FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has just announced he held a two-hour meeting today in Tripoli with the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is currently in a state of civil war, with NATO and allies engaged in bombing raids, and Gaddafi himself accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The meeting lasted around two hours. Gaddafi and I played chess. The meeting didn’t take place in some sort of bunker, but in one of the administrative buildings in the Libyan capital.
Gaddafi declared he’s not intending to leave Libya, emphasising that it’s his home and the land where his children and grandchildren have died. He also said he doesn’t understand what post he’s supposed to leave.
Ilyumzhinov quotes Gaddafi:
“I’m not a prime minister, a president or a king. I don’t hold any post in Libya, and therefore there’s no position that I should leave”.
Gazeta.ru adds that Ilyumzhinov said:
I expressed my condolences on behalf of my family in connection with the death of his 20-year-old son, two grandsons and 4-month-old granddaughter. And then he showed me the house on which five bombs fell and where his relatives died.
The meeting with the Libyan leader is all the more remarkable as Russia has recently joined the chorus of protest against Muammar Gaddafi remaining in power. At the recent G8 summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted the following joint statement (one of the arrest warrants mentioned was for Gaddafi himself):
Gaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfil their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go.
We welcome the work of the international criminal court in investigating crimes in Libya and note the chief prosecutor’s request on 16 May for three arrest warrants.
It appears Russia may be trying to play a mediating role in the conflict, with Medvedev’s envoy, Mikhail Margelov, having visited the opposition leaders in Benghazi last week. It’s unlikely Ilyumzhinov could travel to Libya without Russian approval, so there’s some speculation he might be on a political mission. Gazeta.ru notes:
Known for his extravagant actions and statements, Ilyumzhinov doesn’t particularly suit such a responsible mission. He does, however, have an excellent relationship with the Libyan leader, which started seven years ago.
That refers, of course, to the FIDE World Chess Championship in Tripoli in 2004. Although there were promising signs from Libya at the time – the BBC called the event “the latest plank of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s strategy to end years of international isolation” – it was extremely controversial. Apart from general concerns about Libya’s alleged support for terrorism, Israeli players were effectively barred from attending. Despite invitations being sent out, Grandmaster Boris Gulko noted in his open letter to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:
Yet on May 5, the son of Moammar Qadafy, Mohammad, who is also the president of the Libyan Organizing Committee, announced (according to the Associated Press) that “We did not and will not invite the Zionist enemies to this championship…We know the Zionists will seize such occasions to enter the Arab society… but we will not give up our principles even if that leads to canceling holding the tournament in Libya.”
It probably comes as little surprise to learn that this time round Ilyumzhinov also met with Gaddafi’s son. Gazeta.ru quotes Ilyumzhinov:
I had a meeting with Gaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammed, who heads the National Olympic Committee. We also had a game of chess, playing the Sicilian Defence.
Some more details have emerged about the “chess content” of Ilyumzhinov’s visit to Libya. He called it part of FIDE’s “Year of Africa”, recently announced on trips to Nigeria and Zambia, while Polit.ru cites a Kommersant FM radio interview in which Ilyumzhinov stated the visit was planned a year ago, and connected to a tournament to take place on 1 October. The FIDE President expressed his belief that it would be a success, despite the Libyan capital being under constant bombardment. The only quote that’s likely to be remembered from that article, however, is Ilyumzhinov’s comment on the military conflict: “the world doesn’t hear and doesn’t want to hear the voice of the Libyan people”.
All that’s left for chess fans is to watch, perhaps in horror, as chess finds itself the focus of a media circus - for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with chess.
Update: Deborah Lutterbeck of Reuters reports on video footage of Ilyumzhinov’s game against Gaddafi on Libyan TV:
More of the original footage has been posted at YouTube: