A look at the worldwide activities of the
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
Moscow's Krishna Cutoff
Reprinted with permission of the Washington Post, Copyright 1987.
Moscow (August 19) For the old Arbat, one of this city’s most famous 19th-century neighborhoods,glasnost summer has come to mean a daily festival of spontaneous street activity with artists turning out portraits on demand and strolling musicians drawing crowds with ballads that gently mocked the problems of everyday Soviet life.
But perhaps the most extraordinary phenomenon of all was the small band of Hare Krishna believers who every night since early July would gather in front of the Capital Vakhtangava Theater singing … mantras and swaying in unison. When they finished their singing, the group members were invariably approached by curious onlookers who wanted to learn who they were and what they believed in. The conversations between atheists and believers, soldiers and hippies with long hair often lasted late into the night.
Then Monday, the tolerance that allowed such a flourishing street life reached its limit. Fifteen of the Hare Krishna followers, who had been celebrating the birthday of their spiritual founder, were taken to a local militia station and accused of violating Article 193 of the administrative code forbidding religious observances anywhere but in a church or temple.
The problem for the Hare Krishna group is that Soviet authorities have never acknowledged them as an official religious sect, even though the group has been applying for this status for the last six years.
"If we are an official group, then we are allowed to worship only in a temple," noted Alexander Dragilyov, a 21-year-old member of the group. "But if we are not an official religious group, then we should be allowed to sing on the street."
But they are not allowed, according to the message delivered by the militia Monday. The group was told that if they went back onto the Arbat to sing and dance again, they would be arrested and charged under the criminal code, Dragilyov said:
Dragilyov said the trouble actually began Sunday night when a group of youths grabbed one of the Hare Krishna banners and ran off. He said several onlookers went up to uniformed militiamen standing nearby and asked them to do something about this, and they were told, "It is not our business."
On Monday night, a group of youths Dragilyov believes were the same ones from the night before approached the chanting sect members outside the Vakhtangava Theater and turned their tape decks up to full volume. At the same time, a 15-member military orchestra positioned near the theater began to play. The Hare Krishna mantras were drowned out.
A short time later, a number of uniformed militiamen came up and took the group's members by the arms, leading them off to a nearby militia station. There they were held for three hours and made to sign documents charging them with administrative violations.
Similar actions have been taken recently against other Hare Krishna groups in the country in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, and in Lithuania, Dragilyov said. According to the group's estimates, there are 2,000 members of the sect in the Soviet Union, of whom 25 are now in prison or in labor camps.
The group's problems are symptomatic of the tenuous nature of the ongoing Soviet experiment with open debate. In the days when they were peacefully singing their mantras, undisturbed by authorities, the reaction of passers-by varied, but most shared the view of one young man who said, "As long as they don't bother anyone, then what is the harm."
Sometimes arguments would break out, as a Communist Party veteran would query the young Krishna adherents about the sincerity of their values and, in Russian fashion, launch debates about Asian versus European cultures and the essence of man's spiritual needs. The gatherings had also begun to attract other religious groups, including members of fundamentalist Christian sects all this in a society officially wedded to atheism.
Some passers-by began to wonder how long this would go on. "Something seems to be missing," said one young Russian recently, looking over his shoulder for the usually ubiquitous militiamen. Yet for most of the summer, the Arbat was relatively free of uniforms.
According to Dragilyov, the militia's sharp warning Monday is not something the group is eager to trifle with. "We won't sing on the Arbat," he said yesterday, "but we will go there and walk."
Moscow Police Break Up Hare Krishna Gathering
Reprinted with permission of The Los Angeles Times, Copyright 1987.
Moscow (August 30) Police forcefully broke up a demonstration Saturday by activists of the Hare Krishna movement in the center of Moscow.
About twenty people were dragged, pushed and pulled onto a police bus after they assembled on Gorky St. in a small park opposite Moscow City Hall to press the Hare Krishna's demand for official recognition as a religious group.
Members of the group waved to passers-by from the bus windows and chanted "Hare Krishna" as they were driven away. A mother and an infant child, along with two young women, were among those arrested.
Uniformed police, accompanied by plainclothesmen, swooped down on the demonstrators within minutes after they assembled and hustled them into a bus and a van.
Their actions Saturday contrasted with official toleration of a far larger demonstration recently by Crimean Tatars on the edge of Red Square. The Tatars, seeking return of the homeland they were expelled from in 1944, were allowed to camp overnight in a 24-hour protest outside the Kremlin walls.
Last Sunday, demonstrations also were held in the Soviet Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to mark the 48th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin pact that eventually led to incorporation of the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union.
Moscow News reported Saturday that authorities detained 86 people in the Latvian capitol of Riga during the demonstrations. It said the 86 were taken into custody for disobeying police instructions, urging people to riot and demonstrating offensive attitudes to people of other nationalities.
Six of the detainees were "punished administratively" and the remainder were released, the paper said, without elaboration.
Soviet officials have accused the Hare Krishna of being "anti-communist" and a tool of the American CIA. Hare Krishna spokesmen have denied the charges.
A group known as the Committee to Free Soviet Hare Krishnas, based in Stockholm and headed by D. V. Jakupko, said early in 1986 that 25 Hare Krishna members in the Soviet Union were either in prison or psychiatric hospitals because of their beliefs.
A Soviet weekly, Nedelys, reported in 1983 that two members of the Hare Krishnas were tried on charges of recruiting new members for the group and disseminating Krishna teachings. The articles did not indicate the verdicts or sentences, if any, the two men received.
The Stockholm group, however, said that Vladimir Kritski, now 36, was sentenced to 4 ½ years in a labor camp in December 1982, and then given an additional 4 ½-year sentence in a strict regime camp for continuing to preach Krishna teachings in jail. His co-defendant, Sergi Kurkin, was sentenced to 2 ½ years in labor camp and has since been released, the Stockholm group added.