Breakfast Under Fire

The beginning of 1999 was a unique time and I had just left the newspaper, ‘Komsomolskaya Pravda’. The confluence of people, places, circumstances and ideas now seems impossible and improbable, but still it happened…
At that time, the journalist Yevgeny Dodolev and I worked at the ‘Evening Moscow’ on the column, ‘New Look’. Quite often, we were short of money so the advertisers paid us by means of barter.

Our office was in Nizhny Kislovsky Alley, which my friend leased to me free of charge. That also sounds improbable. Imagine a free office in the city centre today!

One day we took payment for an advert with 20 litres of pure alcohol in the large milk cans that were delivered to our doors. The spirit was superb and of surgical quality. Slowly, we started to ‘realize’ this huge amount of alcohol. Within a week, an informal fan club of ‘friendly chat’ established at Kislovsky. Among the visitors were all kinds of people: journalists, politicians, businessmen and friends of friends.

We lived happily, but I cannot say affluently, in those years. Glasses filled one after another, we had the simplest appetizers, but the company itself was outstanding. We gathered in the evenings, drank, ate, and of course talked about everything- the future, country, politics, and journalism. We fantasised about crazy projects, argued ...
Then one day, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov appeared at our ‘club’. He sat, listened, drank and eventually warmed to us. At that time, he was a member of the Supreme Soviet. I immediately felt sympathy for him; he seemed to me a very interesting and unusual man, with an unorthodox way of thinking-as we would say today, an original. Even in those days, with everything booming and moving so fast and ideas conceived every hour, he was different to everyone else. They called him an aspiring millionaire. Although of course, he was not then. Did it matter? In my life, I have met two extraordinary people, both possessing inner freedom. Ilyumzhinov was one.
We became friends and I presented him a bottle of the spirit. How else could I express my friendliness, respect and sympathy? Today it might look tacky, but then it was a suitable gift. Eventually, he became interested in our newspaper and started to visit us more often. The second meeting was followed by a third, there was still plenty of the spirit; our keg would never run dry. At one of these meetings, he told us that he wanted to become President of Kalmykia. It seems that very idea was born there, in our office, in the bottle of spirit.
Well, as long as I was there, I rather haphazardly got involved in Kirsan’s election campaign. We came up with completely crazy and sometimes brilliant slogans. However, at the beginning, neither our opponents, nor we, thought that he was serious.
When Air Force Major General Valery Ochirov opposed Kirsan, it became a real political struggle. At first, we thought of running the campaign under the slogan: ‘One amongst his own’. The Kalmyks are poor people and they might not have accepted the ‘new millionaire’. Then we decided that to fight against a strong opponent we must show off Kirsan’s achievements. That explains the slogan: ‘I am a millionaire; I'll make every Kalmyk a millionaire!’
This slogan was Kirsan’s idea. My own personal slogan: ‘Kalmykia, another Kuwait’. All this was widely dispersed amongst the well-known reporters and journalists…Kirsan got approximately 70% of the vote in the first election. I must say, it was a genuinely fair election with two strong candidates and the voting was not confused in any way.
I strongly dislike the way Russian press describe Kirsan as either some quirky little man or a villainous dictator. Granted, he may be naïve, but only in the best, purest and highest sense of the word. However, having known him for a long time, I know Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to be a genuine Buddhist who is not capable of evil. He can see through the wall of vanity and commotion that is invisible to us.
He neglects the material world. When his wife moved to Kalmykia, she settled in a modest one bedroom flat and I remember how our office staff collected money for a chandelier ... A rich man is not one who has a decent bank account or a cool business, a genuinely rich man has an inner strength and conveys it to others. Kirsan has just such an ability which is effortless and without hypocrisy. His destiny keeps pace, giving him what he thinks he already has.
Kirsan was close to Vanga. He talked about her a lot. I was not a believer; you never know what strange ideas people will come up with. Then a very strange thing happened.
It was the summer of 1993. The Representation of Kalmykia was in one of the flats on Novy Arbat, one room with a reception. Yeltsin had just started his fight with Khasbulatov, and it was unclear how it would turn out. That summer Kirsan went to Vanga. When he returned, we met in his office- me and another two or three men. Kirsan told us that Vanga had said that Yeltsin would rule for a long time. Who takes notice of such things? Then he told us in detail about all the events of October 1993: Vanga had seen bloodshed and shots fired at a television centre. Vanga told him that he would ride a white horse. Actually, Kirsan, while trying to make a truce with the White House, walked in there with a white flag to negotiate. It was after this that he fell into disgrace with the rulers of the country.
Vanga even named the dates, the entire chronology of October 1993.
That summer, I told him “Kirsan, we're adults, forget about this bullshit!” I did not believe him, but it all really happened that autumn and the events unfolded exactly as he had said.
Many stories, similar to that one, are connected to him. The man is an incredible phenomenon, even in politics. Vanga even predicted that he would "hold a post of global importance." We laughed again: even the presidency of Kalmykia, with its population of 300,000, would not be equal to any Moscow district council; there are more people in Mnevniki alone. And Vanga was talking about global importance! However, I regretted my cynicism when Kirsan became the President of FIDE.
Recently, I read that Kirsan went to Gaddafi to play chess in a war torn country. Not a single Russian TV channel showed this extraordinary match. All the major world news agencies had shown the videos and photos of this meeting. Except for ours. Only a few newspapers commented on it in passing, and with sarcasm.
In my opinion, this was a mistake. Such events do not happen every day. Not everyone would go to Libya and Gaddafi would not meet with just anyone. Even to think about such a possibility was extraordinary. Similar to having breakfast under gunfire in La Rochelle.
Erast Galumov