That was one of the many headlines that greeted Ilyumzhinov’s announcement last week that he was stepping down as Head of Kalmykia. Many of the reports in the Russian press might be characterised as political obituaries, but without the inconvenient obligation to speak well of the dead.
Below I’ve made a selection of the coverage in the conviction that it might also interest readers outside Russia. As well as often being very funny – newspaper editors didn’t miss the chance to enjoy themselves with the headlines – it’s surely also significant for the upcoming FIDE Elections (and court battles), where reputations and government support are key factors. It seems unlikely that the Russian media would go so far if they felt Ilyumzhinov still had the backing of the Kremlin.
The first selection of articles is from a great number that gave a full account of Ilyumzhinov’s career, with amazement at his prolonged survival a dominant feature (images used are taken from the articles concerned):
KIRSAN RELEASED INTO SPACE
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is leaving his post as President of Kalmykia. From October on he’ll be an absolutely free man, able to fulfil his old dream – to become a cosmonaut or enter a Catholic monastery. The citizens of the poorest Russian republic will also be given a chance – after 17 years of the rule of the businessman-dictator-dreamer – to obtain a new Head of the Republic. Who will it be: the head of the regional branch of “United Russia”, Anatoly Kozachko, the deputy chairman of Kalmykia, Badma Salaev, or someone else. That will become clear in the coming days. One thing is clear – the “Kirsan era” is coming to an end.
The main puzzle with Ilyumzhinov remains the answer to the question: how did he manage to stay in power for 17 years? After all, claims began to be made about the Kalmyk President’s resignation as early as 1993. At the time he was an ardent supporter of the Supreme Council in the confrontation with Yeltsin. But after the Council’s defeat he quickly corrected himself and even began to rebrand his “Kalmyk Khanate”, Khalmg Tangch, as a modest republic.
It’s possible that Ilyumzhinov was saved then, however blasphemous it sounds, by the first Chechen War. It wasn’t the time to light another fire in a steppe republic which bordered on the North Caucasus.
The central authorities only took an interest again in 1997 when it suddenly emerged that in this entity of the Russian Federation a certain “black hole” had formed, through which money was rushing away. Attempts by the Treasury to explain the fate of the 200 million roubles that had disappeared from the Kalmyk National Bank ended with another protest by Kirsan, who threatened that his republic would break away from the Russian Federation. […]
Meanwhile, according to the latest statistics (for 2009), in terms of average monthly income the republic is in 81st place out of 81 regions, and is 80th in terms of unemployment. In general, the businessman-dreamer didn’t work out as a “father of the people”. So they decided to give him the chance to deal with what he loves more than anything else – studying “black holes” in space. It’s better than creating them on the Earth.
Evgeny Gik, 8 September 2010, Moskovsky Komsomolets
THE UNSINKABLE ILYUMZHINOV IS MOVED TO A SAVE HAVEN
Unsinkable for 17 years (he’s run Kalmykia since 1993), Kirsan Ilyumzhinov had no other choice left, as he understood the definite hints from Moscow very clearly and, so as not to be completely excluded from affairs and instead be able to take up some honourable niche, the President of Kalmykia chose the preferable scenario of retirement.
Irina Antonova, 7 September 2010, Segodnia.Ru
The election of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov as President of Kalmykia in 1993 was a landmark moment. The candidate went to the elections openly declaring that he was a wealthy man. Millionaires in power, openly declaring that they were millionaires – in 1993 that was a novelty for the country.
Dmitry Remizov, 7 September 2010, Rosbalt
THE HUMANOIDS DIDN’T SAVE ILYUMZHINOV
In an interview for the “Versiya” newspaper the leader of the Kalmyk opposition and President of the “Security and Development” Fund, Alexander Ledzhinov, told of how Ilyumzhinov went for his fourth term in 2005. Ledzhinov claimed that Ilyumzhinov paid a “certain amount” for his re-election to someone in the Russian Federation President’s administration. At the same time civil disobedience broke out in Kalmykia itself back in 2004, during which one person died and a few hundred were beaten by the police.
7 September 2010, MK.RU
KIRSAN’S 108 LIVES
A few years later he was running an array of banks and countless companies, after which rumours began to appear in the media that Ilyumzhinov had taken Russian government loans for the purchase of wool – more than 10 billion roubles – which then disappeared somewhere. Similar scandals have pursued Ilyumzhiminov over the course of his whole term as President – they concern both him personally, and the region he heads, though nothing has ultimately been proven.
[…] Over time the name Ilyumzhinov began to become increasingly rare in the political media, while simultaneously appearing in other areas not connected directly to politics. Slowly but surely the Head of Kalmykia turned from one of the youngest and richest rulers of the Russian regions into an eccentric authority figure (“freak”, as his detractors put it), delivering journalists news gifts that they could only dream of.
[…] A favourite phrase, migrating from one Ilyumzhinov interview to another like a steppe nomad is on how a man has 108 lives. “I’ve been reincarnated 69 times. I also lived during the time of the Inquisition. But it’s right now that I feel myself most at home”, Ilyumzhinov said at the beginning of 2009. If his calculations are correct then he’s still got 39 lives to go, despite the fact that his political life is no doubt over. Not bad for a man who knows aliens, is it?
Yaroslav Zagorets, 7 September 2010, LENTA.RU
THE LONG GAME OF “KHAN KIRSAN”
Many experts conclude that the reason for Ilyumzhinov’s resignation is not only that he’s exhausted the time limit for holding a presidential post. During his term in office, “Khan Kirsan”, as the Kalmyk Head has long been called both in the republic and beyond, has turned into too odious a figure. […]
But in 2010 Ilyumzhinov surpassed himself with the number of his extravagant excesses. In March, he proposed burying the first canine cosmonauts Belka and Strelka in the Central Buddhist Temple in Elista as, “in one of their reincarnations the dogs were once just such cosmonauts or astronauts on another planet”. [There’s a link to an article entitled: “Belka and Strelka as communist Buddhists”]
Alexander Sidorov, 7 September 2010, INTERFAX RUSSIA
IN KALMYKIA THEY’RE CELEBRATING THE END OF ILYUMZHINOV’S RULE
The citizens of Kalmykia began to celebrate the coming end to the rule of the Head of the Republic of Kalmykia, whose authority runs out on 24 October. The initiative to organise parties for such an event came from the users of local internet forums and representatives of the opposition.
7 September 2010, Regnum
There were a number of articles that reflected on the effect Ilyumzhinov’s retirement might have on the world of chess:
THE KREMLIN DOESN’T NEED A CHESS PLAYER
So the Head of Kalmykia’s replacement can only hope that Ilyumzhinov retains his post as President of FIDE. At the very least, the departing Kalmyk leader has declared that he’ll try to do everything possible to make that happen. In that case, at least at first, the majority of his efforts will go into the struggle with his opponents within the chess federation who are now actively opposing Ilyumzhinov and proposing Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov as his replacement. And then Kalmykia can breathe more easily.
Ivan Preobrazhensky, 7 September 2010, ROSBALT
HE FELL FROM ORBIT
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will have time both for chess, and for contact with extra-terrestrials. […]
Now he’s simultaneously fighting to be reelected to the post of FIDE President. Having attended the opening of the gasification of one village back in mid-July he spent one and half months traipsing around the whole world – the Middle East, South America, Asia. The Head of Kalmykia only returned to his homeland on 31 August, and on the 2 September he again flew off. Meanwhile his co-workers in the administration claim that in fact Ilyumzhinov is a workaholic and works deep into the night when he’s in the republic.
Artem Vernidub, 7 September 2010, Russian Newsweek
THEY WANT TO IMPRISON ILYUMZHINOV
According to Badmaev, the moment Ilyumzhinov is deprived of all his posts – as Head of the Republic and as President of FIDE, the opposition will start a campaign for “criminal procedures” against him. “We’ve got qualified jurists and believe me – there are things to put Ilyumzhinov in prison for. During his rule he’s done enough for a few people”, the opposition politician said.
In order to retain his weight in the socio-political life of the country, and to avoid possible criminal investigations, Ilyumzhinov, understanding that his presidential days were numbered, will, it seems, put all his efforts into the fight for the FIDE leadership. After all, the heads of international federations also have “legal immunity”. Therefore Anatoly Karpov, also campaigning for the post of FIDE President, today represents a greater danger to Ilyumzhinov than all the opposition combined.
7 September 2010, Wek
Ilyumzhinov’s news management strategy involved giving a press conference in the press centre of a major Russian newspaper, though that mainly seemed to generate reports on alien encounters:
PRESIDENT OF KALMYKIA KIRSAN ILYUMZHINOV: “I THOUGHT, WHY SHOULD I GO FOR A FIFTH TERM?”
The departure of such a well-known government figure is always an event.
Yes, I’ve worked for 17.5 years, 20 years in politics. But I’m a Buddhist. There’s nothing eternal under the moon. Now, I thought: why go for a fifth term? If I said: I want a fifth term then you journalists would have been upset.
What are you planning to do now? You’re only 48.
I’ve got a flat in Elista and I’m not intending to go anywhere. My main project now is to work for the post of FIDE President. I’m trying to organise a pastoral visit by his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, so that he can bless our Central Buddhist Temple in Elista. While two years ago I started to build a temple of the Great Martyr St. Panteleimon with Patriarch Kirill – that also needs to be finished.
Vladimir Voloshin, 7 September 2010, Komsomolskaya Pravda
KIRSAN ILYUMZHINOV TAKES CONTACT WITH ALIENS SERIOUSLY: But they’re not responsible for his resignation as Head of Kalmykia
In the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” press centre, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov responded to the question of whether he’d really met with aliens:
“Do you believe in God? Go to church. Billions of people believe but no-one has seen him. NASA registers four thousand contacts a year. I take the phenomenon seriously. In our galaxy there are 54 systems like the solar system, and even according to probability theory it’s impossible to say that we’re alone in the Universe… I’ve dealt with a lot of politicians, and they also understand it. We should realise that we’re not alone in this world.
My interview with Pozner was a provocation, so that everyone started to think – and people began to speak openly. I know that the world contains many agencies and laboratories which are making contact with the newcomers.”
Vladimir Voloshin, 8 September 2010, Komsomolskaya Pravda (with video of Ilyumzhinov’s press conference)
BEFORE HIS RETIREMENT KIRSAN ILYUMZHINOV IS WORRIED ABOUT ALIEN INTELLIGENCE
“Our achievements were there not being any terrorist attacks”, Ilyumzhinov emphasised, adding that they could easily have happened given the particularities of the republic: a population divided into three religious groups – Orthodox, Muslim and Buddhist.” […]
“They’ve suggested I take part in a few commercial programs and I’ll choose a large commercial project, besides my public welfare projects, so I’ll be able to sponsor them”.
Mikhail Smilyan, 8 September 2010, GZT.RU
The following newspaper article is very hard to classify. It looks at first glance as though it might have been commissioned by Ilyumzhinov himself, though if it was it certainly descended into parody or satire. The full version also includes details of Ilyumzhinov’s love life…
THE DESIRE TO CHANGE THE MASSES
As they say about us in Kalmykia: thoughts on the throne, but up to your waste in dust… Eternally young, fantastically rich, with a sunny smile, Eastern serenity, Western rationality, a friend of the steppes, queens and kings – there’s an opinion that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was sent down to us directly by important figures from outer space. […]
Ilyumzhinov is a crazily tough man, regardless of his love for Buddhism. Here’s just one episode from when the Kalmyk football club “Uralan” was relegated from the higher league. At the start of 2001, Ilyumzhinov got together the new team, invited the trainer and players to visit him, and said:
“Guys, I’ll become the president of the club “Uralan” myself! If the club next season doesn’t get into the higher league I pledge that I’ll resign my post as FIDE President, as it will have been a complete failure for me. I’m ready to give you as much money as you need. But now in return I need your guarantees that you’ll also be risking something in your life, accepting this money”, Kirsan says.
They were all discouraged and promised that they’d work as hard as they could, that they’d try.
“No”, says Ilyumzhinov, “that’s not how it’ll go! The scales should have equal obligations on both sides! If you don’t get into the higher league, I’ll lose everything: my presidential post, and my whole career! You should also be prepared for deprivations!”
After which he provided a few dozen bullets and said: let’s say that if “Uralan” loses then at the end of the season you’ll go into the steppe and all shoot yourselves. And write down that you ask that no-one be blamed for your death! I’m risking my whole life, and you can risk yours!” And he gave each of them a bullet. As a result “Uralan” got into the higher league in one season, and all the players returned their bullet to Ilyumzhinov, after keeping it for a year.[…]
Ilyumzhinov, having for so many years been President of FIDE, can’t get used to the fact that all great chess players for some reason consider themselves geniuses not only on the 64 squares, but also outside of chess. While his principle in life is: each should take care of his own business! As FIDE President, he’s necessary in order to guarantee chess players normal conditions so that they can create chess masterpieces. “After all, I don’t advise them whether to move a knight or a pawn! Why do they get involved in my area of competence?” Kirsan Nikolaevich asks in amazement. […]
One more anecdote, about classmates. An old man caught the goldfish. It asks: let me go and I’ll fulfil all your wishes. Would you like to go home and find a Mercedes 600 standing there? No, I don’t want that! Do you want a five-storey villa with a swimming pool and a beautiful wife? I don’t want that! Or perhaps a mansion in Paris, a Rolls Royce and Claudia Schiffer as your wife? No, I don’t want that either, the old man rejected the offer. So what do you want, the fish asked in amazement. The old man thought and said, please make me a classmate of Kirsan’s!
An anecdote, undoubtedly, to the point: as all of Kirsan’s classmates are employed in Kalmykia in positions of authority. Ah, it’s a shame that I didn’t study in school with Kirsan Nikolaevich!
Mikhail Bolotovsky, 10 September 2010, Chas
The following article is more solidly pro-Ilyumzhinov, and includes a long interview.
KIRSAN ILYUMZHINOV’S WONDERLAND
I became friends with President Saddam Hussein and consider him a very interesting, decent man. […]
It’s really become absurd: this year the President of Vietnam came to Moscow on 9 May. I was photographed with him and the newspaper headlines in Vietnam read more or less as follows: ‘Our President and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who met with aliens’…
But after all these are obvious facts. Around Yalta, which I really love, there are also often flying saucers. Everyone knows about it, but they keep silent, such are the unspoken rules of decorum. […]
What faith do you personally follow?
I’m a man of the world: a Buddhist, an Orthodox Christian, a Muslim, a Jew and a Catholic all in one. I relate to all religions as a product of human endeavour. It’s necessary to develop all areas that contribute to spiritual growth and the formation of an active consciousness.[…]
Coming up now is the new election for FIDE President and your opponent this time is the famous grandmaster Anatoly Karpov…
If Karpov didn’t exist you’d have to invent him. He has no program, no ideas, while 170 countries around the world is no joke! You don’t sit at the controls of a jet, or in a dentist’s chair, knowing that instead of a doctor there’s Vasya the plumber. Therefore I consider his competition frivolous.
Valeria Bondarenko, 11-17 September 2010, Zerkalo Nedyeli
Finally, Anatoly Karpov gave an interview where, among other topics, he discussed the legal action brought by Ilyumzhinov against him. You don’t need to be a highly-paid lawyer to spot that this week’s press coverage is unlikely to have done Karpov’s case any harm.
KARPOV AND KASPAROV IN A DUEL WITH ILYUMZHINOV
On the 15 September in Moscow legal hearings will be held for the case brought by Ilyumzhinov, who accuses you of libel.
Not of libel, but of causing moral harm to his fantastic reputation.
How well-grounded are his accusations?
It’s sufficient to open any site and look at what even the pro-Kirsan press has written over the last 15 years. It’ll become clear that his name carries with it a trail of corruption scandals, in which not only Ilyumzhinov, but also his team, are mentioned. Recent evidence for that is the detention of the Deputy Prime Minister of Kalmykia, who Kirsan appointed by his own decree as the chair of the commission to fight corruption. The Kalmyk procurator appeared on Channel One and announced they had the necessary proof that this Deputy Prime Minister was a member of an organised crime organisation. In the same report they said that the Deputy Minister for State Property in Kalmykia was also detained and under investigation for selling property on the cheap and pocketing the difference.
Natalya Golitsyna, 8 September 2010, Radio Svoboda