Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "The Dalai Lama blessed the Kalmyk land"

- Kirsan Nikolaevich, you have fought for the visit of the Dalai Lama to Russia for quite a long time and finally won. Why was it so important for you to fight and argument with federal agencies and even with the President?

No, I didn’t fight.  We, Buddhists, take all that’s happening in a Buddhist way. And I always reassured everyone for over 12 years: the Dalai Lama visited Kalmykia last time in 1992. We thought that he would come if not in this life then in the next one, the more so we live 108 lives according to Buddhism.

Perhaps this is due to improving Russia's relations with China and the ambiguous attitude to the personality of the Dalai Lama. When we were getting close to the point when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was going to issue a visa, we had to face other obstacles: the large weaponry orders of the military-industrial complex, the problems on the border, etc. Therefore, visa issuance for His Holiness was delayed...
- And why it became possible, what has changed?
The believers of Kalmykia Republic repeatedly addressed to the Presidents of the Russian Federation: first to Boris Yeltsin, then to Vladimir Putin, the guarantors of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which has an article on freedom of religion. We believed that the constitution should be respected.
- Did the Dalai Lama like Kalmykia? Do you expect another visit?
When he arrived in Bangalore, we contacted him by phone and he said that he visited a dream land. He was very touched by the meeting. When he was traveling from the airport to his residence - which is about 14 km away - and although it was cold but the children and the elderly people threw flowers on the road despite the wind and the snow. And the next day, when he delivered the Buddha's lectures, people came, stood and listened to him notwithstanding the harsh climatic conditions. He was very touched.
- How many Buddhists are in Kalmykia?
Since the Buddhism was adopted as one of the traditional religions of the Russian Empire in the 18th century, there are three subjects of the Russian Federation practicing Buddhism: Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva. I should also mention Transbaikalia and the Altai. More than 3 million of Buddhists live in our country.
- Did the pilgrims from other regions visit you?
Yes, once they came from Moscow and a large group of 18 people arrived from Saratov. In the evening, I got a call and was told that they put tents in front of khurul because, according to the traditions, they need to sleep on that land before the arrival of the Dalai Lama. Thus, despite the cold they unfurled the sleeping bags and decided to sleep on the bare ground. We let them do it. Most of them were from Sevastopol - about 50 people - and from Kharkov, Tallinn, Poland, Holland and even the UK.
- It was a big organizational and economic challenge for the Republic to provide the residence not only to the holy guest but to the pilgrims as well...
Kalmykia did not take part in it at the Government level. Everything was paid by pilgrims, believers and sponsors. Big money was involved because we had to allocate them in some gyms of our schools because the hotels were overbooked. And the residents of Elista were also sympathetic: many pilgrims lived in residents’ apartments. Of course, there was an issue with security, because the security service of His Holiness had the strict requirements: after all, we are located in the south of Russia, which was instable at the moment according to the news on TV channels…
- It was basically Chechnya.
- We were supposed to provide security.  I think that the Interior Ministry of Internal Affairs and FSB did it very well.  On his departure, the chief of security of the Dalai Lama - he visited about 50 countries annually - said that some mentally disturbed pilgrims rushed to His Holiness, because it is believed that the sins of those who touch him would be forgiven.
Therefore, everyone wants to touch His Holiness. It is very difficult for law enforcement officials to control the crowd. But, as the chief of security of the Dalai Lama said, our officers acted perfectly, and he couldn’t remember such level of cooperation over the past few years.
- Are there any consequences of the Dalai Lama's visit to Kalmykia?
It is still unbelievable for us that the lotus like feet of living Buddha, His Holiness touched our land. The consequences are very great, because we have been waiting for it for 12 years. If the visit did not take place, it would have been very difficult to explain to people morally.
The latest consequences are the best weather ever. After the departure of the Dalai Lama, on December 7, we have met Kalmyk New Year: it was warm in the morning, the temperature was plus 10. All that was bad and negative was gone. Now we are facing the white road in front of Kalmykia only. Let's hope that the divine grace will come to our land that was consecrated by the Dalai Lama.
- Kirsan Nikolaevich, when did you become a believer? After all, we all were brought up as atheists. Or was it different in your case?
No, it was not different. My parents, including grandfather, were communists. There were about 100 Buddhist monasteries before the revolution in Kalmykia. They all had been blown up and destroyed. Religion was banned. Those people who believed in God were persecuted even in the smallest villages. All lamas were shot or deported. There were no priests or houses of worship in Kalmykia.
When I was small, 5-6 years old, and my parents went to work, my grandmother used to shut the door and take a small statue of Buddha, a portrait of the Dalai Lama out of her chest and prayed for half an hour. She made me pray too and I stood on my knees with her.
- That is, you have such experience from an early age?
My grandmother taught me to believe in Buddha and believe in God.
- When did you first meet with the Dalai Lama?
In 1991. He was in Moscow...
- You were not the President of Kalmykia at the moment.
I was a member of the Supreme Council. We organized his visit to Kalmykia in 1992. In 1991, when we met him, he invited me to visit him and I stayed at the residence of His Holiness in Dharamsala in Northern India in 1992.
- A question from Moscow: "Mr. Ilyumzhinov, I cannot but recognize that under your leadership Kalmykia has become a prosperous region, the people's living standards improved significantly, and you have proved that you are a good leader. Despite this, many Russians leave Kalmykia. Why is that? "
I would not say that the Russians or Kalmyks leave.
- Can you describe your migration process?
The number of people who come and go is about the same. This is due to the situation on the market. People go in search of a good salary or by virtue of kinship; children go to the Moscow universities and work outside the region after graduation.
-A question from Lithuania: "Mr. President, please, tell us about your country: achievements, successes, problems. Are the economic development indicators better than the average ones of Russia? If so, how and by what steps were they achieved? Does Kalmykia face emigration or problem of brain drain? What is the percentage of unemployed?"
I'll tell you just the figure that SSC has provided: over the past year, according to the amount of investments per head Kalmykia has taken an honourable 5th place out of 89 regions of Russia. This is due to the fact that the deputies of the People's Khural (Parliament) work well; we have a number of laws adopted for investments protection and providing additional incentives for companies that invest in the country's economy.
This year we have started more than a hundred new projects. Investors are from Moscow, St. Petersburg and other countries. We expecting more than $ 500 million investments in exploration only. As for unemployment, it is 3.2% of the economically active population, which is average for Russia. However, I announced the next year to be a year of employment and combating unemployment. We will provide 1850 jobs mostly in rural areas until December 31. The programme of providing 18 thousand new jobs is designed for three years.
-Two questions from the Moscow region: "Why, was "Urals" kicked out of the Major League? Is it possible that such a man as you did not have enough funds to keep the team at least at the first division?"
It is hard to manage everything. In 1996, I controlled "Ural" that entered the Major League for the first time. We have brought up such players as Smertin, Kormiltsev, Yashkin, Lukhvich and Litvinov. Now our landmark is the children's football. We have created a football academy and passed "Ural" owned stadiums and playing fields to children. Hopefully, we will have our own Maradonas in 5-6 years.
- Why did you reject it? It is a prestige of the republic.
Since initially Kalmykia budget was small and we could not afford to spend much money, we were looking for sponsors. Today, fewer sponsors want to invest in football, that’s the problem.
- A question from Yekaterinburg: "What do you think about the law on the abolition of gubernatorial elections? And another question: "Mr. President, do you plan to ask the President if he trusts you?" That is, to resign and wait for an appointment.
This law applies to those who would have elections after its adoption. But we must also respect the will of the voters who voted for their governors. What do I think? If the Russian leadership believes that during the transition period a strong vertical of power is needed to achieve stability and peace and fight against terrorism, we need to follow it.
We created such power vertical In Kalmykia in April 1993, and the heads of districts and the Mayor were elected by recommendation. I, as the President of the Republic, recommended several candidates. There were times my candidates did not pass for some reason...
- And then what did you do? Could you find a compromise?
They had offered another candidate that I later recommended and they appointed. We have been using this system for 11 years and it has paid off: the budget of the Republic amounted to 98% of Moscow subsidies 10 years ago and it decreased to just 27% last year. We have learned to make money.
- Is there any influence of the relative proximity to Chechnya?
Of course, it greatly influenced our budget, especially, 3-4 years ago. There were several thousand of temporary immigrants, who were registered on the territory of Kalmykia. We had to pay child allowances, pensions and payments for those repressed during the deportation. Now the migration is reverted. Last year, 1.5 thousand of Chechens went back to Chechnya.
- And here is the last question of our listeners. When will the Dalai Lama visit Moscow?
The visa, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted to His Holiness, was for Kalmykia, Elista only. However, all, including China, saw that his visit was purely of pastoral, religious nature. And I hope there will be no objection if he visits other Buddhist republic and Moscow. Still, the Dalai Lama spoke at the State Duma of the Russian Federation in 1994.