However, Gaddafi himself, apparently unwillingly, became one of the symbols of the past century, producing all possible feelings in people except for indifference. "I am a lone Bedouin, who does not even have a birth certificate," he said about himself. In a sense, he was lucky - he never go a chance to see how the country, to which prosperity he devoted his life, is erased from the map of the world.
I saw him a few months before his tragic death. At the invitation of the Libyan Chess Federation and National Olympic Committee, I arrived in the country on the 11th of June 2011 and my visit lasted for two days. During this time I have signed an agreement that said that starting from 1st of October Libya will begin the implementation of our project ‘Chess in Schools’. I had a meeting with Gaddafi. He was upset, saddened by the death of his relatives. He asked: "What are they bombing us for?" It was because many civilians were killed during the bombing.
Then we began to play chess. He noted that he was getting tired of repeating that we needed to sit down at the negotiating table; that it was time to stop the bombing, in which people were killed. And he was ready to negotiate with NATO. He said: "Russia was at war in Chechnya in 1994. If NATO recognized the independence of Chechnya and the government led by Yeltsin - illegitimate, the sky over Moscow would become a no-fly zone and all Russian accounts would be frozen. Would it be considered as a normal development?"
He stressed: "This is solely our internal affair. I am ready to hold elections and to negotiate..." I realized that he had a very strong desire to negotiate; however, NATO did not share such desire. He asked me to use my authority to help with the restoration of peace.
I cannot help but recall 2004, when Tripoli hosted the World Chess Championship. A year before I visited Libya and felt that the country had become more open: one could see many foreigners and the completely booked hotels... I met, of course, with Muammar Gaddafi several times.
And then I thought that the world, after all, was changing. If the country has a desire for transparency and intends to join the international community, then why should we ignore it? George W. Bush spoke of Gaddafi as a man, who was striving for democracy and actively fighting against terrorism.
Do you know, incidentally, how many businessmen from the United States came to the opening of the US mission in Tripoli on the 4th of July, 2004? 350! Moreover, Nathan Rothschild flew from London on his own plane to join the Closing Ceremony of the Championship. He sat next to Mohammed Gaddafi - the son of the Libyan leader and the head of the country's NOC.
After the championship I spoke with Mohammed Gaddafi. He asked me for a copy of decree ‘On the development of chess in Kalmykia’, which I signed in 1994. There was, in particular, a clause on the optional teaching of chess in schools. He expressed his desire to come to Kalmykia and have a look at these schools. The process, in general, was under way. That Championship was very important for Libya. After all, it was the first major international event in the history of the country. At the very Opening Ceremony, when one after the other, athletes from 56 countries of the world carried their national flags, I felt that something special was happening. Muammar Gaddafi used to say that chess helped Libya to be opened to the world, and the world to be opened to Libya. I looked at the Gaddafi and saw tears in his eyes...
At that time much had been written that the chess players from Israel and all Jewish athletes in general should avoid coming to Libya. However, Mohammed Gaddafi had signed the letter, which guaranteed free entry to the country to all participants of the Championship regardless of nationality.
Maybe some had fears but, as it turned out, those were quite unsubstantial. For example, the wife of one of the players had forbidden her husband to go outside. However, on the first night he went out with me: the Mediterranean coast, tea, coffee and sounds of music played. Is it possible to call this situation dangerous?! I talked with Veselin Topalov. He said that Libya reminded him of socialist Bulgaria by friendly atmosphere and absence of alcohol.
What was the reason of that hysteria about the Jews? I do not know. For example, they wrote that GM Vadim Milov, who lived in Switzerland but had an Israeli passport, was not allowed to enter Tripoli. I will tell you how it was in reality.
The documents for visa were to be submitted by the 1st of June. Milov sent documents on the 8th of June only, that is, he missed the deadline to go through the normal two-week process. I arrived in Libya two days before the Opening Ceremony. I was told that there was a problem with Milov. Libyan Foreign Ministry was unable to solve it and the only person, who was able to do it, was the leader.
I asked for an audience with Muammar Gaddafi. At that time he was at an international conference in another town Sirte, which was about an hour's flight from Tripoli. Gaddafi sent his private jet for me. It was 10 o'clock in the evening. We arrived there around midnight. We went to the desert, because Gaddafi never stayed at a hotel, he lived in a tent. He invited me to come. I saw a table lamp, paper, books and pen in the corner.
I tell him that we will open the Championship the day after tomorrow and the player with an Israeli passport failed to submit his application before the deadline. Gaddafi immediately calls an assistant and says to him: "Connect me with the Minister of Justice." They connect. Then he calls his son Mohammed. He starts to explain the situation to his father, saying that deadline has passed. Gaddafi replies: "Never mind, it is necessary to solve the problem." As a result, a letter of guarantee was sent to Milov but he still did not arrive.
After the Opening Ceremony I met with Gaddafi again. He asked me: "Well, did your player come?" "No," I answered. He laughed: "Well, at lease from now on I will always remember that name – Milov…"