Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: I am proud to be a graduate of the famous MGIMO

On 14 October, Moscow State University of International Relations celebrated its 75th anniversary. For over three quarters of the century, MGIMO’s graduates are scientists, journalists, economists, diplomats, ministers and even musicians. They represent Russia abroad and develop domestic science, economy, and education.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov  is the first president of the Republic of Kalmykia (1993-2010), entrepreneur, sixth president of the International Chess Organization (1995-2018). He graduated from the International Relations Faculty at MGIMO in 1989. Kirsan Nikolaevich shared his memories of the first years of study with us.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov came to MGIMO with considerable life experience: he worked as a locksmith at Zvezda factory for two years and served as much in the army. "I always wanted to be the best," he says. “After the army, I asked myself whether I, a simple soldier, could be enrolled in the most renowned institution of higher education in our country?” In the army Ilyumzhinov read "Sakura Branch" by Vsevolod Ovchinnikov and decided to get to the Land of the Rising Sun no matter what. ”How could you get to Japan from the USSR? It was possible via MGIMO only." The choice of specialty was made.
In the first lessons, the teacher displayed graceful hieroglyphics on the board, the students sat as enchanted. “So you came to learn Japanese?”, said Sensei. “How would you know the one who learns Japanese in the underground?” There were few suggestions: a hieroglyphic dictionary in somebody’s hands or fingers with ink stains. "No," the teacher replied, "one has to look at who got up and who has a fifth point of iron sticking out of his pants." "Because reading the hieroglyphs could be learnt only through colossal labour and perseverance," Ilyumzhinov explains. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was an active student: he combined his studies with playing chess for university team, taking membership in the committee and even work.
“The scholarship had been increased for 63 roubles, but there was still not enough money. We worked as janitors at the Ministry of Bakeries near the hostel. We got up at five in the morning, swept the street, and then took the tram to the subway to the university. Also we worked as watchmen at the factory. And on Saturdays we unloaded railway cars at the Kiev station."
Relations with the classmates have developed. During a conversation with RIA Novosti correspondent Ilyumzhinov met with a university friend from Afghanistan. "Many children of ambassadors and ministers studied with us, but we were equal," he recalls. However, one day his friendliness made him to leave MGIMO
“In 1988, there was strict law prohibiting alcohol. Then on my birthday, the boys from the embassies brought in a bottle. A friend made a pilaf and we set table. People started coming: Germans, Cubans, Hungarians, Laotians. The room was too small for us. I asked the commandant for the keys to the Lenin room. There is a red cloth on the table, a portrait of Lenin on the wall, and we drank."
Soon Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was summoned to the dean's office and they took him straight to the KGB. "It turned out that I was reported denouncing that I was not working for Afghan or Indian intelligence," Ilyumzhinov explains. “The teachers supported me. Anatoliy V. Torkunov, the Dean of the Faculty of Defence, told me: “Hold on! This Too Shall Pass."
Ilyumzhinov did not work for any intelligence, but he was expelled for drinking alcohol in a public place. For six months he appealed, wrote letters to Mikhail Gorbachev, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and KGB chairman. As a result, he was reinstated in university.
"I graduated from MGIMO, became the youngest People's Deputy of the RSFSR running a Soviet-Japanese firm. I also got to Japan. I bought myself a tape recorder and jeans there."