The Hare Krishnas will finally get a long-sought-after temple if Oleg Mitvol, former environmental crusader and now prefect of the Northern Administrative District, gets his way.
At a meeting with Dzhkha Sandzhit, the president of the Association of Indians in Russia, Mitvol said that a Hare Krishna temple would be built in the Molzhaninovsky area, 10 kilometres outside the Moscow Ring Road in the north of Moscow.
The site was originally provided to The Moscow Society for Krishna Consciousness by a 2007 City Hall decree. The decree gave permission for town-planning and pre-project documents to be produced from 2007 to 2008 for the construction of a place of worship on a 2-hectare land plot in the Molzhaninovsky area on Novoskhodnenskoye Shosse, in the village of Vereskino. However, as with previous plans, the new Hare Krishna temple's construction has been hampered by protests from conservative Orthodox Church groups.
In May 2008, the local district government held a public hearing on the temple project at which anti-temple protestors held a picket. RIA Novosti reported that the protest was attended by residents of Moscow and Khimki, clergymen from the Dolgoprudnensko-Khimkinsky ecclesiastical district of Moscow Russian Orthodox Diocese, the youth movement Mestniye's division for protecting the Moscow region's environment, and representatives of other youth and community organisations.
The protestors demanded the termination of the project.
"This is foreign to Orthodox Christians - it is a Pagan temple," said Andrei Yeremin, one of the organisers of the initiative group. "Maybe this would be good in India, but we don't need it."
Moscow's Hare Krishnas have had a troubled history with their accommodations.
After the Hare Krishna's original temple on Begovaya Ulitsa was demolished in 2004 to make way for municipal housing, the city authorities granted a plot of land by Khodynskoye Pole as a location for a replacement temple. But the building permission was revoked in October 2005 after a storm of protests called for its construction to be halted, including a letter from Archbishop Nikon of Ufa and Strelitamak to Mayor Yury Luzhkov, which described the Hindu god Krishna as an "evil demon, the personified power of hell opposing God".
Mitvol, however, may well provide the political muscle to push the new temple's development through.
"In India there are more than a billion believers in Hinduism. And there are millions around the world as well. Russia also has many and, naturally, in the Northern Administrative District we can not ignore these people's problems," said Mitvol. "In our country, freedom of religion is ensured by the Constitution, so we welcome all traditional religions which help people to grow spiritually. It is not a question of sects, we are ready to work only with traditional religious organizations," added the prefect.
"We are very satisfied with the meeting, it was very constructive. We are counting on his further support and help in solving our problem," said Sandzhit. "From our side we can offer the district the cooperation of the embassy and the Indian community."
Mitvol promised to meet with residents of the Molzhaninovsky area as soon as possible to answer all questions regarding the construction of the temple. He noted that in order to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts with religion, people should be provided with critical information about the religion in question.
The planned Krishna temple complex in Vereskino is to include a temple for 800 people, a planetarium, several museums, an exhibition hall, a library of Indian literature, a health centre and restaurants and cafes selling Indian cuisine.