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Old March 27th, 2016, 12:47 AM
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Question Interestingly Mysterious: How ISKCON got a foothold in Soviet Union?

Interestingly Mysterious: How ISKCON got a foothold in Soviet Union?

The popular story borders on fantasy or may actually be a figment of imagination. It narrates how Srila Prabhupada coincidentally met the right guy and how this guy single handedly introduced Hinduism to Soviet Union.

I don’t buy it. I think there was a bit of behind-the-scene work by Indian intelligence agencies. They must have identified the young man and indoctrinated him. India’s intelligence agencies must have done this to cement the relationship between India and Soviet Union. And there are instances where Russian authorities 'surprisingly' gave permission to build temple or do something publicly. The reality may be that they must have demanded some bribe and their demands may have been fulfilled.

Anyway below is the copy-paste lest they take down the website.

Checkmate: ISKCON's Victory in Russia

Back to Godhead March/April 2008

By Satyaraja Dasa

It was early evening on July 11, 1972. Chess enthusiasts filled a sports arena in Reykjavik, Iceland, while millions watched on TV and listened on the radio. In what was dubbed “the match of the century,” Bobby Fischer challenged Boris Spassky, the Russian world chess champion, for the title, knowing full well that emerging victorious would have implications in the Cold War world.

Just one year earlier, Srila Prabhupada had been strategizing to bring God into a godless Soviet Russia. If we think of Prabhupada's quest as a sort of chess match, it would have seemed that he had few pieces on the board, while the Soviets had the most powerful pieces and key squares blocked. But even one pawn or knight backed by the most powerful king and queen may sometimes checkmate castle fortresses and brilliant strategists. Thus, the story of Prabhupada's victory eclipses that of the World Chess Championship of 1972.

Srila Prabhupada had initially tried to come to the USSR as an official representative of India, writing a letter proclaiming his intent to the Ministry of Culture. But he was denied entrance without explanation. Finally, after several attempts, he was given a tourist visa that granted him a short stay, even if he was not allowed to lecture at Moscow University. The lecture had been one of his reasons for wanting to visit.

Still, Prabhupada's five days on Russian soil provided him ample opportunity to position himself well for the eventual checkmate his movement would play in Soviet Russia. His initial strategy emerged when, through his disciple and secretary Syamasundara Dasa, he met a young Russian seeker—Anatoly Pinyayev—who would soon become Ananta-shanti Dasa, his courageous, lone student in the Soviet Union. Another forward move was Prabhupada's talk with Professor G. G. Kotovsky, then head of the Indian and South Asian Studies Department of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences. Prabhupada left a distinct impression on Professor Kotovsky, who got their conversation published in an important Russian periodical (“Vaishnavism” in Otkrytyi Forum 1, 1997, pp. 109–114). But it was Ananta-shanti who took Prabhupada's message to heart, single-handedly, vigorously, sharing what he had learned with hundreds of Soviet people, many who became devotees. After meeting the enthusiastic Russian, Prabhupada had remarked, “Just as you can judge whether rice is properly cooked by picking out one small grain, so you can know an entire nation by observing one of its handpicked youths.”

Next, in 1977 and 1979, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust received an invitation to the prestigious Moscow International Book Fair, acquainting Moscovites with Prabhupada’s books for the first time. The New York Times (July 31, 1983) noted the significance: “[The exhibit] drew curious Russians, the books spread, and Hare Krishna was on its way in Russia.”

But by 1980, under Brezhnev’s rule, several devotees were thrown into prison, initiating a tense and often traumatic relationship between ISKCON and the Soviet Union.

By the mid-1980s Yuri Andropov was in power, and he intensified the campaign already underway against the Hare Krishna movement. He saw devotees as representing all things religious and was determined to wipe them out. Because of Ananta-shanti’s contagious enthusiasm and the staggering results of the book fairs, Semyon Tsvigun, the deputy chief of the KGB under Andropov, said that three main threats to the Soviet Union were "pop music, Western culture, and Hare Krishna.”

Such pronouncements, and the sentiments that fueled them, led to intense persecution of Hare Krishna devotees.

ISKCON Knights in Russia

And so, with ISKCON declared one of the great threats to the Soviet nation, an ongoing battle ensued. But this was no Fischer versus Spassky—two equal adversaries pitted against each other. This was a war conducted by a totalitarian state against a relatively small number of Krishna devotees. Consequently, dozens of ISKCON’s new Soviet faithful were thrown into prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals, suffering vicious mistreatment at the hands of police and political yes-men. Several devotees died in prison, clinging tightly to their faith while being tortured in various ways.

Harikesha Swami, then ISKCON's governing body commissioner for the Soviet Union, would not stand for such horrors. A driving force for reform, he made the tragedy a worldwide concern. Kirtiraja Dasa had been ISKCON's regional secretary for the Soviet Union since 1979. He began an international campaign of news releases and demonstrations to pressure Soviet authorities to release the imprisoned devotees and stop the persecution of the Hare Krishna movement. To carry out this work, he founded the Committee to Free Soviet Hare Krishnas. Supportive voices were heard at the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, at the United Nations, and in international newspapers. At the November 1986 meeting in Vienna of the Commission of Security and Cooperation in Europe, the international organization that monitors compliance with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki accords, Hare Krishna members again called attention to the plight of imprisoned Soviet devotees.

The situation culminated later that year when Sri Prahlada Dasa, then a pre-teen devotee from an ISKCON school in Australia, joined in Kirtiraja’s efforts. He and “The Krishna Kids” recorded an album on the international EMI label, one of the world’s largest record companies. The album included the song “Free the Soviet Krishnas,” a plea to Gorbachev that was also released as a single. Prahlada appeared frequently on television and radio to promote the album and share his concern for the devotees in Russia. Eventually the devotees were freed, marking a new beginning for religion in the former Soviet Union.

Last edited by Pakau; March 27th, 2016 at 09:33 AM.
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