Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is Grateful to Petr Poroshenko for Chess Projects Support

The President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is a frequent visitor to the former Soviet republics. Due to his efforts, the post-Soviet countries often hold the most important international tournaments and are able to organize their own major games.
The head of FIDE told reporters at ‘Nezavisimaya Gazeta’ about the current role chess has in the former Soviet Union, how it is affected by politics and whether the Ukraine match for ‘Moskal’ (the derogatory Ukrainian name for Russians- Ed.) was easy to organize.

Kirsan Nikolaevich, you recently visited Latvia for the largest chess festival in the Baltic region-the 22nd ‘Liepaja ROKADA’. Prior to that, you visited Ukraine, on a few occasions, to support Lviv with the 2016 Women’s World Chess Championship. As President of FIDE, you are greatly involved in global chess policy and it is obvious that you have a special interest in your chess projects in the former Soviet republics. How do you explain this?
– There are many reasons. As previous citizens of the Soviet Union, we considered ourselves as one nation; we share a common history and have a collective memory associated with that era. The Soviet Union ceased to exist a long time ago, but amongst the people and nations, the links remain and continue to evolve.
The reason must be something other than communist ideology, totalitarian system or the cult of Lenin. The open relations between people, friendship, solidarity, mutual assistance were much more important. I am positive that it is these social, cultural and historical threads that still bind us together and help us survive in an increasingly complex and challenging world.
As for chess, the culture of this ancient game and the interest that it garners, along with Soviet chess traditions, meant that it was one of the few things that united the former Soviet republics in the 90’s and 2000’s. The communist system and Soviet myths, like those about Lenin and Marx, are consigned to oblivion with the remnants of the Soviet era. Like great culture or poetry, chess remains constant. In my opinion, Russian language, Pushkin, Soviet cinema and chess are mainly what unites us.
I have always felt that it is important to maintain the interest in chess in the post-Soviet era. Chess is a strong, informal means of communication, uniting people and the separated republics. Therefore, after becoming FIDE’s President, I immediately began to fund projects that supported chess in the former Soviet republics. I tried to maintain our unity with the help of chess.
It must have been a very difficult task …
– It is very difficult. Parting from the Soviet Union was extremely painful to many republics, especially those in the Baltic and in Central Asia. Not only was there strong opposition to Soviet emblems, but also to the Russian language, perceived as one of the elements of Soviet occupation. While this was happening, there were tragic anecdotal stories of the simultaneous falling apart and the gaining and strengthening of independence.
I was invited to speak in the parliament of a former Soviet republic but was repeatedly asked not to speak in Russian. “Speak any language, but not Russian,” they said. When I went to the podium I began to speak … in Japanese.
It confused the deputies because they did not understand a word, then someone, timidly, requested that I switch English. The situation was so ridiculous that the parliamentarians themselves, realizing the absurdity of it, abandoned that idea and I finished my speech in Russian.
Today, once again, we are witnessing a harsh attitude towards Russia and the Russian language in some former Soviet republics. However, common sense generally prevails. This was evident, for example, in Latvia, during ‘the Liepaja ROKADA’. Thanks to people like zonal FIDE President, Aris Ozolins, Presidents of the National Chess Federations, from Latvia, Peteris Shmidre, Lithuania, Alexandr Chernov, Estonia, Anrei Korobeinik, chess authorities such as the former World Chess Champion, Alexander Khalifman, Estonian GM, Jaan Ehlvest and others, who contribute to large-scale chess projects that aim to integrate people and encourage co-operation between them. Even although there are some politicians who would try to prevent this.
– In which republics of the former Soviet Union do you promote these chess projects?
– There are many projects happening in practically all of the post-Soviet states. For example, the project ‘Chess in Rural Schools’ in Moldova; The Baltic States Cup awarded by the FIDE President; The Central Asian Cup, which was successfully held in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and will be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan in November.
We run regular tournaments in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia under the auspices of FIDE. In 2016, FIDE with the active support of the Ukraine authorities will hold the match between the current Ukraine Champion, Maria Muzychuk and her Chinese contender, Hou Yifan for the title of the Women’s World Chess Champion in Lviv.
Why did you choose Lviv as the venue for the tournament? After all, Beijing had requested it.
– I must admit, it was political. The Chinese side aggressively bid to host this tournament on home soil. Whereas the Ukrainians failed to comply with all the formalities. Still, I insisted on making a decision in favour of Lviv. During my visit there, I was convinced of the magnificence of the city, its calm and its friendliness. They have very strong chess traditions and a chess school. Today, Lviv Chess Federation has 20 grandmasters. Adrian Mikhalchishin, Vassily Ivanchuk and Alexander Bielawski-(current trainer of Maria Muzichuk), were raised there. However, Lviv has not held a major competition for a long time, and Ukraine has never hosted the Championship. I think that is unfair.
In addition, I would like to introduce Lviv to the world and dispel the myths surrounding it, such as being a stronghold of the ‘Bandera’ (the Ukrainian nationalist who was accused of war crimes during the Second World War-Ed.). I travel a lot, make my own comparisons, and I must admit that Lviv is a city of incredible beauty, cultural, neat and orderly. See for yourself: Millions of tourists visit Lviv annually. It speaks volumes about its appeal and popularity. I sincerely wish to congratulate the Mayor, Andrei Sadovy and the Deputies of Lviv City Assembly for the way they care for their city.
Andrei Sadovy is considered one of the most influential and promising Ukrainian politicians. What impression did he make on you?
–Sadovy is a unique leader, talented, creative, energetic and a good businessman. His development of Lviv has been highly successful, not only the street redecoration and upgrading of urban infrastructure, but also by maintaining this charming city’s essence and unique history. The way he deals with every challenge is worthy of respect and consideration. The Mayor of Lviv and the members of the City Council actively supported the idea of holding the Chess Championship in their city.
I know that Sadovy was pressurised by some political radicals, who demanded to reject ‘Moskal’ Ilyumzhinov’s Championship proposal. However, I did not succumb to the pressure but showed my strength. As a result, my first meeting with the mayor of Lviv was very positive. They showed me the best buildings in the city, where the authorities are preparing to hold the Match for the Championship crown. All have unique architecture. My colleagues and I thought their attitude greatly impressive.
Not only did I meet with the representatives of the Lviv’s government, but I also talked with the ordinary citizens, veterans and young people on the streets. All of them freely spoke Russian, and promised to support the Championship in their city.
– And what was the attitude of the President of Ukraine towards your negotiations with the authorities in Lviv?
– Most positive and constructive. The project in Lviv would not exist without the energetic support of Petr Poroshenko. Together, the President of Ukraine and Lviv’s Mayor gave me the official bid to host the Chess World Cup. Because of my meetings in Lviv and Kiev, we have established the national steering committee for the preparation for the Championship. Moreover, I am very grateful for the support of the President of Ukraine, who personally endorses the organizing committee.
– You often say that chess transcends politics. However, in the case of Lviv, apparently, it was impossible to avoid the involvement of politics …
– There are no rules without exceptions. The decision to hold the championship match in Lviv is an example of this. I hope that by supporting chess projects and chess culture, it will help to bring peace to the Ukrainian land.
Today, it is said that there is war between the Russians and Ukrainians in Ukraine. I do not think so. I do not divide the Ukrainians from the Russians. I consider them as one nation with a common history, common land, and a shared memory of glorious and tragic events. I am amazed at the ease at which the people of one nation have become brainwashed into hating one another to the point where they want to kill.
People should employ the power of reason and the ability to compromise to return peace to the Ukrainian land. I do not know a better way to do this other than chess.