Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: ‘President's Crown of Thorns’ - I did not intend to beat a retreat

I remember walking down the corridors of the institute's hostel. I had just been released and was feeling happy and affectionate, enjoying the sweet air of freedom.

- "Hi, Igor!" I shouted gaily at a young man with indifferent ice-cold eyes.
"I don't know you, young man."
Doors, behind which l had always been welcomed, were suddenly slammed shut on me. A new stage in my life was beginning which spelled "estrangement". People who have been through this situation  will  know  how  acutely oversensitive one becomes. You detect the faintest glance or gesture behind your back. You sense instinctively, with every inch of your soul, how the conversation will flag the moment you approach a group of your friends. You are an untouchable, surrounded by a dead zone.
l entered the canteen, joined the queue and sensed their curious and alert glances in my skin. I turned to some guys who were sitting at one of the tables and they stopped talking right away. All of those munching and drinking people averted their eyes from me. To them I was an Afghan-Iranian spy and any association with me might hold grave consequences. I was branded with the mark of Cain.
And then I was invited to visit Lubyanka again. I felt a chill between my shoulder blades. The institute's hierarchy were already in the know. But the explanations which I gave in the rector's office and the Party bureau won me nothing. Indeed, how could anyone be bold enough to speak out against the all­ powerful KGB? I was kicked out of both the Party and the institute. My circle of friends dwindled before my very eyes. l was exiled from life and treated me as a thing of the past.
That's how it was. l lived through all that. However, not everyone turned their back on me. Some people remained friends with me and were not afraid. I bow down to them.

My friends advised me to  leave Moscow. I was through with Moscow. The only thing that linked me with the city was a temporary registration pass valid until the end of the academic year. The only tie. A small and almost illusive one, but still a tie. My friends were really at a loss as to what else could be done. They wrote solicitous letters trying to help me, but all in vain. My friends could not see any other way out.

"What? You mean you are going to stand up against the KGB, the Foreign Ministry and  the  Central  Party  Committee?  You are  crazy!"  my  friends  argued  convincingly.  "You'd  better leave while it's not too late. Otherwise they will make mince­ meat out of you. They'll crush you  like a mosquito!"
There is a popular saying: "If you've lost a friend it is your hard luck, if you've lost your parents it is a grief, but if you've lost courage then you've lost everything." I was all set to fight to the end. I did not see any other way out and decided to stay.
"It's tantamount  to suicide, Kirsan," a friend told me, throwing up his hands.
Still more summons and questioning sessions   with  the KGB. I often  caught  my  ex-friends '  amazed  glances:  how come you are still at large? Haven't they shot you yet?
-           "Well, perhaps you are not a spy," the lieutenant told me. "But you have entered our grinding-machine and now there is only one way out."
-           "What do you mean?"
-           "We might be able to help you if you can prove your devotion to your country."
"You mean if l agree to go to Afghanistan, right?"
"Not necessarily. You could a l so be of assistance here." The lieutenant started to talk about  the  treacherous nature of the foreign  intelligence  services,  the feebleness of our youth  and one's duty to one's country. I had already understood what he was driving at.
Seemingly casual, he gave me to understand that  requests from the KGB could not be denied. "Incidentally, we consider you r expulsion from the institute and the party to be premature. They  are great ones for overdoing things."
The lieutenant paused and looked at me meaningfully. He was waiting for my reaction.
-           "Am l  supposed  to sign something?" I asked .
-           "An application." The lieutenant put pencil and paper in front of me.
-           "An application..." l started  formula ting  a  sentence  aloud as if rehearsing what I was going to write. "You are kindly requested to recruit me as a stool-pigeon. Is that okay? Did I understand  you  correctly?
-           "Oh,  come  on!  That's  not  the  way  to  phrase  it,"  the lieutenant said wryly. "After all you're a diplomat , aren't you?"
-           "But  not  a  stooge." l carefully  pushed  the  paper  away from me. Very carefully and very smoothly.
The  lieutenant's   Adam's  apple  twitched   visibly.  We  kept silent.
-           "As a matter of fact we could help you," he said at last.
-           "Are you  really in need  of stool -pigeons?"
Suddenly l felt free and calm. That was it: I had declared myself. Now come what may! And yet somewhere inside of me the remains of my old fear were quivering. A sickening tremulous fear.
"l am inclined to think you will come to us of your own accord soon," the KGB man said. He had no doubts at al l. He was positive that I would come...
The sun was shining brightly. l was enjoying the smell of exhaust fumes and the sound of the passing cars in the streets. I t felt as though I had not heard all these sounds for years. Freedom. l was free from the doubts and the nervous tension of the past days. I had made my crucial decision. I had passed the test. Many years later, in Tajikistan, an old man said to me: "You know, son, you have been  through  the kind of trouble that not every fifty-year-old man would be able to endure without cracking. Great is the nation which has such sons." That is how the Tajik sage referred to my  people:  a  great nation .

The temporary registration gave me the right to live in Moscow for a  few  more  months .  After  that  I would  have  to leave the city. I realized quite clearly that the lieutenant's polite threat was not a joke . Now that I was under surveillance, they could put me in jail for being unemployed, for violating the so­ called "Passport Regime Act", for crossing a street i n a wrong place. Or else they could have me beaten up by "hoods". They could arrange anything! They had a lot of tricks up their sleeve. I had several months left before my registration expired and I decided to use them to my further struggle. I could not sit and do nothing, but nor did I intend to beat a retreat.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
The President's Crown of Thorns 1995