Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: The President's Crown of Thorns. Blue blood of socialism.

When you are twenty it is hard to believe that your friends might be corrupt, that they might betray and deceive you. The revelation hits you like a bolt from the blue, and you begin to think in utter surprise: how can this be? It's just not possible!

We were all unarmed and unprepared. The first interrogation at the KGB overwhelmed me. For a long time I couldn't take the situation seriously. It seemed to me that at any moment the lieutenant would start laughing, slap me on the shoulder and say: Well, Kirsan, how did you like our joke?"

However, the lieutenant was quite serious. And I suddenly felt the full weight of that powerful and well organized criminal investigation system bear down on me. I seemed to myself to be a sm
all and miserable creature, defenceless before that enormous, ruthless and heartless machine. In the hands of the investigator everything that I had ever said and done, the most innocent facts of my biography, acquired an altogether different, sinister meaning. My friendship with the son of Babrak Kamal, the chess games I had played with foreign ambassadors, my visits to restaurants and even my membership of the institute's branch of the Party, were all presented as part of intricate plan conceived and put into operation by the Afghan and Iranian intelligence services. I myself was accused of espionage on twenty-eight counts. I realized, at that time, that everyone is absolutely defenceless before the investigation machine of the state.

Suddenly I realized that during those two short, yet meaningful hours, l had had to readjust all my values. The institute, my diplomatic career, distant lands, all those beautiful dreams had lost their glitter in the face of an oncoming catastrophe. And one more thing... Locked up in that KGB quasi-cell I understood for the first time in my life how wonderful it is just to be able to walk about town, to see the streams of cars and sit on a bench looking up at the sky.

Little by little I regained control over myself and began to see clearly the full idiocy of my situation. How could I prove my innocence? What kind of arguments could I come up with? And was it really possible for me to prove anything when nobody was prepared to listen to me at all? The lieutenant had already made up his mind and come to his own conclusions: all those questions were simply routine.

That is how people discover that they are absolutely helpless, with a millstone around their neck and no way out. The machine of state will grind you up, there's no doubt about that. I must have stood in the way of someone at the institute and that someone ratted on me to the KGB. The KGB brought trumped up charges against me. The case reached this lieutenant who was desperate to be promoted to captain. Because, if this story of a diplomat-to-be who was recruited by foreign intelligence was presented in the right way then the lieutenant would be certain to get another pip on his shoulder straps. To them I was just one more rung on the ladder up. This is why the lieutenant wouldn't believe me.

Granny told me how in Siberia they had had to present themselves at the KGB commandant's office twice a month to be marked in a special register. They walked the ten to fifteen kilometers in any weather, even when it was forty degrees centigrade below zero. If they hadn't made the trip they would have been considered runaway criminals. So they walked there, dragging  the  sick  and  dying  behind  them  on  sledges  to  be registered as well. They even carried the dead in order to get official death certificates. They would walk to the office every fifteen days... The wolves knew that too and would group alongside the paths through the taiga waiting for their prey. Enemies of the people were not allowed to carry guns, axes or knives, especially when they were visiting the local KG B office. If a knife had been found on a person, then they would have been as good as dead. That would have been interpreted as an attempt to kill a KGB officer. I t was very frightening, but there was no way of escaping those visits. So they undertook these long treks and then stood for hours in line in front of the commandant's house waiting until the officer was free to receive them. And then they would retread the same path back home, through the taiga and the corridor of wolves.

'"I don't know ' is three words long, but 'I know ' requires very many words," my granny used to say. This formula was worked out by the Kalmyks after length y KGB interrogations. But no, this was not the moment to reflect on this, I thought to myself. l must try to detach myself from my troublesome situation. I closed my eyes and tried to picture in my mind the vast expanses of the steppe. I felt that the cloistered space of the cell was weighing me down and destroying my willpower. It reminded me of a stone coffin. J had to recreate i n my memory the steppe with its tulips, feather-grasses and the sound of larks singing. I sat with my eyes closed and sensed almost tangibly the mighty strength of the steppe, with the thick and astringent aroma of its herbs and the chopped rhythm of the susliks' whistling. J visualized the oozing heat of the huge red-hot disc of the sun. And then, quite inappropriately to the time and place, I remembered an altogether insignificant and uninteresting occasion which triggered other memories in my brain.

Six years earlier a couple of my friends and l were out driving across the steppe when we lost our way. There was not a single road or path in sight.  We were driving around in circles trying to find some tracks with almost no gas left in the tank and the merciless sun beating down on us.

A t last, far off in the distance on the jagged line of the horizon, someone spotted some barely visible black dots. We turned the car around and headed towards them.  It turned out that two herdsmen had met up in the boundless steppe and decided to play a game of chess. In the limitless expanse, two tiny living beings were at play, crouched over the ground. The chess board was no bigger than the palm of a hand and the chessmen were next to invisible.  The two herdsmen were holding sway and disposing of the destinies of their little chess soldiers in the infinitely complex world of the board's black and white checks. Is this not the way that destiny casts its shadow over us in the world?  I was reminded then of the Kalmyk saying:  "the infinity of the soul is the same as the infinity of space..."

The recollection of that saying calmed me. "The book of destiny has already been written. What was to happen has already happened. You cannot change the situation. You can only choose how you respond to it. The KGB and their interrogation, the four walls surrounding me and the nervous fear which was eating away at my soul, all this would pass and be forgotten about after a time. However, now you must bear up and see it through" I told to myself, "your game is not finished yet."

Now, five years have passed and, every time I recall these events, l ask myself whether the KGB really believed that I was an Afghan-Iranian spy? I still cannot answer this question. Our minds were so poisoned by the fear of omnipresent spies that the lieutenant really might have believed this nonsense.

As a boy I really believed that everyone in the West dreamed of sneaking into the Soviet Union and blowing up a factory, poisoning our rivers and wells or derailing a train. That was what we had been taught since childhood.  This kind of information was rammed into us via movies, books and newspaper articles. They taught us to hate those who lived a better, freer and more secure life, and they awakened in us a vicious, beastly envy. He who lives better than me is an enemy or a thief. That was how they distorted the slogan of equality and brotherhood. If I am a fool, then everyone has to be a fool. The intelligent are enemies. If I do not want to work then you must not work either. That is equality for you.

Several centuries ago the divided and suppressed people of Rus were united around a great religious idea which transfom1ed the nation into a great power. Hitler united Germany with the notion of national superiority and selfishness. However, as a popular saying goes, don't take pride in your strength, since there will always be someone stronger than you. What will unite us now? Envy? Our sense of superiority? These are wild and unruly forces which will certainly ruin whoever nurtures and releases them.