Nigel Short: 'Economically I am right wing'

2/6/2004 – After winning the Commonwealth Championship Nigel Short has now taken the strong Gibraltar Open. In an interview with the winner we spoke less about chess and more about the historical and political background of British colony – and the conservative Nigel Short.

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The GibTelecom Chess Festival was held from January 26 to February 5, 2004, in the Caleta Hotel in Gibraltar. The main event, the Gibraltar Masters, was very strong with 35 grandmasters, led by Nigel Short, Alexei Dreev and Vladimir Epishin. The clear winner was Nigel Short with a very impressive 8/10. He was leading the field for a long time together with Surya Ganguly. But in the last round Nigel defeated fourth seed Ernesto Inarkiev (2606), while Ganguly could only draw against Pentala Harikrishna.


A key game between Epishin and Short in the penultimate round (it was a draw)


Antoaneta Stefanova, the top women player in the Masters

13-year-old David Howell achieved his final IM norm in Gibraltar.

Young Indian grandmaster Chanda Sandipan, a player to watch

Veteran GM and Gambit Publications business manager Murray Chandler
  • Click here to download all the games in zipped PGN

An interview with the winner Nigel Short

Immediately after the tournament we had an opportunity to speak to the winner Nigel Short. We asked him about the tournament and its location, but never really got around to talking about the chess. Instead we delved into the historical and political background of Gibraltar, and into the historical and political background of Nigel Short. We hope that the following candid interview will clear up some common misunderstanding.

ChessBase: Nigel, congratulations on your second fine victory in succession. How does it feel?

Nigel Short: Very good. Maybe some people are beginning to realise that there is still a lot of fire in my veins. I actually played better here than at the Commonwealth Championship in January. There I gained I believe 1.2 Elo points, here it was about nine. So on the next list I should be 2712. I hope this will catch the eye of the organisers of the stronger events. I know I said some years ago I was tired of playing in these super-strong tournaments, but now I am ready to return. Incidentally this was my second Gib Telecom Chess Festival. Last year I won it with Vasilios Kotronias, my neighbour. Actually he plays for Cyprus for some unknown reason – I’m not quite sure whether he’s ever been to Cyprus. He lives in Athens, just like me. This time Dreev was the big star, and there were lots and lots of Indians.

What is the venue like?

Well, Gibraltar is a place which you either love or hate. I quite like it. It’s a rock, that is essentially what it is. It’s a British colony. When we were talking about the British Empire the other day I forgot to mention it. It’s celebrating its tercentenary this year. We prised it out of the Spaniards after the treaty of Utrecht in 1704, I think during the war of the Spanish succession. It was a British naval base which was very important for controlling the entrance to the Mediterranean. From here you can see Africa, even with the naked eye, and so you could see any ships entering the Mediterranean. Historically it was just a garrison town, now the military presence has been wound down quite significantly, and financial services are extremely important.

Gibraltar is tiny, the population numbers in the tens of thousands, maybe thirty thousand. We are in a hotel on the east side of the rock. The main town is on the other side, so we are actually a bit isolated. But nothing is really far away, you can walk around the rock if you like. The runway of the airport is actually longer than the width of the peninsular, so it actually extends out into the sea. There was a James Bond movie that was shot here, a couple of hundred meters from this hotel. The Living Daylights, I believe, with Timothy Dalton.

I would like to mention that this is a very nice tournament. I look outside and it is very sunny, about as good as it gets in Europe at this time of the year. The tournament is gradually building up, this year the number of participants is up by about 40%. They lost a few players because people did not get their visas on time. It’s complicated because you usually need two visas. For instance Zhu Chen was supposed to play here but didn’t make it.

The Spaniards have not played their cards very well on the subject of Gibraltar. You know there was a referendum here in 2002, and about 98% of the population voted to remain British. The population is a mixture, with Gibraltarians coming from many different countries. Most of the people are bilingual and speak English and Spanish. If you are in town you might see a group of people chatting away in Spanish, all holding their English newspapers.

When Franco was in power in Spain the peninsula was completely blockaded. If you wanted to travel from Gibraltar to Spain you had to take a ferry to Morocco and then go from Morocco to Spain. The border was sealed. The Gibraltarians were not particularly impressed by that, and they have long memories. Now it’s easy to cross the border, but there are still a lot of problems. For instance there are no direct flights from Spain. For me to arrive here the easiest way would have been to fly from Athens to Madrid or Barcelona and then to Gibraltar. Instead I flew from Athens to London and then from London to here. These sort of things irritate the people. I think that if the Spaniards were just to take a much more conciliatory approach Gibraltar would become Spanish in a matter of decades. It’s not as if there would be a huge change. Everyone speaks Spanish, the Pound is the official currency but the Euro is accepted everywhere. But there has been such a lot of ill will from Spain. They looked at this place, which is a historical anomaly, and instead of just accepting it as it is, they put pressure all through the years. The British were negotiating with the Spanish government about some kind of joint sovereignty, because you know we are not really great imperialists any more. We’ve been trying to wind down our activities in this area. But the Gibraltarians didn’t like it at all, they harbour a deep resentment.

Nigel, after our last interview we received a number of letter complaining about the tone of your remarks. Some people thought you spoke in a deprecatory fashion about countries like Uzbekistan of Cambodia. Are you racist or right wing?

Of course I'm not a racist, but I’m certainly right wing, there’s no question about that. I was always considered the most right-wing chess player in the British team...

Including James Plaskett?

Plaskett was not always on the British team. I think Jim would have pipped me. But I must mention that I am only economically right wing. I have no problems with Uzbekistan; it’s probably a lovely country. I just didn’t see why players from Uzbekistan should have been playing in the Commonwealth Championship.

One complaint was that you said “a few random Russians and Uzbeks”. It was the choice of words.

Yes, but that was not directed against Russians or Uzbeks. If there had been American or German players and I didn’t know their names I would have said exactly the same, “a few random Americans and Germans”. This has nothing to do with Russia or Uzbekistan. I have traveled all over the world, about 70 countries, and meeting so many foreign people leads to a greater appreciation of their culture.

But do you feel that you were lucky to be born in Britain, that Britain and England are somehow superior to many other countries?

No, of course not. Naturally you could be born in a country with a much lower life expectancy, or low levels of literacy, or in an unstable country, things like that. In that sense I am fortunate. But there are also many, many countries where things are as good as if not better than in Britain. Besides I don’t live in Britain anymore. I live in Athens, because I am married to a Greek wife. I also happen to like it there. People are very friendly, friendlier than in Britain, where people are not as immediately welcoming. We have a large underclass in Britain, and a fairly low standard of education. Our best universities are extremely good, but a very significant proportion of the British population that comes out of compulsory schooling with very low standards of education. We have these “Untermenschen” [see footnote], this subclass of virtually illiterates. This is one of the problems we have in Britain, and there are many countries in Europe and elsewhere in which things are much better.

So you live in Greece. Do you speak the language?

I speak Greek, but rather poorly. I can carry on simple conversations. My children are completely bilingual; they go to an English school. My daughter sounds just like an English girl, and also just like a Greek girl in Greece. My son doesn’t sound like an English boy; he still has some Greekisms.

Do they feel they are Greek or that they are English?

They think that they are both. Which is exactly how I would want it to be.

So you are basically a right-wing British conservative who is living abroad with a Greek wife. Is that normal for British conservatives?

I should emphasize again that I am only economically right wing. In the Conservative Party you have traditionalists who believe Sunday is a day of rest, and at the same time there are free marketers who believe that shops should be allowed to open anytime they want to, including Sunday. So you have these two different strands which uneasily coexist within the same party. I am not a traditionalist. My position on abortion and on sex and on drugs and various other things is very liberal. But economically I am right wing.

What do you think of the Labour government under Tony Blair?

The current Labour government has been, from an economic point of view, by far the best Labour government for years. The Labour Party of the 1980s was just a socialist party, and as we know, socialism impoverishes nations. But the current Labour government has really abandoned socialism. This is Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. She essentially won the argument, but ironically she won it and now Labour is in power. They are wearing her clothes.

I must stress that I don’t like the current British government, but not because of their economic policies. I dislike them because Tony Blair happens to go to war with whoever he feels like. We’ve been bombing Yugoslavia, and we’ve been bombing Afghanistan, and we’ve been bombing Iraq. He doesn’t seem to stop. I’ve been opposed to every single one of these actions. So you see I am not a hawkish right winger, just an economic right winger, a free marketer. And on most other issues I would be termed liberal, in the American sense.

Frederic Friedel

Footnote: Nigel's use of the word "Untermenschen" has caused a bit of an uproar (it wouldn't be a Nigel Short interview if it didn't). One of the critics, Hauke Rudolph of Memphis, TN, presented an interesting explanations and some notes on the interview in general:

Having lived in Memphis,TN, (one of the great diasporas of chess) for almost five years now, I truly enjoy chessbase. It is basically my only connection to the chessworld. I truly enjoy ChessBase. It is basically my only connection to the chessworld. However, today I have to utter some mild criticism. In your recent interview with Nigel Short he is referred to and refers to himself as an economic right winger. I believe that the term "conservative" would have been more appropriate than "right winger". Short is obviously an advocate of the free market system. That however, does not make him a right winger. In fact, a true right winger is likely to support an economic system that is under tight government control.

My main criticism, however, is directed against your failure to point out Short's misusage of the word "untermensch". What he means is "member of the lower class", not "subhuman". He is clearly talking about people whose educational and economic level is well below that of the average member of society, but not about people who are biologically inferior to other human beings. Short was just not familiar with the true meaning of the term "untermensch".

Keep up the good work!
Hauke Rudolph

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