Chess president threatens the Kremlin

6/11/2004 – The Russian news service Pravda is reporting that the President of the autonomous Republic of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumdzhinov, is telling the Kremlin that if Moscow dismisses him, there will be the second Chechnya in Kalmykia. Ilyumzhinov is also the president of the world chess federation FIDE. Here are the details of this ominous story...

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"Leader of Kalmyk republic blackmails the Kremlin"

That is the verbatim title of the June 11 Pravda article. Since these articles tend to go offline after a while we bring you a short summary.

The Pravda story tells of a political hunger-strike which started on May 21 in the Kalmyk capital of Elista, at the start of the Women's World Chess Championship, and continues after the championship was finished. It was initiated by well-known politicians who are protesting the "anti-people rule of Ilyumdzhinov – oppressor of civil rights and freedoms in Kalmykia". The participants denounced Kalmykia as being the donor for FIDE. "We don"t want holidays in poverty-stricken region. When you, participants of the chess championship, are enjoying yourselves with the concerts of the poverty-stricken performers and dinners in expensive restaurants, the majority of children in Kalmykia have not enough food. Poor Kalmykia cannot be donor and money-bag for FIDE!"

Human rights activists accuse "carpet-bagger Kirsan Ilyumdzhinov" of holding the record of abusing human rights: prosecution of political opponents, physical assaults on opponents and the murders of those who "know too much". There is no strategy for development of Kalmykia, the republic is last in Russia in all basic economic indicators. Living standards are extremely low, industries collapsed, agriculture is in recession. Kalmykia is unable to provide its population with food.

Pravda quotes a source saying the President Ilyumdzhinov was blackmailing the Kremlin. "Having started the war in Chechnya, Moscow is afraid of repeating similar scenario in Kalmykia. Meanwhile, Kirsan Ilyumdzhinov is trying to persuade the Kremlin that if Moscow dismisses him, there will be the second Chechnya in Kalmykia."

There are a number of ominous points to be noted. Pravda is, like most other mainstream Russian news agencies, under tight control of the Kremlin. The article on Ilyumzhinov was almost certainly inserted by the leadership of the Russian government, possibly as a precursor to taking action against the Kalmyk president. The blackmail accusation rings hollow: in Chechnya the radical Muslim separatists have an almost 30% support in the population. In Kalmykia, the only Buddhist state in Europe, an armed struggle against occupying Russian forces would be completely unthinkable.

The Kalmyk people are ethnically nomadic Mongols from Central Asia. They aligned themselves with Russian rule, first under the tsars, and later under the communists. During the Second World War Stalin, suspicious of their loyalty, deported the whole Kalmyk nation without notice to Siberia, in cattle trucks in midwinter. Half of their number perished during the journey and in the following years of exile, an ethnic cleansing unknown to the outside world to this day. Khrushchev finally allowed their return in 1957, when they found their homes, jobs and land occupied by Russians and Ukrainians, who remained. In the following years bad planning of agriculture and irrigation projects resulted in widespead desertification, and economically unviable industrial plants were constructed. With the collapse of the Soviet regime the economy also disintegrated, causing widespread social hardship and increasing depopulation of rural areas lacking in resources and facilities.


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