MOSCOW, February 11 (RIA Novosti) – President Vladimir Putin wished a happy New Lunar Year to Russia’s Buddhists on Monday, as they marked their main religious festival, the Kremlin reported on its website.
"The White Moon feast (or the Sagaalgan holiday in Buryat language), which marks the Lunar New Year, has ancient and fine traditions which have become an integral part of the spiritual and cultural heritage of our multi-ethnic Motherland,” Putin wrote. The Buddhist holiday is celebrated in Mongolia and in some parts of Russia, notably neighboring Buryatia.
Some 1.3 million Buddhists live in Russia, mainly in the republics of Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva, where celebrations have been held throughout Sunday and Monday.
Russia’s republic of Buryatia marked the new lunar year on Sunday night and enjoyed a day off on Monday, an official holiday in the republic since 1990.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also sent his wishes on Monday, praising Buddhists for encouraging “inter-confessional dialogue” and “friendship between peoples of the multinational country.”
In the last few years, Russia’s Buddhists have repeatedly appealed to the country’s leadership to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader and spiritual head of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Buddhism followed in Mongolia, Russia and Tibet.
Russia however, enjoys close political and economic ties with China, which has strongly criticized other nations for allowing visits by the Dalai Lama, who has now renounced all political roles but is still revered by his people. China occupied Tibet in 1950 and claims the region has been part of the country for centuries, while Tibetan separatists maintain their claim to independence.