Columns | November 04, 2010 16:01

How chess politicians can help chess journalists

Should chess journalists be committed to supporting chess bodies like FIDE, their national federations or the European Chess Union? Of course not! Should these bodies support chess players and journalists when they're in serious trouble? You bet.

During this year’s ECU Presidential elections, then-candidate Silvio Danailov came with a surprising proposal of establishing a European Chess Union "advisory board" of ... journalists. For obvious reasons this wasn’t taken very seriously at the time but in a cruel twist of fate, a famous Russian chess player and journalist may now be in need of help from official chess bodies himself. It was, of course, a somewhat off-the-wall idea, announced by ECU Presidential candidate (and now President) Silvio Danailov, in his usual way of trying to sound completely rational while not being able to altogether shake off the suggestion of self-interest:

Mr. Silvio Danailov has the pleasure to invite officially all European chess journalists to support his idea and to be personal committed and involved in the process of creation of the Club of the Chess Journalist. Dear journalists, you know and you can help for the better future of the European chess.

"Personally committed"? What's that supposed to mean, anyway? Doesn't Danailov know or care about objectivity and independence as the highest values of any self-respecting journalist? How, then, can journalists be expected to help the ECU out? Anyway, perhaps it was just, as we say in Dutch, a little "air balloon" to provoke comments and generate publicity for his ECU candidacy. At the time it was hard to imagine a situation where official chess organisations such as FIDE, the ECU and the Russian Chess Federation (RCF) might be the last resort for one of the most respected Russian journalists, Ilya Odessky, whose family is threatened by criminals. In a letter posted at the well-known Russian ChessPro forum, Odessky (also author of the acclaimed Play 1.b3!, very positively reviewed on this site) appealed for help from forum members to resolve a "great misfortune" that struck him and his family. Odessky wrote:

We’re being threatened by criminals. Each day a telephone rings 10-12 times. They phone mobiles and also our home number. They can phone at 9 in the evening, or at 5 in the morning. They threaten physical violence. The theme is always the same: it’ll be worse than last year. Last year they beat my father until he was half-dead. They hit his head, his face, his kidneys. They took away his passport, his pension certificate, the keys to his flat. They inflicted many injuries. Later that led to my father having a serious illness. He had to undergo a major operation to remove a kidney. Since Spring I’ve been forced to refuse any trips. I cancelled Dagomys, Astrakhan, Poikovsky… At the last moment I even declined to travel to the Olympiad. I did whatever I could to ensure my father was safe. Now the situation has worsened. The criminals are literally at the door. They ring the intercom. The threats are the same.

This is not an isolated incident in today's Russia, where the crime rate is among the highest in the world. It seems chess players and journalists are hardly immune from it. Three years ago, in October 2007, Russian IM Sergey Nikolaev was killed in Moscow by a violent gang of skinheads. In 2005, Garry Kasparov himself was assaulted in Moscow after a meeting with activists. But even knowing who's actually behind the threats, Odessky writes, doesn't really help him. The police say they can't do anything until "there are corpses". Only then will the man whom Odessky suspects of threatening him, be dealt with seriously. Therefore, Odessky asks the forum members to contact him in case they have "serious contacts within the state bodies" or "serious contacts with people who can effectively resolve such problems". Odessky's not asking for sympathy, but for the authorities to step in. Such authorities, of course, can also be FIDE, the ECU or - most logically - the RCF. After all, these bodies are led by people who can be considered highly powerful within their realm of influence. Perhaps it's time for RCF President Dvorkovich to "personally commit" himself in the spirit of his colleague Danailov's proposal, and take a first step towards building mutual trust between journalists and the powers that be by offering to help Odessky as much as he can? (It would also be an excellent opportunity for Mr. Dvorkovich to use the power he so agressively established in May in a positive way.) On Facebook and Livejournal, several attempts are already being made to bring this case to the attention of a broader audience. What's lacking isn't sympathy - it's concrete action. Influential people are not those commenting on forums, be it in Russian or English - people with influence have other means of getting what they want. And if they can, they should use it. After all, that is the main responsibility that comes with having such power - especially when people some of those politicians claim to depend on are in serious trouble.

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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll

Chess.com

Comments

silvakov's picture

did you read your own first paragraph? it is as contradictorial as it could be...
if anyone from any organization comes up and help Odesky, it can only be taken as "personal help"; just as you point out, if a journalist, to keep his impartiality, can't actively participate in a organ, this organ can't interfere with the journalist himself, it would produce biased judgement...
instead of such extreme situation, think about a simpler one: the journalist doesn't have money to pay his rent. should any organ, like FIDE, come up and pay for him?

journalists can organize themselves in associations and help each other; people, as individuals, can and SHOULD help in favor of life, against such disgraces like persecution; but it should be people with people, not RCF with journalist...

Arne Moll's picture

@silvakov: I think there's a difference between the nature of a journalist's job and a politician's job (and influence). Why shouldn't a politician be allowed to use his influence to do something that doesn't benefit him directly? Anyway, in the end, every action taken by a human being is in a way always, by definition, "personal", so in that respect I guess you're right.

S's picture

I don't think the "attack" on Kasparov is a good example. Be it the "board" attack or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dq_-Gf9rXhE .
I also don't understand why journalists should be helped by chess officials- should chess players be helped as well? How about amateurs who are members of a federation?
And I also don't think that Odessky is just asking " for the authorities to step in"; he clearly wants this threat removed by any means necessary -including stuff that you would count as "improvement" of the crime rate.

I bet there will be a marvellous discussion on this subject..

chess sets's picture

In a situation as desperate as Odessky's, moral support is the most valuable kind. That being said, I'm leery of the idea that influential members of the RCF should pull some strings to get an investigation moving; using the tools of corruption to fight a corrupt system only perpetuates that system, continuing the cycle of personal favors over the rule of law.

But even in a society with widespread corruption, public pressure can still motivate the authorities to take action. A public statement or letter of support by FIDE, the ECU and/or the RCF is one way to bring that pressure to bear.

I don't think it's too much to ask these organizations to rally around Odessky -- not just as members of the brotherhood taking care of their own, but as decent people who respect the law and value human life.
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