In the latest in a series of exhausting trials, ISKCON devotees have been given until March 1st by the Moscow government to move out of their temple at Dinamo.
The devotee community has already found a new space to rent, and will stay there while they go to court to pursue justice.
Russian law states that land should be given by the government to officially registered religious organizations for free. But the Moscow government has repeatedly evicted devotees from land it has given them.
After many broken promises, the government donated land at Novoskhodnenskoye on the outskirts of Moscow for devotees to build a major Vedic Cultural Center, and also provided them with the temporary “temple” at Dinamo to stay at during construction.
But in late 2012, they told devotees they could not build their temple at Novoskhodnenskoye, and that the land would be used to construct apartments and businesses instead.
Meanwhile, they also ordered ISKCON Moscow (officially called The Moscow Society for Krishna Consciousness, or MSKCON) to vacate the Dinamo property by October 15th, 2013.
In addition, devotees had to either dismantle the place themselves, or the government would have it demolished by a commercial construction company at an extremely high cost to MSKCON. As they couldn’t meet the deadline, devotees asked for an extension.
Today, devotees are living and conducting Deity worship and Sunday programs at Dinamo with just the temple room and a few other rooms left, while their former temple is being dismantled around them.
“We have reached the point where it is not very good to stay there, because we don’t have the proper facility,” says temple president Sadhupriya Das. “We don’t have proper heating or toilets, but somehow we are managing.”
By March 1st, they’ll be evicted. And although devotees do still hold out some hope for a further extension, it’s highly unlikely.
Fortunately, MSKCON has already arranged for a new place to move its Deities of Sri Sri Dayal Nitai Saci-Suta and continue some basic activities.
A cultural center rather than a temple proper, it will be located in the basement and ground floor of an administrative office building close to the old Dinamo location.
Sadhupriya hopes it will fulfill the needs of Moscow’s large congregation and provide a place where they can gather.
Due to limited space, however, there won’t be any residential facilities for Moscow’s many brahmacharis (celibate monks) at the new center.
At Dinamo, there were two brahmachari ashrams -- one for training new students, and one sankirtan ashram where 30 to 40 book distributors stayed. Now, leaders will have to find a new place for them to live.
Meanwhile, the Moscow government has promised that they will replace the land they withdrew at Novoskhodnenskoye in return for another piece of land elsewhere in the city for devotees to build their temple on. But, they say, it’s just not ready quite yet.
After so many broken promises from the government, MSKCON temple project manager Shyam Das is unsurprisingly sceptical.
“The possible future is that the government will keep saying this for one year, two years, five years, ten years, until we give up and forget about it,” he says.
So, naturally, MSKCON needs a back-up plan.
The Moscow government made two separate official decisions regarding the land in Novoskhodnenskoye it had given MSKCON to build a temple on. The first was to take back the land it had given; the second, to refuse permission to construct a temple on the land.
Unfortunately, when MSKCON took legal action against both of these, the cases did not go to court in order. The second part of the disagreement -- the refusal to give permission for construction -- made it to court first.
This made it easy for the Moscow government representatives to simply respond, “They don’t have the land; how can we give them permission for construction?”
Devotees are hopeful about the second hearing, however, in which they will contest the government’s decision to take land back from a religious organization.
“The hearing will be on March 6th, and we will get the results at the end of March,” says Shyam. “I think there is some chance to win in this case. If we do win it, we will take steps to get the land back and will do all the needful documentation for construction.”
If MSKCON loses, devotees will launch yet another court case, this time demanding a refund of the large sum of money they spent preparing for construction.
If they are refunded, devotees will then be free to purchase a piece of land itself on which to build a temple. The only catch: according to Russian law, they will still have to get permission from the government before building the temple.
It’s a difficult situation. But Russian devotees are tough; they’ve overcome worse in the past. And whatever happens, they will continue to spread Krishna consciousness enthusiastically and keep a positive attitude.
“We don’t know in which direction things will develop,” says temple president Sadhupriya. “But our feeling is that Krishna will definitely make some arrangement for the devotees here in Moscow. We have a strong and very stable devotee community of more than 3,000 dedicated followers. We are united, and we’ll face whatever challenges arise together.”
To donate and help ISKCON Moscow, please visit: http://project.veda.ru/en/participation/bank/[ moscow ] [ russia ]