Kalmykia documentary posted on YouTube

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Kalmykia documentary posted on YouTubeAn Australian documentary from 1998 about the Russian republic of Kalmykia and its leader Kirsan Ilyumzhinov created fuss among chess fans and journalists of countries where it was broadcast. Its significance stems from an interview with Larisa Yudina, a journalist critical of Ilyumzhinov, who was murdered not long after the documentary was shown on TV. It has now been posted on YouTube.

Today we were notified of a comment on the ChessPro forum, which has links to two videos on YouTube. It involves the 1998 documentary Kalmykia, produced in the Foreign Correspondent series by Eric Campbell, one of Australia's most experienced and award winning international reporters.

He was the Moscow Correspondent from 1996 to 2000 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, covering upheavals in the former Soviet Union as well as the conflicts in Afghanistan and Kosovo. In this period he also visited Kalmykia, where he created the documentary below.

Larisa Yudina, a journalist and editor of the newspaper Sovietskaya Kalmykia and a leading critic of Ilymzhinov's rule, is interviewed. At the time she was investigating irregular tax issues in Kalmykia, and about to publish her findings on the eve of the 1998 Chess Olympiad.

Not long after the documentary was broadcast, on 8 June 1998, Yudina was stabbed to death and her body dumped near a pond in Elista. Federal authorities took over the murder investigation and, in autumn 1999, convicted Sergei Vaskin and Tyurbi Boskomdzhiv, both with ties to Ilyumzhinov. The President of both Kalmykia and the World Chess Federation always denied any involvement with the murder.

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Later, Eric Campbell would write in his book Absurdistan (2005):

Four months later a stranger called Larisa's appartment claiming to have incriminating documents about Ilyumzhinov. She agreed to meet him outside. Neighbours saw her being driven away in a car with an official number plate.

She didn't come home that night. Her family waited with increasing dread. The next morning her stabbed and battered body was found dumped in a pond.

I read the news in the office in Moscow, staring at her name on the computer screen and feeling shocked and nauseuos. A woman I knew had just been murdered and it might have been for what she had told me. Anger welled up inside me - at Ilyumzhinov for what he did (I had no doubt his administration was behind the murder) and at myself for putting Larisa in danger.

Larisa had never been interviewed on Russian television so we gave our footage to the main network, NTV, which produced a half-hour story. It had an unexpected effect. President Yeltsin, momentarily back at work, condemned the murder, vowing that the killers would be found. Not trusting Kalmykia's police, the prosecutor-general sent federal investigators to take over the case. It took less than a week for two of Ilyumzhinov's former aides to be charged with murder. While the investigations were under way, Ilyumzhinov announced he would run for the Russian presidency.

The two men were convicted of murder but their boss denied any involvement. In an interview with Russian television, Ilyumzhinov claimed, 'The charges are unfounded and part of a Moscow plot to discredit a powerful regional leader.'

His pawn went to prison for life but the chess master remained free. He's still Kalmykia's president, he still heads the World Chess Federation and he even held the Chess Olympiad in Elista as schedule, less than four months after Larisa's death. Few players saw any need to withdraw from it. Moral bankruptcy was not confined to Kalmykia.


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