Lunch with Gorbachev
August 1, 2011 3:51 am
Interview with former Russian President Gorbachev
Vlad Tkachiev: Mikhail Sergeyevich, could you tell us about chess in your life?
Mikhai Gorbachev: In my youth it was a crazily simple pastime. The war, 1942, and our army was in retreat, with many refugees moving from the east to the west. That included the Gorbachev family, which arrived from Salsk (near Rostov). There were three of us, friends, in the village of Privolnoe (near Stavropol): Fyodor Reshchenko, Viktor Legkich and myself. And Viktor, born in 1930 (he’s still alive now), played chess well. The first thing we started to do was to carve pieces out of wood. Viktor explained what was what to us, the rules of the game, and we began to play. And then the most improbable thing started to happen, upsetting my mum and everyone else, because with such a mass of obligations in that country house – animals, the garden, bringing water – we weren’t interested in all that and just hid away somewhere and played non-stop. And that went on for a long time. Probably about 5 years, as I also played after the war. It only came to an end when I went to university, and my studies took up too much time.
V.T.: And did you ever play chess against the people you negotiated with?
M.G.: No, I don’t play anyone just now. I followed Lenin’s path. After returning from Capri he nevertheless gave it up. Chess demands a great deal of time, though, by the way, they say Lenin played extremely well.
V.T.: And do you agree with Lenin’s claim that “Chess is the gymnastics of the mind”?
M.G.: Did he really say that?
Gorbachev’s assistant: “That was Suvorov”.
M.G.: It turns out our leaders took that phrase and claimed it as their own. Chess, in my view, is actually the best pastime. Boldin (who ran the Office of the USSR President), Kryuchkov (KGB Chairman) and Yakovlev (a member of the Communist Party Politburo) often met in the evening to play in the Central Committee. There you go. And then those chess sessions ended in a coup, meaning chess was just the cover story for their meetings.
V.T.: And has it never seemed to you that there are a great number of parallels between politics and chess?
M.G.: I think that’s true, undeniably. Before you take any kind of decision you should be able to look 5-10 steps ahead, or else it’s not politics. It’s one thing when there’s a face-to-face confrontation and everything’s clear, but usually you have to calculate the consequences of this or that political decision, what the results of implementing it will be.
For me it’s as if there are two sides to the process. I’m a very conscientious person by nature, and when taking a decision I was always tormented by my conscience. That was at the forefront.