The 69th Life of Ilyumzhinov

– I remember that political analysts predicted you the presidency of Russia in the early 90s. Did you have such ambitions?
– Well, I never set a goal to become a millionaire, minister, governor or president. One must make not simply right but the exclusive moves. In order to become the master of the situation it is sometimes useful to move a knight. It is because the knight jumps out of somewhere and put the opponents in the situation when they don’t know what to do. I have been trying to realize myself since my grandfather taught me how to play chess when I was five years old. Generally speaking, the knight is my favourite piece of chess.

– Did you try the restructuring of the world?
– It is not a goal; it is the essence of my life. That is my principle, well; the whole philosophy of my life is to realize myself. No matter in what direction. Either to change the world; or bring the number of the chess players of the planet to the one billion; or make it possible that all the presidents could play chess. Or else make the parliamentarians of all countries to vote to stop the military expenses for one year.
– I remember you said that the politics is the utter business and the religion is the super total business.
– Any statements that I make are calculated. It is nothing but the pragmatic estimate. I became the chess player when I was five years old. I never make any move before thinking it over. This is on the one hand and the need to experiment, probably, is on the other. The politics is the big business. It represents the business' interests. Moreover, the religion is the total politics and the utter business. The religion is the very same struggle for the market. However if politicians strive to expand their territory to sell TVs, oil and gas, the religion aimed at implementing ideas or some doctrines.
– And what is the benefit to the world if a billion people will learn to play chess?
– Let me explain. Two years ago I said that not less than one billion people should play chess on our planet. Now the world population is more than seven billion people. I visit about a hundred countries every year. I meet with two or three heads of states or Prime Ministers, starting with the countries like Japan, China, the United States and ending with the countries of the ‘third world’– Trinidad and Tobago, Togo and Congo every week... Thus, visiting dozens of countries and communicating with the heads of states and the ordinary people, seeing the differences of socio– economic and political systems and observing how the world has literally exploded for the last few years, I began to wonder why it is happening. It seems we all have more than enough. There are plenty of oil, gas, gold, and diamonds on the planet. The food seems to be also sufficient if it would be distributed reasonably and uniformly over the whole of humanity. It seems that God gave us this planet and we have everything for our co– existence.
Thus, why the entire world is sliding down the slope and there are more and more conflicts? What is the reason? I l tried to look at our planet as if from a distance. Lack of resources? No. Lack of education? It seems to be that the intelligent, educated, graduated the Harvard and MGIMO, etc. people are at the helm. And I came to the conclusion that the problem lies not with the stupid leaders but that many of them do not comply with the principle of chess ‘first think and then make a move’. Any manager signs a decree or passes a law without thinking, which has a negative impact on the people afterward.
What is the reason that we are constantly fighting and quarrelling? The fact is that there is the lack of people who are able to think ahead...
– Do wars and fights not comply with the nature of the man as a predator?
– Let's stop before we start to eat each other. To avoid it we need to have as much as possible thinking people.
These days some 600 million are playing chess on the planet and if we raise the amount of players to one billion then the number of people led by the principle of ‘first think, and then make the decision’ will increase. There will be a high probability that from this billion of human mass the significant number of people will get into parliament, government and become kings, presidents, ministers, peers and mayors. Thus the number of wrong decisions will decrease and the life will improve.
– Maybe, it's easier to oblige all members of parliaments to pass some chess exams?
– Winston Churchill, for example, being not the most stupid politician, always asked before hiring someone for a job in the government: "Do you play chess?"
– In the beginning of the 90s you often used an American proverb: "If you're so smart, why aren’t you rich?" Do you still think that if a person has the intellect, he can convert this virtual stuff into something tangible and real?
– This principle remains. But one is rich not because he has a yacht, two or three. No matter how much money you earned you can’t eat four plates of borscht (rich in ingredients Russian soup,– Ed.) at once. I am referring to the spiritual wealth, the intellectual development so that you can provide for yourself and help the relatives. An idea, a spirit of adventure, some fanaticism – that's what moves the humankind forward. If it was not for the ideas of Christ, Giordano Bruno and others we would not be able to enjoy the current benefits of civilization.
– But still there are different ideas. There is an idea that ‘money rules the world’. How does Ilyumzhinov combine such ideas?
– It is hard to combine because all the ideology, TV and media are aimed at the creation of the consumer society. But there are many people who understand that this is the dead end to the destruction of civilization and humanity.
That is, some pursue the creation of a rigid capitalist society where everybody is consumers striving to increase the profits, while others oppose: let's wear loincloths but to love one another and keep the clean green planet for the future generations and civilization.
– Seems, there is something I fail to understand. Ilyumzhinov, who amazed his voters riding the giant ‘Lincoln’ over the Kalmyk steppe in 1991, is opposing the idea of consumption now?
– No. On the contrary, I argue that anyone can achieve anything. One can buy not a single diamond but 1018 diamonds like in the championship crown. One can be not just a millionaire, but a president of republic. If you want to have six Rolls– Royces or a Cadillacs– there they are. Nothing is impossible.
I arrived to the 1993 Kalmykia elections in my 11 metres long ‘Lincoln’. However, my PR staff and my assistants refused to meet me at the airport. They hid ‘Lincoln’. I said that we will go to the villages to run my presidential campaign in that limousine. They said: “what’s wrong with you? The people have nothing to eat and the other candidate drives the old ‘Moskvich’ (old fashioned Russian car,– Ed.) and wears the rabbit fur hat. Why do you want to use this ‘Lincoln’? To tease people? For what? We live in poverty” ...
I said that l myself will sit behind the wheel if no one wants to drive. So I went to the first village. Meanwhile all my PR people, my assistants and my staff fled. They said they were not going to be dishonoured by working with me. “Afterwards you will go far away to Moscow or Switzerland or America (at that time I had a house in America) and we'll stay here. We would be torn apart by voters”.
Thus I came to the poor village where the only clubhouse was closed and people had not received the salary for six months. They came out to look at the exotic limousine. Besides, while I met with the elderly people the children went around the clubhouse riding this ‘Lincoln’.
Thus I visited several villages. My ‘Lincoln’ broke down on the way to the fourth farm – there were almost no roads in Kalmykia. Later I built them. I had to transfer to the ‘Volga’ (The Russian car,– Ed.).
Then the residents of the farm went out, blocked the road and said that they would not let me go further. I came out of ‘Volga and said: "I, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, made a speech in the nearby village yesterday." They told me: "You do not respect us. You were in ‘Lincoln’ there and came to us in some shitty ‘Volga’. Who are you taking us for? "
I mean, I showed that I was the same Kalmyk as them. I was able to have ‘Lincoln' within a year or two and I would be capable to build them a society for their children and grandchildren so that they could drive the foreign cars and use the cell phones, make calls to New York to ask their children how do they study there?
Yes, they looked at me as an alien. They said they didn’t have a single ‘Moskvich’ there. We have nothing and he keeps telling us that we would use the foreign cars and some box to talk with their children (I showed them a cell phone). However, it all came true. There are the cars and mobile phone there today.
– Are there many Ilyumzhinovs? Is it a common name?
– There was a collective farm named after Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the Rostov region before the war and they all were Ilyumzhinovs. I was named Kirsan in the honour of my grandfather’s brother – he was a commisar of the Second Cavalry Army establishing the Soviet power. Later they said that his grandson destroyed this power in the Republic of Kalmykia in 1993.
– I am a bit puzzled that a Buddhist Ilyumzhinov largely behaves like a Muslim. I particularly refer to the fact that he is hiding his wife; no one has seen the wife of Ilyumzhinov.
– I am somehow the Buddhist, Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic. You can see me through from head to toe. After all, the higher is your position the more people are interested in you: they try to examine not only the glasses you wear but any dust particles on your heels. I chose this path to be like this, to be seen through. However, the relatives and friends who are close to me have a different viewpoint. My son, for example, enrolled under a different name when he joined the sports club. They did not know who he was.
– Does he play chess?
– Yes, he does. He has become a champion in the school. He never tells that he is my son when he goes to some party. He said he did not want my karma to move to him. Each person has his own karma.
– And what about his elder brother, Vyacheslav?
– Vyacheslav works as a consultant and advisor in many companies. He worked as the vice– governor of the Nenets Autonomous Region. He wrote the book about the development of ...
– By the way, some book, it seems, had also influenced your choice of the high school?
– I learned about MGIMO during the military service. I found the book by Vsevolod Ovchinnikov called ‘Sakura branch’ at the regimental library and fell in love with Japan. Well, where do they teach Japanese? At the MGIMO only. After I finished my army service I earned some money by working at the factory and went to Moscow.
Everybody said that the only children of high rank officials study at the MGIMO and there really were a lot of students with famous names. For example, the son of the Afghan leader Babrak Karmal and the grandson of the legendary ‘Mister No’ the Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko studied with me. However, I scored 23 points at exams and was immediately taken in.
– 23 out of 25, right?
– Yes. But there was not the Japanese faculty in that year so I went to a preparatory study to wait for the Japanese one. I again passed the exams and was enrolled in the Japanese faculty the following year.
I remember I was on my way back to the hostel on the Second of September. I went out of the underground station ‘University’ but instead of taking the tram and get to the Krzhizhanovskogo Street, where the hostel was located, I decided to walk. There was the cloudy sky and the rain started but suddenly I felt some inspiration, a feeling about how great everything was! I dreamed to study the Japanese language and there I was doing that. First I wanted to test myself if I would be able to do it or not. It has turned out that I was able. Soon I became a warden...
– Were you the Commissar of students’ work team at the MGIMO?
– It was in the hostel. I received the increased stipend. We, who came from other cities, were always short of money so we cleaned the snow and unloaded the cargo from wagons, earning 50 roubles a night only.
– Did you make any mistakes in life, not in chess?
– A lot. A man is imperfect. If a man is imperfect so are his actions. Some, for example, perceive some of my doings as wrong, while others consider them to be right.
For instance, initially I thought it was a probably mistake that I went with Ruslan Aushev to the White House when the Parliament was being shot in 1993. I endangered my life while I was responsible for my Republic was as well as my family and friends. When they started to pressurise Kalmykia, I realized that I had let down the Republic, the deputies and the commercial enterprises I worked in. They immediately started investigations, closing accounts and so forth. That is, it looked like I made it happen by my reckless actions. Well, why on earth would the President of Kalmykia take the white flag and go to the tanks that fired at the White House in a broad daylight on October 4th?
The first time I came to the White House on 30th of September and the second time on 4th of October with Aushev. I went to Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment after Viktor Chernomyrdin told me that the Supreme Council was full of drug addicts and that Rutskoi and Khasbulatov were almost the hostages of the terrorists who do not take orders from anyone. I decided to personally check that but found nothing like what Viktor Stepanovich said. Maybe the militants hid themselves before my arrival...
The shooting started when I was sitting in the office of the chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin. We had made a white flag from the curtains torn at his office and went to the White House. At first there were ten people but in the end we were left alone, me and Ruslan. We asked not to fire during the negotiations at least. However, it looked like that the tankmen were obeying orders from someone, the commandos from another one and the snipers from somebody else...
Later, the Rutskoi’s lawyer handed me the records of negotiations of the snipers and one could hear: "That one in the white cloak ... aim at him!". All this was risky. Nobody wants to be killed by a bullet being just 30 years old. Nevertheless, I was not thinking about myself but about the people of peace that were left under fire in the White House.
However, I with Aushev managed to rescue about fifty women and children. This was purely an instinctive action of a common man, a citizen. I wanted to stop this chaos and bloodshed. It's a shame when the live TV shows how Russians kill Russians and the President shoots MPs. This is not normal. I went to stop that theatre of the absurd.
I went to Dudayev exactly for the same reason. After all, Chechnya was quite nearby. I understood that the war may spread to Kalmykia. We had, incidentally, not a single act of terrorism, being only 110 kilometres away from the border with Dagestan ... We had the three religions in the Republic: Buddhism, Islam, and Orthodox.
When I build the church they also criticized me. Why I started this construction in the Buddhist country where 65 per cent were Buddhist and the Republic of Kalmykia had not a single Buddhist temple in 1994? Moreover, the first church that I build was the Orthodox. And it seems to be a mistake as well. However, I thought that if all people were equal so what's the difference between 10 or 90 per cent? The elderly Kalmyks, who had voted for me and had no place to pray were asking: "Why does Kirsan our Buddhist, who met with the Dalai Lama, is building the Orthodox church for Orthodox Russians in the Priyutnyi village?" Later the Patriarch Alexey II came there. All were surprised. It was a small church for 50 people only. However, the patriarch himself was coming to hallow it...
Same thing happened when I began to build the largest Buddhist temple in Europe. What for? I was pressurised by the opposition; we had to build a hospital. Let's build the hospital, why do you build a temple? Although both the Orthodox Church and the Buddhist temple were built with my own money.
– How do you feel about Gorbachev and Yeltsin?
– Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin are all great. Why Gorbachev is great? We underestimated his reforms. Gorbachev decided to change the consciousness of citizens of the vast powerful state. The Soviet Union with its nuclear weapon was behind the ‘iron curtain’. Then suddenly the curtain fell ...
I remember how I and Gorbachev went to close the World Championship in Switzerland, Lausanne: Karpov vs Anand. We sat in the ‘Mercedes’, surrounded by the emergency lights and the police escort. And then he slapped his hand on my knee: "Listen, that’s amazing! You are just Kalmyk boy and I am combine mechanic from Stavropol and they have blocked the road in the centre of Europe for us."
Thus, what is the reason why he is great? Because he confronted the society. He altered consciousness. Besides, we would live ten times better now, if not for America. We gave up the arms race. We have begun to disarm. Warsaw Pact countries started to become free, to reform their ideology but the West European countries, the United States and NATO countries did not reform.
They have saved billions of dollars to use them for the creation of the new types of weapons instead of creativeness. So that this money would help to make the new research centres or rescue the cultural relics. Gorbachev, as a child, believed them, announced the perestroika and he had been deceived.
– Well, and what about Yeltsin?
– Yeltsin is great as well. He was exactly at the proper time and in right the place to completely put an end to that system. Mikhail Sergeevich began to destroy the Soviet Union and its ideology. Boris continued this with his slogan: "take as much sovereignty as you can." Borders were opened; the archives of the KGB were given to the West. All our network of undercover agents was exposed. Although the Great Russian tsars said that there are only two allies of Russia – the army and the navy.
Well, there comes kind of unnoticeable KGB lieutenant colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. When I met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India he asked me who Putin was.
Putin managed to reformat the system without the large enough political experience. Of course, he passed all the official stages starting from an assistant to Sobchak but he was not a heavyweight at that time.
To burden oneself with the dilapidated Russian Empire, to keep the regions stable, to preserve and increase the power of the country, to make the people to believe in themselves again and return the Russian self– consciousness – he succeeded to do all this at a difficult times, despite the fact that the trillions of dollars that the West saved on Gorbachev's perestroika were used to further ruin Russia. Moreover, Putin was able to not only withstand it but to declare that the world should not be unipolar. As everywhere in the nature, there must be other colours then on the USA Stars and Stripes.
– Putin has not been a heavyweight in his early ascent ... However, is Ilyumzhinov a heavyweight?
– I boxed up to 54 kilograms lightweight.
– You manage to gracefully avoid the answer. By the way did boxing help in your life?
– No. Even In the army. What is bullying, I know first– hand. All the recruits were forced to wash the feet wraps of ‘grandfathers’ (the old soldiers– Ed.). I refused. I was beaten several times. Then they gave up. I seem to be able to fight back but there were too many of them. I believe that every man must serve in the army. I experienced the moment of weakness in the army only once. We were ordered to clean the grease from a concrete floor in the kitchen and then I was brought a letter from a friend, in which he wrote about his visit to the discotheque. Then I thought: "Well, why should I serve? They're dancing, and I wash up the dishes without hot water (it had to be scrubbed with the salt and if it was still possible to somehow clean the aluminium plates, the plastic ones soiled with the Russian soup was almost impossible to clean). However, eight months later I became the deputy commander of a platoon. My handwriting was pretty good and I became a clerk. In the second year of service I was offered to join the Communist Party.
– Let us return to the issue of the political heavyweights Ilyumzhinov...
– I do not consider myself as a politician. I got into politics by accident. As a businessman, I met with the entrepreneur who lived nearby in Elista. He told me that everything was ready for the elections to the Supreme Soviet and lamented that there were no young people among the candidates. He talked with me and decided that he had found the candidate who graduated from the MGIMO and worked in Moscow. After return to Elista, he gathered his team that nominated me. Arriving to the Kalmykia, I learned that 32 competitors were registered in my district: from the secretary to the Party Committee to the People's Artist of Russia. Besides, I was only 26 years old. However, it was too late to retreat. As a result, in the first round I got about 40 per cent of the votes and the second to me was an Orthodox priest Father Zosima. Before the second round I and the priest held live debate: he announced that his mission was to serve God, thus he removes the candidacy in my favour. Thus, you might say that I have received the ticket to the politics from the hands of a priest. In turn, I advised my friends to go into politics. I was familiar with Chung Ju Yong, the founder of Hyundai and Lee Myung– bak who, when we met, was the head of this company in the end of the 80s. When I won the election he had already retired from Hyundai. He asked for an advice about what to do next. I advised him to go into politics. Which he did: created an opposition party, became mayor of Seoul, eliminated the traffic jams in the city, built roads and then became the president of the country. But I've never been a politician. And never been a businessman. I am just Kirsan. Cannot you just be the one with the name that was given to you by parents? And to proudly carry it through this life. By the way, it is my 69th one...

Evgeny Dodolev