Pawn People


For 17 years, from 1993 to 2010 the little-known country of Kalmykia in Southern Russia had a President who seemed to be walking the fine line between adept governance and stark raving insanity. For one, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov strongly believes that he was abducted by aliens in 1997. In an interview in 2006, he claimed that aliens and visited earth to collect samples, and took him into their spaceship, a semi-transparent half tube.  “They took me from my apartment and we went aboard their ship,” he said. “We flew to some kind of star. They put a spacesuit on me, told me many things and showed me around.”

Ilyumzhinov's obsession with chess, while seemingly harmless, had deeper consequences. After assuming the position of the head of the World Chess Championships, he decided to make his own country a model to show how chess could rule the world. He changed the law to make 3 years of chess education compulsory for everyone. He built Chess City, a huge glass and steel microcity filled with chessboards, and fully equipped to host World Championships. Meanwhile, outside the dome, for miles in every direction, 300,000 Kalmyk people live in absolute poverty - sleeping in makeshift housing without running water.

Though the ex-President has been critiziced heavily for nearly bankrupting his country to fuel his obsession for chess, he does have some very vocal supporters. Florencio Campomanes, a former leader of the Chess Federation defends Ilyumzhinov by saying "Oh blah blah blah blah blah"

Image: Public Chessboard in Kalmykia via