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Libya, Oy

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If someone was going to break the omerta around FIDE's decision to hold the world championship in Libya, Boris Gulko was a logical candidate. (GM Sutovsky and the USCF have also spoken out.) The US GM and answer to the popular trivia question, "who is the only player to win the US (94) and USSR (77) championships?" has written an open letter to FIDE prez Ilyumzhinov. (See in full below.) Gulko is no stranger to speaking truth to power. He and his chessplayer wife Anna were famous refuseniks in the USSR and their hunger strike drew much attention. They were finally allowed to emigrate to Israel, where Gulko still holds joint citizenship.

The powerful letter protests staging the event in a country whose leaders denounce the "Zionist enemy" even while FIDE says all is well. Gulko and four other qualified American Jewish players will be absent from Libya, over half of the US contingent. (Goldin, Kaidanov, Stripunsky, and Benjamin are the others, although they have not stated their reasons to my knowledge.) Add Israelis Gelfand, Sutovsky, and Smirin and you have what should be a proper scandal.

Unlike the others, Gulko was actually going to play in Libya until Khaddafi fils started ranting about not letting the Zionists in. (He's in charge of the event.) It's bad enough that the event is in Libya, but cancelling the alternative venue of Malta added injury to insult. As I wrote in a below entry, imagine if this were being held in a country where they wouldn't allow Christians, or Chinese, or blacks.

I understand that funding is hard to find, and this event will put food on the table for many chessplayers for a few months. But Mohammad Khaddafi's sickening comments make it imperative for an alternative venue to be set up and a new invitation issued to all the players who are unable or unwilling to play in clearly hostile conditions.

An Open Letter to the President of FIDE, Mr. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, from Grandmaster Boris Gulko

You designated Libya as a host country for the World Chess Championship this year. From the beginning, this was a very controversial choice, considering the long history of terrorism that country has been involved in and the fact that Libya remains on the State Department’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Recently, of course, there have been signs that the country’s leader, Moammar Qadafy has changed his ways and is seeking to join the world community as a member in good standing. In light of that shift, and desiring to participate in the most important tournament of the year, I signed the agreement with FIDE regarding my participation in the World Championship. I considered it a positive development that the invitation of the Libyan organizers was extended to all qualified players and I bought a ticket to Tripoli.

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."

As you are undoubtedly aware, the phrase "Zionist enemies" refers to citizens of Israel and also to Jews generally. I am a Jew and I also hold Israeli citizenship (in addition to American citizenship). So the Libyan organizers have apparently withdrawn their invitation to me as well as to participants from Israel, a country that is a member of FIDE. This is a clear violation of the charter and spirit of FIDE.

In light of the Libyan statement, on May 6, I sent you a letter supporting Israel’s Chess Federation’s demand to move the World Championship to a more suitable country. On May 7, FIDE stated that the Libyan Organizing Committee has confirmed that the invitations to all participants remain valid. Yet until the government of Libya withdraws the statement of Mohammad Qadafy about “Zionist enemies,” participation in this tournament remains unthinkable. Already, with that designation hanging over them, a long list of Jewish players from the United States, Israel, Russia, and elsewhere are withdrawing.

Mr. President, I implore you not to be the first president of FIDE to preside over the first world chess championship from which Jews are excluded. Our magnificent and noble game does not deserve such a disgrace.

Sincerely, Grandmaster Boris Gulko
Former Champion of the USSR and USA
Fair Lawn, USA


Wow, what an amazingly clear and concise letter from a true champion! The last paragraph is especially moving, while at the same time respectful (more than deserved, I would say).

A minor point: surely "zionist enemies" was intended to refer to something to do with zionism and perhaps zionists? A category which does not include all Jewish people, as Mr. Gulko suggests (now why would he suggest otherwise?).

A broader point: "...imagine if this were being held in a country where they wouldn't allow Christians, or Chinese, or blacks..."

Imagine if one of these groups were running a country where only members of that group could have full citizenship and which regularly committed employed its army to commit violent crimes against the civilian population of walled-in occupied zones.

Start imagining that and you might also imagine a bit of international censure having a salutory effect on that country's behaviour.

I wonder whether any of us would feel the loss if Mr. Gulko and his fans stayed home playing chess, and stayed away from their keyboards?

Gulko made up some absurd and insulting story about Zionists "really" meaning Jews in Libyan political rhetoric. People bought that because everyone knows Libya is evil. That's all there is to it.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on May 11, 2004 8:07 PM.

    What About Bent? was the previous entry in this blog.

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