"We are at a point of desperation," Shadjin Lama, leader of the Buddhist community Kalmykia, told a news conference. "We ask for a visa," he said, adding that the visit of the Dalai Lama, who is considered the spiritual leader of Buddhists around the world, would be purely religious in character. "There are no political aims, no politicians are involved," he said. "Our constitutional rights are being violated."
The Dalai Lama had planned to visit Russia's three Buddhist republics, Buryatia and Tuva bordering Mongolia, and Kalmykia north of the Caspian Sea, from September 11. But on Friday a foreign ministry spokesman said the decision to refuse him a visa had been taken because of the visit's possible "political orientation". He said it had also been necessary to "take account of the position of China, whose leadership is opposed to the Dalai Lama's political activity."
At the weekend, a group of Russian Buddhists protested outside the foreign ministry and 10 of them were arrested for demonstrating without authorisation. "There was one protest in front of the ministry. Our people are ready to go on hunger strikes, to demonstrate," Shadjin Lama said, adding that if Moscow did not relent, they would have no other choice.
In more measured tones, Pandit Khambo Lama of Buryatia, leader of the Russian Buddhist community, said the Buddhist community themselves were to blame for not having worked hard enough to prepare for a pilgrimage by the Dalai Lama.
For a spiritual culture which regards 12 years as the time span of a generation, he noted it had been 10 years since the Dalai Lama last visited: "Older generations wait to receive his blessings. Time is running out. We need his spritual guidance in our republics." He rejected Moscow's claims that such a visit could have "political" overtones because he said the Dalai Lama's delegation would not, in any case, include any members of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
In September last year, the Dalai Lama, was forced to call off a visit to Mongolia after Moscow denied him a transit visa.