Election 06: Kirsan the Incredible

by ChessBase
5/31/2006 – That is the title of a mini-book that is being distributed in the campaign hall at the Olympiad in Turin. It is by Yuriy Vasiliev and describes in glowing terms the activities of the current FIDE president. On a different note the New Yorker has devoted an unprecedented eight pages to an intergalactic story about Ilyumzhinov and chess in his republic. Excerpts and links.

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A Short Book about the Great Man

By Yuriy Vasiliev,
Chess Observer, "Sport-Express Daily" (Moscow)

The article on Vasiliev's remarkable book has apparently been taken down from the Chess Fidelity web site. Or at least the link to it has. Googling around a bit shows that it is still there, albeit in shortened form.

The book (actually a brochure of 16 pages), entitled Kirsan the Incredible, seems to be a bit embarrassing to the President it writes so glowingly about. We told Kirsan that we would be using the title as our headline. He winced slightly and then said: "Of course, you are the journalist, you know how to present a story. I never interfere in the work of journalists." And he seems to genuinely mean it.

Here are some excerpts from the booklet:

“We were flying in the private aircraft of the President Ilyumzhinov, Kirsan and I. A stewardess offered us a glass of wine. Till late Ilyumzhinov did not drink wine, before doctors told him that long hours which he spends in extreme altitude during plane flights result in increased exposure to radiation. A glass of good-quality red wine helps to eliminate radioactive nuclides.”

On Kirsan’s bravery during the siege of the Russian White House in October 1993:

“The newly elected President of Kalmykia did not stay in Elista to safely wait till the crisis was over. He went to Moscow and did a number of brave actions. Trying to prevent the massacre he voluntary undertook the part of a negotiator. He several times crossed the square of the Russian White House fired by sharpshooters. During one of these raids to the White House tanks shot at the room of the major oppositionist where Kirsan was supposed to be. FIDE would have never had such a brave and vigorous President if Kirsan happened to be in that room. It seems that the God and the prayers of monks saved his life.

Next time when it became clear that the massacre could not be stopped Kirsan together with another brave man, the President of Ingushetia Ruslan Aushev took the white flag made of a window curtain in their hands and headed to the fired building. They were determined to rescue women and children. Those were kids of employees and Parliament members who had lost any hope to escape from this slaughterhouse alive.

Kirsan remember later: ‘Sharpshooters were were firing from the roof of the Hotel “Ukraine”. The bullete whistled past our ears; any of the bullets could have killed me. They told me later that in the radio intercept they heard someone’s order to kill the President of Kalmykia’. Someone wanted to murder him. Ilyumzhinov was someone’s trouble. But a miracle rescued him from the danger that time again.”

We have been receiving many letters for weeks now, drawing our attention to a major piece in the very influential magazine The New Yorker. Some sent us scans and even OCRs of the article. However we decided to wait until it went online on the New Yorker web site, which happened a day or two ago.

Incidentally we also consulted the FIDE president on the contents of this article. Kirsan had not read it, or even heard of the magazine. We asked him if he remembered an American named Michael Specter who visited him in Kalmykia. Kirsan laughed: "You know there are so many people coming to visit, I can't keep track."

Planet Kirsan

Some brief quotes:

  • Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is not your typical post-Soviet millionaire Buddhist autocrat. He is the ruler of Kalmykia, one of the least well known of Russia’s twenty-one republics. He also happens to be president of the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, or FIDE, the governing body of world chess. Ilyumzhinov ... is convinced that, with his authority as the president of FIDE, he can turn a nearly empty desert the size of Scotland into a chess paradise.

  • Ilyumzhinov was elected President in 1993, at the age of thirty-one. He immediately abolished the parliament, altered the constitution, and lengthened his term of office. He finds little beauty in democracy and readily concedes that his republic is corrupt.

  • Ilyumzhinov has clashed many times with the Kremlin—most famously when, in 1998, he threatened to sever ties with Russia and turn Kalmykia into an independent tax haven, like Luxembourg or Monaco.

  • It has often been said that Ilyumzhinov owns ten Rolls-Royces. He denies it. “I never had ten,’’ he said. “Six, but not ten.”

  • In 2001, he told journalists that he had recently been on board a U.F.O.: “The extraterrestrials put a yellow spacesuit on me. They gave me a tour of the spaceship and showed me the command center. I felt very comfortable with them.”

  • Ilyumzhinov doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the FIDE election. He is far more consumed with international—and intergalactic—politics. During our conversation in his office, he compared George Bush to Genghis Khan, approvingly: “Bush is creating order, conquering countries, territories, new oil wells, he hands them over to rich oil companies, they’re rich and getting even richer.”

There is a substantial and interesting section in the middle of the article on the turmoils of the Kalmyk people. When at the end of the eighteenth century Catherine the Great forced the Buddhist kingdom into subjugation, more than a hundred thousand fled across the Volga. In the nineteen-thirties the Soviets settled the Kalmyk nomads on collective farms. Then in 1943 Stalin loaded the entire population into cattle cars and shipped them to Siberia. They were not allowed to return to their homes until 1957. Michael Specter describes his impressions in the current republic, having spent some time there, travelling and talking to the people. There is a lot about the chess activity in the republic; about a thirteen-year-old girl in pigtails who is studying Bronstein; about his special assistant Berik Balgabaev; about the famous “Chess City” on the outskirts of the capital Elista; about the oppositional press; about Ilyumzhinov's plans for world chess. The piece finishes with a section on the current election contest between Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Bessel Kok.

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