The President and His Kings

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is the first President to graduate from the Moscow State Institute. In 1993, just four years after his graduation, he was elected President of Kalmykia (the Russian Republic). Ilyumzhinov is also the President of FIDE.
After the press conference to announce the World Championship match between Kramnil and Topalov, we met Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in his Moscow office. There is nothing unusual around Ilyumzhinov: neither entourage, assistants nor guards. As a result, a friendly conversation ensues with the former students of the Moscow Institute of International Relations. Judge for yourself...

Kirsan Nikolaevich, it is true that you bought a diamond chess crown from Kasparov?
– Yes, it is true...a crown with 1018 black and white diamonds. It is now kept in a Zurich bank.
In Lyon in 1990, Kasparov won the crown from Karpov and said that he would sell it and donate the money to the Armenians who had suffered during the ethnic clashes in Baku. At the time, I had the money so I bought it.
– Do you have good, stable relations with all the chess players?
– Karpov, Kasparov, Smyslov, Kramnik, and many prominent Russian politicians have all sat with me at this table.
Is it important for the prestige of the country, that FIDE, a major international federation, is headed by a Russian representative? How do you manage to find a common language with so many different people?
– Chess players are egocentric. The higher the Grandmaster's ranking the greater is his self-esteem. I manage, probably, because I attempt to work in a professional way and I try to put myself in the other persons ‘shoes. You have to play by your own set of rules when you sit down to play. If you are going to play using the rules of someone else, you will lose.
Shakespeare himself said: “All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players." When you have an idea of how to put yourself in another man’s place then you will be able to bring people together. For example, it worked with Kramnik and Topalov, and Karpov and Kasparov to make them play with each other. The same thing happened during the events of October 1993, when it was necessary to negotiate with Yeltsin, Rutskoi and Khasbulatov. I try to act with consolidation not with confrontation or conflict.
– Does Chess help?
– Yes of course. It is like boxing. I was the town chess and boxing champion in my childhood. However, I did not know which to choose. In the end, after I became a 14 years old 'Champion of the Republic' amongst adults, I was more inclined towards chess. It enables you to calculate and put yourself in the place of an opponent. Such training is beneficial in life.
Are you characteristically more for attacking or defending?
– It depends on the situation. As they say, 'if you want peace, prepare for war'. If you want a stalemate, you have to have the skill of an aggressive fighter. Therefore, I would not call myself an attacking player but rather a positional defender.
What was your dream when you were a graduate in the Institute?
– I wanted to become a good specialist. Not necessarily a diplomat, but someone with an opportunity to learn languages and communication skills. At the Moscow Institute of International Relations, I gained a lot of experience by talking to the children of the Soviet leaders. I was in the same group as Gromyko's grandson, Andrei and talked with Andrei Brezhnev and Ilham Aliyev (the current President of Azerbaijan- Ed.). They were older than I was, but we talked and played chess. They were normal guys.
Because of Gromyko I became acquainted with all the children and grandchildren of the members of the Politburo. I studied with the son of Babrak Karmal (the former head of Afghanistan-Ed.) and Kava ​​Karmal. Vida Karmal, his older sister, studied at the International Economic Relations Institute. I lived in a hostel, on same floor, at 26, New Cheryomushki with Najibullah's nephew (also former President of Afghanistan.-Ed.), and the niece of Fidel Castro. I still remember my room, number 239.
What are your memories of the years studying at the Institute?
– If I had the opportunity to go back to those days, I would made myself to learn more. I would not spend my time going to discotheques. I arranged all the discotheques although I was head of the "Dzerzhinets" squad and deputy Party secretary of the Faculty of Ideology. I should have made more of those five or six years at the Institute. It is a rare opportunity to study at a college that employs lecturers teaching more than 50 languages.
The Moscow Institute of International Relations is a treasure trove of education and diplomacy. I remember an English teacher, Nat Rudolfovna Timm. Her father was an Estonian from the Comintern. He was sent to China in the 30's to teach the Chinese communist ideology; Nat Rudolfovna was born in Shanghai. She taught us not only the language, but about life too. We had just left the army, but she was very strict and because of her, I became a man. Another memory: when I was preparing to enter the Institute, I asked to be enlisted in the Chinese faculty but was given the Japanese instead. It turned out to be cool!
Do you remember your first salary?
– Of course. Our factory was the patron of my school. They were short of workers and I promised to work for them. Although the school headmaster strongly opposed this idea because I had graduated with a gold medal. I said that I wanted to work and earn money. In addition, I got my first salary in the October. It was 140 roubles. I immediately bought a scarf for my mother, shirts for my father and grandfather, and invited my classmates to an evening at a restaurant.
You are an extremely versatile person. What have been your life's goals?
– According to Buddhism, a man has 108 lives. Now, in my 69th life I realise what my previous lives have accrued. As a believer in reincarnation, I wonder what will happen next? Let's see. We can remain in the cycle of life or move into higher realms. God gave me the potential and I try to make the most of it, to work through my karma.
And what is your karma?
– To work. I asked the Dalai Lama if I could be a monk. He told me that my karma in this life was to work.
When I became Kalmyk's President, the entire Republic received taxes of about two million roubles. However, we transferred 16.5 billion to the Russian budget just last year. In 1993, 15% of our roads were asphalt, now it is 85%. We have 1,500 kms of asphalt and 1,650 kms of gas pipeline. Before my presidency, only two areas in the Republic were supplied with gas, now there are 11.
The average Russian knows very little about Kalmykia. What is it like?
– Kalmykia is the only Buddhist country in Europe and the only place where tulips grow in abundance. They bloom in April: yellow, purple, and red. I prohibited the sale of them and turned the fields into a natural reserve. Twice Sienkiewicz visited me to shoot a film about tulips.
He told me that when he was in Holland, one of the museums had shown him a document revealing that 10,000 bulbs had been presented to Holland at the end of the 18th century from the Kalmyk Khan. This proves that Dutch tulips are from Kalmyk bulbs. Tulips originated from Kalmykia. It is 200 kms from the Caspian Sea and Volga River … Dmitri Mendeleev’s grandmother was Kalmyk.
Generally, any person is primarily an Earthling. When I became the President of Kalmykia, we set up a new basic law entitled ‘the Steppe Code’. Article 11 states that all citizens of the Republic of Kalmykia are responsible for everything that happens on Earth: tsunami, eruption of volcanoes and famine in Africa. You must be an Earthling, you must feel that you are a member of civilization, no matter what race you are or what state you were born in. It is same in political life. For example, I am one of five governors who signed the party memorandum, "United Russia". We created it.
– What is our biggest problem today?
– The global economy. However, in 10 or 12 years I see a huge problem in the lack of morality. I started to build factories and roads in Kalmykia. However, who will travel these roads? When communism, the ‘pioneers’ and Komsomol were demolished it left a vacuum to be filled. When I met Grandma Vanga, she said, "I have a vision that you will build a lot of churches."
That was 12 years ago. Since then I have built 39 Buddhist temples, 22 Orthodox churches, including the Kazan Cathedral in Kalmykia, and the highest Buddhist khurul in the world. What Vanga predicted came true. On the other hand, it was my unconscious achievement. At one time only the elderly stood in our churches. It makes me happy to see crowds of young people there now.
Do you believe in the power of religion?
– What is religion? It is part of philosophy and part of our lives. Mohammed appeared 1,000 years ago, Christ – 2,000 years and Buddha – 2,500 years ago. Who was before them? There must have been prophets.
– Let’s return to the issue of morality. You said that you see a problem in 10-12 years?
– I was recently in London, walking the streets undisturbed. Two days ago, I walked peaceably in Dubai. However, my niece was recently mugged here. They clobber you in broad daylight, it’s impossible to go outside. On the other hand, the fact that our young people choose Pepsi, American films and ‘McDonald's’ is no good either.
Maybe we need to find a hero and try to emulate him.
– Well, such people are constantly sent to us: Einstein and others. None of the scientific discoveries falls from the sky. Through some of their guides, they are directed... I often asked Grandma Vanga: “How do you know”? She didn't, she was just connected to the information plane.

Andrey Silantjev,
Igor Drobyshev
Majordom Magazine,
February 2006