically killed people. And the victims of it were invited as witnesses. I remember one rather plump and rosy cheeked woman, who said no harm was done to her health, but in the court records the opposite was written”. However stupid and outrageous the accusations might have been the results were tragic. The first Russian Krishna devotee Anatoly Penyaev was imprisoned into a psychiatric ward in Smolensk escaped and was caught again. He was let out in a few years mentally ill after treatment with narcoleptic drugs. One young man Sarkis Ogadjanyan died in a camp at the age of 23. Labor camps were no place to survive for a strict vegetarian. Poet Olga Kiseleva was sentenced for 4 years (she knew English well which proved she was a CIA connection). She lost her new-born child in the camp and was saved personally by Nancy Regan who contacted Raisa Gorbacheva in 1986. Big politics interfered and imprisoned Krishnas were let free and rehabilitated in 1988. In the same year just before Regan’s visit to Moscow the Moscow Society of Krishna Consciousness was registered by the Council of Religious Affairs. Ironically, it was the KGB which facilitated the process of registration and it’s now freedom loving agents accompanied Krishnas on pilgrimage to India as a show-case of religious freedom achieved by Perestroika. All in all about 60 devotees were imprisoned during 7 years of persecution and many more went through mental institutions though this statistics isn’t available.
The freedom was rather short lived. The Krishnas sang a few kirtanas in the Red Square just before the Lenin’s tomb celebrating their spiritual victory over communism. But the Saint Basil’s Cathedral proved to be less friendly than it looked on the photo of Swami Prabhupada in 1971. In 1994 The Bishops’ Council of Russian Orthodox Church made a statement on “Pseudo-Christian sects, neo-paganism and occultism” where ISCON was mentioned alongside with Mormons, scientologists, Moonies and many others as “false religions”, which “destroy traditional way of life formed under influence of Orthodox Church…and threaten the unity of national consciousness and cultural identity”. Consequently “all these sects and new religious movements are incompatible with Christianity. All the people sharing the teachings of these sects and movements… excommunicated themselves from the Orthodox Church”. In spite of theological clumsiness (the passage on self-excommunication sounded very enigmatic), the message was quite clear: all these pseudo-religions had to be fought against not only by true orthodox Christians but by the state itself as they threatened cultural and national identity of its citizens. The model of pre-Revolutionary hostile attitude of the Church to other confessions and religions with state as a closest ally and defender of its spiritual monopoly was surfacing again after the communist regime fell down. The sects were the worst enemy then and they were now.
The statement gave green light to the anticult movement where orthodox clergy and laymen played an important role (it started to form in Russia in the very beginning of the 90-s). The leaders of the movement definitely had their hand in preparing the document and now began to implement it in life. But there were some differences among them on Hare Krishnas. A well-known orthodox polemist, former assistant to Patriarch Aleksey II, Deacon Andrei Kuraev directed his ardor mostly against occult groups like Theosophy and Agni Yoga (Roerich’s followers) and attacked Krishnas only occasionally. Father Oleg Stenyaev, the head of the Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Destructive Sects, more or less followed the pattern of orthodox counter-mission among the sects in pre-Revolutionary Russia. He took Krishnas on visit to one of the centers of orthodox faith, Troitsko-Sergievskaya Lavra, and went with them on pilgrimage to India, all the time debating the Hindu teaching from the orthodox point of view. But the director of the Center of Ireneus of Lyon Alexander Dvorkin applied to Krishnas (and all the other NRMs) the methods of the early Western anticultists, accusing them of criminal activity and brain-washing. In 1997 the group of human rights activists formed the Public Committee of Defense of Freedom of Conscience, named it after Lev Tolstoy (who was famous for his defense of Duhobory sect in the end of the 19-th century) and tried to suit Dvorkin for libel in Moscow Horoshevsky municipal court. Russian krishnaites actively participated in the court hearings. But the case was lost in spite of the fact, that many well-known scholars of NRMs (Eileen Baker, James Richardson) came to Moscow as plaintiff witnesses and others (Brian Wilson, Gordon Melton and Massimo Introvigne) sent their affidavits, supporting the suit. The radical wing of the anticultists was celebrating the victory. The Russian court system can’t boast of being independent. The decision of Horoshevsky court reflected the position of the state, which openly took side of the Church.
When first Western Krishnas were initiated in the 60-s it was a challenge to all things Western that motivated their choice. Their break with the culture of their own was very deep. Certainly there were orientalist longings in this culture since long ago but East was always regarded as something quite different from the West and it was the main reason of its attraction. In the case of Krishna movement countercultural rebels just brought this trend to a logical end they accepted varnashramadharma and became Hindus, foreigners in their own land. Soviet youths attracted by krishnaism in the 70-s also wanted to become Hindus but for them it was an escape only from the present communist reality. On a deeper level it was a return to an ancient motherland.
The basic difference of Russian orientalism from its Western counterpart was the idea that Russia had very much in common with India. The very roots of both cultures were the same. The famous Russian critic of the 19-th century Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906) was trying to prove that old Russian bylinas (epic poems) were much influenced by Mahabharata. His younger friend the artist Nikolai Roerich (1874-1947) took Stasov’s ideas to the extreme, insisting that ancient Russia and India shared the common culture. In his paintings he combined the style of orthodox icons with characters from Hindu mythology. This theme of a close bond between Russia and India was very important for Russian theosophists and played a certain role in works of Russian poets of Silver Age in the beginning of the last century. Nikolai Kluev (1887-1937) called Russia “India of izbas (peasant huts)” and in one of his poems “Silver Savior kisses saffron Brahma” (the poet was gay). He wrote of a passage from “India of izbas” to a nearby “White India” of his dreams and there’s nothing strange that 60 years later young Russian Krishnas fulfilled his dreams. So it was a great surprise to them when they were so ruthlessly snubbed by the Russian Orthodox Church in the beginning of the 90-s.
This basic difference between Western and Russian Krishnas determined the types of their interaction with recipient cultures. In the West Bhaktivedanta’s krishnaism became closely associated with counterculture. Krishnas tried to break any ties with society at large and concentrated on their alternative communal way. That’s why the accent was on making monks and all kinds of lay activity were not popular. Even when some hot heads like Harikesha Swami dreamt of converting to Hinduism the whole western society, they imagined it as borrowing the traditional varnashramadharma for this transformation, which had nothing to do with modern life and where the ideal of renunciation sanyasa was the main priority. As it was realized later by Western Krishnas themselves it was the reason of the downfall of many among them. The passage from hedonistic subculture with drugs and free love as its basic values to ascetic subculture of vaishnava sanyasis was a superhuman task. Sometimes sex and drugs scandals were an outcome of this zeal. That’s why people like William Deadwyler (Ravindra Svarupa Das), the president of the Krishna temple in Philadelphia with PHD in religious studies, started the reform emphasizing the temple life and lay activity of the members of ISKCON.
In communist Russia the Bhaktivedanta’s message also found its way into counterculture which was even more isolated from ideologically controlled society at large than its Western counterpart. But first Russian Krishnas didn’t want to be isolated as their dream Russia merged in their heads with their dream India. They didn’t feel themselves a separate alternative commune but part and parcel of real Russian culture undeservedly forgotten. That’s why they decided officially to register and fell an easy prey to KGB. And that’s why from Perestroika time when they finally got their registration they wanted to integrate into Russian society and culture. Since that time this desire has grown even stronger despite the setbacks caused by the hostility of Russian Orthodox Church. “When I became the president of the Centre of Krishna Consciousness Societies in Russia in 1995, - says Vadim Tuneev (Sannyasi Bhakti Vigyan Goswami), - I felt we shouldn’t be a marginal group because it would take us nowhere. That’s why I insisted on education and mutual enrichment. We don’t want to ouster one culture with the other but supplement it… Any isolationist tendencies would have been destructive. We try to be open but stand on a firm soil. In this case we’ll be able to function properly… We are usual Russian people who have nothing bad in us and want to be taken as such by others”. In the same vein Bhakti Vigyan speaks of Orthodox Christianity expressing his admiration for its mystical heights (hesychasm) and finding much in common between orthodox “mental doing” and vaishnavas’s jappa. He is sure sooner or later the relations will improve. To help this process he started a new magazine Vaishnavism. Otkrytyi forum (Vaishnavism. The Open Forum) in 1997 offering its pages also for the opponents of the movement but they didn’t make use of this invitation.
This politics of integration is realized on both societal and cultural levels. First of all, a lay way of life isn’t discouraged. On the opposite, lay activities are praised in the form of nama-hattas small groups of believers who might not be initiated but come together for singing sankirtanas and scripture reading. It takes one no less than a year or a year and a half of living in accordance with vaishnava regulations to get the first initiation, the second brahmanic initiation is given only to people who got a proper vaishnava education, the third initiation sanyasa is a very rare one. Only Bhakti Vigyan Goswami has it in Russia. The gradual involvement into vaishnava life is stressed not to repeat a mistake of storming heaven made by Western Krishnas. And thus far there were not many backfires as a consequence of overzealousness. The case of a few years ago when a self-proclaimed krishnaite killed an orthodox priest in a remote part of Siberia couldn’t be used even by anticultists as hard as they tried. Krishnas made an investigation of their own and proved that a schizophrenic who did it had nothing to do with them.
Among about one hundred thousand of Russians variously involved with the movement there are only 11 thousand regulars. Thus there’s no strict borderline between Krishna devotees and society at large. Such structure of the movement makes its interaction with secular culture smoother. Russian vaishnavas might criticize it from a religious point of view. They don’t accept evolution theory, reject abortions, sexual promiscuity and easy divorces but they don’t attack secular culture with moralistic zeal typical for orthodox fundamentalists (and to a certain degree for the founder of the Hare Krishna movement). Secular education is officially encouraged and Krishnas are proud that at least 6 people among them received PhDs in history, philosophy and religious studies. They have some connections in the art world, attend the festivals of bard music and try to be not overcritical about the youth culture. “Of course, art folks are not saints but one of our major values is humility and we shouldn’t look at anybody patronizingly”, - says Bhakti Vigyan. The dialogue presupposes the equality of interlocutors. The integration of vaishnavas into Russian society evidently takes the form of dialogue.
The motives of integration into Russian culture that vaishnavas develop are becoming much more sober that those of Russian indophiles of the past. Occasionally one can hear devotees speaking about the ancient arctic culture common to both Russians and Indians. But mostly such talk is popular among neo-pagans who are attracted much more by frightening Shiva destroying the world than by lovable Krishna of Vrindavana. As for Krishnas they prefer to stress not ariosophic myths but the historical ties and mutual attraction between Hindus and Russians. Some years ago they made a few archeological discoveries about the Hindu temple in Astrakhan built by local Hindu merchants of vaishnava origin. First of them came to Russia in 1615 1616 and soon were granted a permission to pray to God in their own way. Sure the talk about common Indo-European past in which the real linguistic similarities between old Slavic and Sanskrit are thoroughly mythologized still goes on. But the search of indophiles of the past for a primordial identity of Indian and Russian cultures is changing for the search of dialogue between the cultures.
Of course, all these attempts to stress an inoffensive character of their movement and find a common ground with Russian culture either through myth or history are motivated by vaishnavas’ desire to take hold in Russia and strengthen their legitimacy in spite of an aggressive anticultist attitude of the Orthodox Church. But this line of defense wouldn’t have been possible if there were no real premises for it in the ideology and practice of the movement. And Krishnas don’t drop their efforts at religious dialogue with the Orthodox Church. Last Fall they organized a kind of theological debate with their opponents Kuraev and Stenyaev trying to prove that they are bona fide branch of Hinduism. As both opponents criticized rather the disadvantages of Hinduism in comparing with Christianity than the “totalitarian and sectarian” nature of krishnaism, the meeting can be regarded as a tiny move towards interreligious dialogue in Russia though the above mentioned priests always played good cops to Krishnas letting Dvorkin be the bad one.
Another line of Krishnas’ defense has a more obvious political dimension. ISKCON temples in Western world more and more often become a spiritual home for Hindus living in diasporas. As a result the process of what the scholars call “hinduisation of ISKCON” takes place making it an outpost of Indian culture in the West. In Russia a Hindu community is much smaller but Russian vaishnavas do their best to use the Hindu factor to their advantage. The relations between Putin’s Russia and India are developing well. In the Fall of 2004 the countries exchanged ambassadors who previously held positions of deputy foreign ministers. The multimillion arms deals are in the making. Russian vaishnavas meet with Indian dignitaries who come to Russia on official visits (including the former premier Vajpayee) and invite them to pray together (sometimes the invitation is accepted). The ruling nationalist Bharati Janata Party encouraged their efforts to spread the Indian culture abroad but more secular National Congress which regained power last year also doesn’t mind it. It’s not surprising they got a permission of Moscow government for building a new temple in Moscow as the old one was demolished during reconstruction of the city. The mayor Yuri Luzhkov thought he was promoting Indian-Russian friendship this way. The protest campaign of orthodox fundamentalists and anticultists followed with noisy public rallies in downtown Moscow under slogans like “Hindu fundamentalists kill Christians in India, there’s no place for them in Moscow!” The Moscow Krishnas organized press-conferences and arranged interactive radio and TV debates with anticultists’ leaders. The radio audience (the debate took place at a liberal station “Echo of Moscow”) supported Krishnas, but more conservative TV audience gave a victory to their opponents (the program “To the barrier!” at NTV channel). The poll was also taken at the Internet site Credo.Ru, mostly attended by religious affairs experts, which overwhelmingly supported the Krishnas’ right for a temple. Hindu community of Moscow signed a letter asking for the place to worship. But more important the Russian defense minister Sergey Ivanov was on visit to India at the time and signed a contract for a sale of Russian aircraft carrier for almost 700 million dollars. Its Russian name was subsequently changed for Akramaditya (the Indian prince and Krishna worshiper). Luzhkov hesitated for a while but then granted building permission again. Being sixtish Moscow mayor doubtless remembered as the Soviet people were taught to greet Jawaharlal Nehru in Hindi on his visits to Russian capital “Hindi-Rusi bhai bhai!” (Hindus and Russians are brothers!). As the National Congress came to power in India Russian vaishnavas hurried to meet with Sonya Gandhi and enlisted her support for building a temple. Orthodox church still doesn’t drop the efforts to influence the government but the latter has its own interests in the affair and it’s more or less obvious now that the temple project will be realized though in a much downscaled version.
Recently I passed by the St. Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square. It’s painted anew and looks like a beautiful toy with its multicolored cupolas. There’s a wonderful monument in front of it to prince Minin and Pozharsky, who defended Russia from foreign invasion in the 17-th century and brought to power Romanov’s dynasty. But Cathedral stays a museum, there are no regular liturgies, no “aura of prayer”, just dull excursions.
It’s evident that Hare Krishnas have taken root in changing Russian society. With their about 100 thousand members and sympathizers, 97 registered communities, 22 ashramas-monasteries and about 250 religious groups they are to stay in Russia. Their refusal to storm heaven and well measured politics of cultural integration through open dialogue with society at large let them avoid pitfalls of their Western counterparts. The only split that took place happened in 1998 when Harikesha Swami who personally initiated many Russian devotees renounced his monastic vows and left ISKCON. Then about one hundred of his Russian followers mostly in St.Petersburg left the movement and captured the temple. But in 3-4 years the group of schismatics disintegrated and now there are no more than 10 people in it united mostly by economic but not spiritual interests. The vaishnavas who were initiated by Harikesha Swami had to be reinitiated. Among them was Bhakti Vigyan Goswami himself who was reinitiated by the other well known pupil of Bhaktivedanta - Radhanath Swami.
Judging by the results of interactive radio and TV debates of Krishnas with their orthodox adversaries Russian public recognizes their right to existence. The further to the East from Moscow the more so. It makes one think that cultural and religious identity of Russia is not as well defined as the Orthodox Church would like it to be.
Russian authorities also tend to tolerate them more than the other groups blacklisted by anticultists as “totalitarian sects”. The foreign policy interests obviously prevail over the customary government’s support of the Orthodox Church.
Anticultists and orthodox fundamentalists will go on to fight them as a threat to spiritual monopoly of the Russian Orthodox Church. And the threat they are! In their official declarations Russian vaishnavas are careful to insist that they don’t proselytize among Russian public and accept candidates for initiation only after a long probation period. They call for interreligious dialogue and seem to be ready for it. But as long as the Russian Church doesn’t do its own missionary and educational work properly and concentrates only on the counter-mission, fighting “sects and cults”, it will lose at least some young people to Hare Krishnas. Those who are looking for strong mystical experience and don’t care if it’s given by a foreign faith. As Russia becomes more and more a part of the globalizing world there will be more of such people. And the only chance for the Church to retain them is not to stress its Russianness and thus “the birth right” for all Russian souls (which it does now) but to tap its own sources of mystical experience. When Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada went to America he accented not his hinduness but the universal appeal of love for God. And he offered an accessible way to realize this love in kirtanas. A good lesson for missionaries of all faiths to learn.
 See Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The Science of Self-Realization. N.Y.: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1991. In 1997 Kotovsky published his version of their meeting in Russian in Vaishnavism. Otkrytyi forum 1 (1997): 109-114. My first impression of mutual misunderstanding of the two was confirmed.
 Personal communication of Sergey Zuev (Brahman Radha Damodar Das)
 Pleshakov, Yuri (Yadunanda Das), “Indyiskaya religia milosti v Rossii”. Dosie na tsenzuru 11 (2000): 91.
 V.V. Stasov “Proishojdenie russkih bylin”. Vestnik Evropy 1-4 (1868)
 Harikesha Swami, one of the American diksha gurus initiated by Bhaktivedanta, published in 1982 “Varnashrama Manifesto for Social Sanity”, a kind of a utopia of Western society converted to krishnaism. Some elements of this utopist theocracy sounded rather ominous to Western ear.
 See his paper delivered at the International conference of Vaishnava Academy in January of 1994 in Wiesbaden (Germany) “The Cleaning of Hearts: the History of Reforms in ISKCON”.
 The author’s interview with Bhakti Vigyan Goswami, Kultura-weekly 31 (2003).
 Nikolai Petrov, “Ubyitsa svyashennika okazalsya umalishennym”. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 17.01, (2001).
 Induistskie religioznyie i duhovno-prosvetitelskie organizatsii v Rossii. Spravochnik. Ed. Ivanenko S.I. (Moscow: Filosofskaya kniga, 2003), 22. The figures are supplied by vaishnavas themselves. There’s no independent statistics of the movement.
 Ibid., p.105
 The author’s interview with Bhakti Vigyan Goswami
 XXXVII Mezhdunarodnyi congress vostokovedov.Tezisy dokladov.(Moskva: T.2, 2004). Katser Zh.U., Istoricheskie istochniki o sushestvovanii induisma na territorii Rossii, 571-572
 Vladimir Yakovlev (Brahman Krishnananda Das). Paradoxy edinstva i razlichyi. Portal-Credo.Ru. 09-03-2005
 Jan Brzezinski. “What was Shrila Prabhupada Position: The Hare Krishna Movement and Hinduism”, ISKCON Communications Journal, vol. 6, 2, 1998, 46.
 The results of the radio poll. “Should a Krishna temple be built in Moscow?” Yes 61%, No 39%. The number of calls 5477. Nov.11 2003.
The results of TV poll for 4 regions. Central region: 38000 for Krishnas, 52000 for orthodox fundamentalists. The Urals: 4840 for Krishnas, 2600 for fundamentalists. The Far East: 902 for Krishnas, 333 for fundamentalists. March 25, 2004.
 “Should Moscow Krishnas be permitted to build a temple?” - Yes, of course. They are a registered religious organization and have the right to build temples”(71%); “No” (16%); “Yes. But not in downtown Moscow and not in the vicinity of orthodox temples” (5%); “No. They should rent temporary places for worship” (5%); “I don’t care” (3%); “Yes. But only in case Indian businessmen make investments in Moscow economy” (2%). The number of participants 198. Nov.15, 2003.
 Induistskie religioznyie i duhovno-prosvetitelskie organizatsii v Rossii. Spravochnik, 22
 Personal communication of Maxim Osipov (Modan Mohan Das), PR director of CKCS