Demonstrations in the Chess Republic

12/28/2003 – Kalmykia is a slightly obscure Russian republic, more than 1000 miles from Moscow. Recently it saw political unrest, with opposition parties accusing the government of vote rigging. This is of interest to us because Kalmykia and the world chess federation share the same president. Not the man in the picture, though. He's a famous 18th century leader. More...

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The Republic of Kalmykia stretches to the south-east of the European part of Russia between the Volga and Don rivers. It has borders with the Republic of Daghestan in the south, Stavropolskii region in the south-west, with Rostovskii and Volgogradskii regions in the west and north-west. Its eastern border with Astrakhanskii region is interrupted by a narrow opening to the Volga river, in the south-east it is washed by the Caspian Sea.

Kalmykia has the territory of 76.1 thousand square km. It stretches up to 423 km from the west to the east and up to 448 km from the north to the south. The population is around 300,000. The distance between Moscow and Elista (the capital of the republic) is 1836 km.

Political unrest

A few weeks ago there was political unrest in Kalmykia, over what opposition parties there perceive as dubious ballot results in the recent parliamentary elections to the Duma. Kalmykia and FIDE, the governing chess body, both share a president in the shape of Kirsan Illyumzhinov. Illyumzhinov is a controversial figure who has brought the world’s attention to this unknown area of south-western Russia through, amongst other things, his patronage of chess.


FIDE and Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

The countrywide ballot held on December 7th resulted in a landslide victory for the United Russia party, an organisation that supports the current Russian President, Vladimir Putin. However, whilst nationally United Russia won 37 per cent of the total votes cast, its result in Kalmykia was a massive 54 per cent. Kalmyk opposition leaders immediately concluded that the count was grossly exaggerated, alleging that the result had been falsified and asking that it be declared null and void.

For two days over 10th to 11th December, opposition members rallied Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, demanding that President Illyumzhinov resign. Reports say that up to six hundred demonstrators were present, though official Kalmyk estimates asserted that the numbers never exceeded one hundred. It is alleged that the police and OMON special troops erected roadblocks and sealed off government buildings in the city to prevent opposition members from infiltrating key targets.

Negotiations were entered into, and the opposition dispersed on the second day. It is not yet clear what the results of those negotiations were, though it appears that President Illyumzhinov’ s position in Kalmykia seems safe for now.

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