Buddhism has existed in Russia for hundreds of years and the Republic of Kalmykia (situated in the Volga area) not far from the Caspian Sea, is considered the only Buddhist country in Europe. Its capital – Elista City – lays around 1392km (or 865 miles) south of Moscow. The Kalmyk people are ethnically Mongolian in origin, and their presence in Russia appears to stem from around the 13th century with their country (ruled by a Khanate) being originally independent. From 1556, however, Kalmykia has been part of Russia proper. Around 37% of the Kalmyk people practice Tibetan Buddhism, with 18% being Russian Orthodox Christians and 13% describing themselves as atheist. Smaller numbers practice Islam Hinduism and pre-Buddhistic Shamanism. This centre of Kalmyk Buddhist culture attracts many Russians from other areas to explore and practice Buddhism. Indeed, the spread of the popularity of Buddhism in greater Russia can be attributed directly to the presence of Kalmyk culture.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 – the Kalmyk people joined the Communist Movement at the behest of Lenin – who promised them autonomy and land. After an initial territory was established in the 1920’s – a full Republic of Kalmykia was finally established under Stalin in 1935. When the Nazi German Army invaded the Kalmykia area it was reported that a certain percentage of the population joined the Nazis and actively participated in the rounding-up and murder of Soviet Jews. Kalmyk volunteers also formed the Kalmyk Legion – a military formation in the German Army that fought against Soviet partisans and the Red Army. This behaviour of a minority of Kalmyks sullied the otherwise good reputation Kalmyk men and women had fighting in the Red Army. As the USSR was under tremendous strain in 1943, the entire Kalmyk community was relocated to Siberia to prevent further collaboration. In 1958 – this order was rescinded and the majority of Kalmyks returned to their ancestral home in Russia.
There were in fact two Buddhist States in the USSR – the Republic of Kalmykia (descended from Mongolians) and the People’s Republic of Tanna Tuva (descended from the Xiongnu) situated in Eastern Siberia. The Xiongnu were a fierce nomadic tribe occupying the area to the north of China. These people periodically invaded China (and Russia) and have been ancestrally associated with the Hakka Chinese people. When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, Lenin promised the Tuvan people independence and this was granted in 1921 – forming the People’s Republic of Tanna Tuva. During WWII, the Tuvan people enthusiastically supported the Soviet Union – actively fighting against the Nazi German invaders. In 1944 the Tuva State voluntarily became a part of the USSR – and formed the non-sovereign Republic of Tuva. Today the majority of the Tuvan people practice Tibetan Buddhism or pre-Buddhistic Shamanism.
(I have included in the ‘Further Reading’ section below, details of my recent [Russian language] research regarding the history of the Buryats-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic – the existence of which suggests a ‘third’ Buddhist republic in the USSR. ACW 16.9.2017)
Chinese Language Source Text: