Kazakhstan Demolishes Hare Krishna Commune

In September, I blogged on President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s interfaith “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions”:

Nazarbayev also graced the Congress with his own ideas, which include making 2007 “the Year of Religious and Cultural Tolerance”, and the creation of an “international center of cultures and religions”…The Congress eventually came up with “nine principles of inter-faith dialogue”. These include advice to “avoid prejudice and misrepresentation”; to engage in “effective listening and learning…in the spirit of tolerance on the basis of shared values”; and for dialogue to “assume equality of partners”.

Two months on, human-rights organisation Forum 18 brings us the latest from multi-religious Kazakhstan:

Today (21 November) the demolition began of 13 Hare Krishna-owned homes at the Hare Krishna commune, spokesperson Maksim Varfolomeyev told Forum 18 News Service from the commercial capital Almaty.

(Always nice to find a fellow Bartholomew…)

…”I have no words to describe what I have seen,” Ninel Fokina, head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, told Forum 18 from the demolition site. “They have no right to move people out of their homes in winter.”

…”It is indicative that the demolition of the homes began before we had been given the results of the state special Commission’s investigation into the conflict over the commune,” Varfolomeyev told Forum 18.

…Devotees are increasing sceptical that the Commission was anything more than a device to deflect any criticism of state religious intolerance.

The move against the Hare Krishnas echoes events in neighbouring Russia; in 2004 a temple in Moscow was demolished to make way for a city development, but a plot of land promised as a replacement was withdrawn by the mayor following complaints from the authoritarian Orthodox Church. That decision, however, was itself overturned in June.

Meanwhile, Nazarbayev has just visited London, and today’s Guardian marks the occasion with an article by Timothy Garton Ash:

As you will not have gathered from anything said by the prime minister, Kazakhstan is a hugely corrupt dictatorship with a dismal human rights record; a supine judiciary; controlled or intimidated media; and elections that do not, to put it very mildly, come up to the standards of Europe’s leading election monitors, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)…. According to some reports, Sultan Nursultan may now be one of the world’s richest men, but he has not kept his wealth to himself; he has spread it most generously around his immediate and extended family, who control much of the media and many state-owned companies. After socialism in one country, there is capitalism in one family.