Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "The visit of the Dalai Lama was purely religious"

- Kirsan Nikolaevich, you fought for quite some time for the Dalai Lama's arrival in Russia and it’s obvious now that you have won: finally, he came. Why was it so necessary to fight for it, quarrel with federal officials and even with the President?

There was no struggle; we, Buddhists, treat everything equally. I was a peace maker during these 12 years. The last time the Dalai Lama visited Kalmykia in 1992. We thought that it might happen if not in this life then in the next life; the more so because according to Buddhism we live 108 lives. But, probably, this is due to the ever growing relations between the Russian Federation and the PRC and the ambiguous attitude towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That caused a delay in issuing a visa to His Holiness.

- And why it became possible, what has changed?
The believers of republics of Kalmykia repeatedly addressed the guarantors of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, first Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin. Still, we believed that the Constitution of the Russian Federation would be respected.
- Our listener from Moscow asks: "Did His Holiness like Kalmykia? Is he expected to come again?"
When he flew to Bangalore, we called him on the phone, and he said that he felt as if he had been in a dream. We have been waiting for his visit for so long, and likewise His Holiness has been waiting. Finally it seemed to him that he had been in a dream. He was greatly moved by the meeting when he was traveling from the airport to his residence (it is about 14 kilometres away). And although it was cold and there was wind and snow, people, children and elderlies came out, throwing flowers on the road he was travelling. He was very moved by the meeting. And the next day, when he gave the teachings of the Buddha, people came, stood and listened to him despite very severe climatic conditions. He was much moved.  
- Kirsan Nikolaevich, are there really many Buddhists in Kalmykia, or was it arranged (mind you, I do not want to offend anyone) for the arrival of an important person?
After 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 where Buddhism is mostly professed. These are the Republic of Kalmykia, the Republic of Buryatia and the Republic of Tuva. More than 3 million Buddhists live in our country. When the Dalai Lama came, there were a lot of pilgrims from Moscow.
- Let me ask you about pilgrims. Did people from other regions come?
Yes, for example, there was a large group from Moscow. Among them was a deputy of the Chief Architect of Moscow with his family. 18 people came from Saratov. How do I know that they came from Saratov? In the evening, I received a call from the security service and was told that they set tents opposite Khural. One needs to sleep on this land before arrival of the Dalai Lama and, in spite of the cold, they unfolded sleeping bags and settled to rest. We let them. A large group was from Sevastopol; about 50 people came from Kharkov, Tallinn as well as from Poland, Holland and even from Great Britain.
- Kirsan Nikolayevich, are there any consequences of the Dalai Lama's visit to Kalmykia?
The consequences are very large, because we waited for him for 12 years. The consequences are the weather, which is especially good. After the departure of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we met the New Year last week on December 7.The New Year – Zul came to Kalmyk according to Kalmyk calendar. No one expected the warm weather – plus 10 in the morning. All believers, all residents of Kalmykia perceived that the Dalai Lama consecrated our land. All the bad and negative has gone. Now there is only a white road in front of the Republic of Kalmykia. Let us hope that grace will descend to our land.
- Kirsan Nikolaevich, you are a Soviet person like me, having lived in the Soviet Union for a long time. When you became religious? I think it’s strange when so many people suddenly declare that they belong not to the church but to religion. We all were brought up by atheists. Or was it different in your case?
Yes. My parents are communists, my grandfather is a communist. Before the Great October Socialist Revolution there were about 100 Buddhist monasteries in Kalmykia. Then everything was blown up, destroyed and nothing was left. Therefore, religion itself was banned.
Those who professed religion were persecuted. All lamas were shot or expelled. That is, there were no clergymen in Kalmykia; there was not a single prayer house. My grandmother brought me up.
When I was small, my grandmother used to close the door and take out a small Buddha – a portrait of the Dalai Lama – from the old wooden chest. My grandmother prayed for half an hour and she made me pray too. I stood on my knees beside her.
- When did you first meet with the Dalai Lama?
It was in 1991, when he came to the Republic of Kalmykia from Moscow. I was a deputy of the Supreme Council at the time. We organized meetings in 1991 and 1992. When we met him in 1991, he invited us to visit his residence and I visited the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in Northern India in 1992.
- A question from our listeners. When will the Dalai Lama visit Moscow?
The visa, which was given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, allowed him visit Elista in Kalmykia only, not Moscow. We hope that the Dalai Lama showed to everyone, including the Chinese, that the visit was purely pastoral and religious in nature, and I think there will be no big opposition if His Holiness will also visit other Buddhist republics and Moscow next year. After all, the Dalai Lama spoke at the State Duma in 1994.
December 13, 2004