Kirsan Ilyumzhinov The President's Crown of Thorns

I never set out to become the most influential member of my class and to boss others around. Had I done so they wouldn't have hesitated to give me a good thrashing.  The

pupils in my class were too independent and wilful to tolerate any authority. Yet I think the boys were drawn to me because I arranged so many parties, dances and excursions. Simultaneously, my relationship with my peers suffered because l was an excellent pupil and kept winning numerous school prizes. I couldn't help feeling guilty about my friends. We would set out on excursions together, or play a game of football and then the next morning I might still get top marks for my work, while they would only do adequately, or even badly. I felt as though I had hoodwinked them in some way, or had acted dishonestly. So, when people praised me to the skies I really didn't know what to do. My school year was regarded as capable but unruly. And sometimes our shenanigans did indeed infuriate our teachers.
"Okay, we will see who is a hero during the exams!" the teachers would say, "just you wait!" However, foolhardy as we were, we did not pay the slightest attention to what they told us. As exam-time approached even the most reckless of us grew more docile and quiet. No one wanted to get into conflict with the teachers. Naturally we all wanted to finish school with a normal certificate which would make it possible for us to study at an institution of higher education. The pupils' activity levels had risen visibly. Everyone zealously tried to improve his or her marks, preparing diligently for lessons, and raising a hand whenever our teacher asked this or that question.
The corrupt system of the Brezhnev nomenclature had become firmly established throughout the country and, as a result, many of the teachers shamelessly boosted the marks of their, shall we say, proteges. People were used to this. Our school No 3 was nicknamed "the children's home" because the children of almost all the prominent ministers, secretaries and members of the city Party Committee and the regional Party Committee of Kalmykia studied here. Simultaneously, the teachers penalized students who had no Party big shots to protect them. It was unfair; but we all maintained a gloomy

silence, i t was as if we were deaf and blind.  Everyone was scared about jeopardizing their careers and risking their money, position and security.
By this stage, human weakness no longer provoked straightforward indignation in me as it had done when I was a child. I didn't feel the old acute pain. ln those shabby years we had grown accustomed to treachery and lies and, a decade later, this would become a state sanctified norm. Depressing, but true...


I was a sure candidate for the gold medal. In these circumstances to have provoked the teachers would have been suicidal.
Russians love abusive hand-signs.  There's the collectivist upbringing for you! You are nothing, a nobody, while your collective is the important force. So don't stick your neck out, be like everybody else, a small cog in the wheel. And if baseness is universal then it cannot be called base at all, and you're better off not worrying about it. I, like everyone else, have no mind of my own; ours are collective brains, the brains of a herd. And indeed, why should I behave in a responsible manner? If you are caught in a gang fight you will be jai led for ten years, but if you act like a coward along with everyone else then it is no big deal! No one will arrest you because you have broken no law. Even if you have held your tongue, what does i t matter? The whole country has been silent for seventy years and it still manages to survive.
It is true, that these cowardly thoughts did occur to me. But then one day my true, inner self suddenly awoke, rose up and rebelled. To hell with the gold medal! Damn these people! Enough is enough! I am sick and tired of it all.
I spoke out at a class meeting. I exposed the whole corrupt system, revealing bow the teachers systematically doctored our results, improving the grades of the children of prominent local Party officials. The senior school teachers immediately ganged together in defense of their "honor". Immediately me and my family came under heavy artillery fire; there was friction at my father's workplace, and my mother's bosses began to quibble with her work. And my fellow-pupils were summoned to the teachers' room, one by one, where they were brain washed.
"...This is a conspiracy against our school. Ilyumzhinov has spat in our faces. A monstrous accusation! The outrageous behavior of Kirsan ... And to think that he is a member of the Komsomol..." All this was uttered in a high-flown style, in quivering tones and with noble indignation. The boys were reminded of the upcoming exams and they were asked to defend the school's honor.
I could sense the imminent danger of a storm brewing over my head. I was branded a "libelous liar... a renegade ... man-hater, mud -thrower in public. They threw words at me as though they were stones. They were trying to crush me, to trample on my reputation, but, curiously enough, I felt a profound sense of inner cairn and my soul was tranquil. Listening to a boy who was beside himself with indignation I thought to myself sadly: "well, it looks as though our paths are going to part. I wonder how many silver coins you think you are worth?"
After his exercise in scathing criticism, this student began getting only good or excellent marks in school. Two days later, when we were alone, he spoke to me, averting his eyes: "That doesn't mean a thing to you, Kirsan. After all, you are an excellent student. But I've got to do something so as not to wind up on my ass. The end justifies the means, you know. Living with wolves makes you howl like one."
Where is he now? Maybe he is still howling like a wolf? I must give credit to many of my class-mates, however, who spoke out in my favor at that meeting. The flame of this scandal was soon put out by the teachers. They pulled the necessary strings to prevent gossip penetrating the  school walls, but I had achieved my goal. They stopped picking on those kids who did not have influential parents.
However, my quest for justice did have a lasting effect: for although I graduated with distinction, I received no medal. The school authorities claimed not to be able to put my graduation papers in order in time. As for myself, I took it all rather lightly because I had expected something much worse...
A new, adult life beckoned.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
The President's Crown of Thorns 1995