01 December 2013

'Chess in School' Is Political

In my previous post on the subject, 'Chess in School' Is Multilevel, I promised to look at the FIDE booklet, 'Chess in Schools - Our Global Future' (see the 'Multilevel' post for a link and an introduction).

The booklet, a marketing document for FIDE's CIS program, starts badly. Page one, building on the unfortunate personality cult that permeates all FIDE online material, is headlined, 'Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov, b. 1962; President of FIDE 1995-; President of Kalmykia, Russian Federation 1993-2010' -- this over a picture that could be subtitled 'Big Brother is watching you over the chessboard'. It goes on to quote Ilyumzhinov, '17 years ago, I signed a decree to develop chess in the schools of Kalmykia.' Then this:-

100% of Kalmykia school children can play chess. This has played well for their school results. According to the Russian Ministry of Education, for the last two years we have been keeping 1st place in school results of children among 85 Russian regions.

Andrey Fursenko, Russian Minister of Education became interested in our phenomenon and sent specialists to Kalmykia to find out the key to this success. They stated in the end, that it was the introduction of chess in schools that had brought such good results.

Anyone wanting to verify this claim is quickly going to discover the Wikipedia page on Kalmykia.

From 1993 to 2010, the Head of the Republic was Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov. He is also the president of the world chess organization FIDE. Much of his fortune he has been spending in promoting chess in Kalmykia — where chess is compulsory in all primary schools — and also overseas, with Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, hosting many international tournaments.

In the late 1990s, there were allegations that the Ilyumzhinov government was spending much government money on projects to do with chess. These were published in Sovietskaya Kalmykia, the opposition newspaper in Elista. Larisa Yudina, the journalist who investigated these accusations, was kidnapped and murdered in 1998. Two men, Sergei Vaskin and Tyurbi Boskomdzhiv, who worked in the local civil service, were charged with her murder, one of them having been a former presidential bodyguard. After prolonged investigations by the Russian authorities, both men were found guilty and jailed, but there was no evidence that Ilyumzhinov was in any way responsible.

It's a fact of life that people are judged by the company they keep. Ilyumzhinov has sought the company of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and of Syrian leader Bachar Assad, all totalitarian dictators who are/were pariahs in the international community. I can't think of a single meeting with any respected, democratically elected leader. On top of these terrestrial contacts, the FIDE President is proud of his alleged extraterrestrial contacts; see Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Aliens by Edward Winter for documented evidence.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is free to meet with whomever he wishes to meet, and FIDE officials are free to use his likeness wherever it suits them. That is their business. I, for my part, am free to judge his actions according to my personal standards, and I don't want my children or grandchildren to come into contact with this man or with any program that he has designed. I also don't want any part of their school system to be modelled after any program designed for a totalitarian society.

The foregoing is bad enough, but there is a second problem with the FIDE 'Chess in Schools' booklet. Ilyumzhinov has announced his intention to run again for the office of FIDE President when his current term expires next year. His opponent will be former World Champion Garry Kasparov. Although Kasparov has done much for the 'Chess in Schools' concept, his efforts are never given credit. The only mention of his name is a trivial anecdote in the section on Turkey.

Two pages of the booklet are used to describe the 'Chess in Schools' endorsement by the European Parliament, an action which came about because of Kasparov's work together with Silvio Danailov, the current President of the European Chess Union. Their efforts are never given credit. In contrast, the efforts of former World Champion Viswanathan Anand are given two full pages plus various other references.

If the 'Chess in Schools' program is to succeed, it should not be used as a battleground for FIDE's internal politics. To do so will insure its failure.

Despite these shortcomings, there is much in the FIDE booklet that is valuable. I'll cover the positive aspects in another post.

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