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Nona Gaprindashvili: "They can't intimidate me. They can only kill me"

Interview with five-time women's world chess champion

The founding congress of the new United Democratic Georgia Party financed by oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili will soon be held in Tbilisi. The party is led by Nona Gaprindashvili, a five-time women's world chess champion. The head of the RIA Novosti office in Georgia, Besik Pipia, interviewed the legendary chess player in the oligarch's sprawling residence overlooking the Kura River.

Question: What twists and turns have brought you to this sumptuous palace? What do you, a chess player, have in common with a rebel business tycoon?

Answer: After the break-up of the Soviet Union and the formation of independent Georgia, I was approached and asked if I would head up the National Olympic Committee (NOC). I accepted the offer. I chaired the committee until 1996 while remaining the honorary president of the NOC. In 2004, Badri Patarkatsishvili was elected president of the Olympic Committee. It must be said that Mikheil Saakashvili really wanted him to take that job. He personally asked Badri to lead the campaign to revive Georgian sports.

It would be no exaggeration to say that Badri saved athletics in Georgia. He managed to stop the exodus of Georgian athletes abroad. Previously, Georgian athletes would leave the country, change their citizenship and compete in the Olympic Games under the flags of other countries. They did not just take part; they won medals for these countries. During the 2004 Olympics in Greece, they won gold medals for Greece, Germany and Uzbekistan. In short, Badri breathed new life into Georgian sports, providing everything the athletes needed for training, including monetary compensation, which was unheard-of in Georgia. While the government paid an Olympic gold medal winner $25,000, Badri paid $225,000.

So, it was athletics that brought me and Badri together. I thought it was my duty to be by his side in times of trouble.

Q: Why did Badri Patarkatsishvili and Mikheil Saakashvili have a falling out?

A: Because of the Imedi TV company, which was owned by Patarkatsishvili. The authorities were vexed by the criticism they heard on the channel, even though it was constructive criticism. Imedi did not sidestep delicate issues, drew public attention to high-profile murders, mass arrests, the illegal seizure of people and organizations' property, the state's extortion of money from businessmen and so on. Apparently the "rose" revolutionaries only like to be praised. The authorities tried to interfere in the TV company's editorial policy, but Badri fought them off. Then they offered him huge bribes if he sold Imedi. There was talk about exchanging Imedi for the Georgian Railways. "Imedi is my child, and one doesn't sell children," Badri replied.

Q: What is the goal of the new opposition party that you have agreed to lead?

A: The last presidential election has shown that hundreds of thousands of people support the program of reviving Georgia that Badri Patarkatsishvili has proposed. It would be wrong of us to leave these people in the lurch. Badri's campaign slogan, "Support, Breakthrough, Prosperity" still stands and it will be implemented.

Q: Badri Patarkatsishvili promised to spend about a billion dollars within 18 months if elected. He has not been elected. Who will receive payments for gas, electricity and water supply bills, unemployment benefits and sizable compensation ($2,000-3,000) for every newborn child? Members of your party? There are 2 million unemployed people in Georgia.

A: We are developing a scheme of social benefits and they will be given not only to members of our party.

Q: Do you face pressure from the authorities? For example, to leave Badri and drop out of politics and play chess instead?

A: In order to put pressure on someone, they need to have compromising materials. They can't dig anything up on me because there isn't anything. I have lived an honest and decent life. The authorities cannot make me budge. They can only kill me.

Q: How could a girl from the little known Georgian town of Zugdidi rise to the top of world chess and set a record that is still unbeaten? You are a five-time world champion, you won 11 Olympics and the European Champions Cup twice.

A: I was born in Zugdidi, a town I am very fond of, to the family of a teacher. My father, Terenty, taught accounting at a technical school and my mother, Vera Grigolia, was a housewife. She raised five sons and a daughter. All my brothers played chess, and I watched them and was sometimes allowed to play. Once a chess tournament for boys was held at the local Young Pioneers House and my brother could not play because he was sick. They were looking for someone to stand in for him and they chose me. I sat down at the chessboard and quickly beat my opponent, a boy several years older than me. I caught the trainer's eye.

Q: Do you have any budding champions in your own family?

A: My son David is 36. He works for a British company that clears mines in conflict zones. I have two grandchildren, Leri, 12, and Nikoloz, who is 18 months old.

I don't see any future champions in the country. Perhaps nature is taking a break in Georgia. For 40 years Georgian female chess players were the best in the world. My record has not been beaten, but it has been equaled by Maya Chiburdanidze.

Q: Do you have time to play chess nowadays?

A: I take part in various contests. I placed second in a chess veterans' tournament in Italy two years ago. I get many invitations from Russia and have played in tournaments in Siberia and the Urals lately. I was aware of the same warm feelings toward myself and the Georgian people as in Soviet times. It is bad when our leaders fight. Will the Lord forgive us? Will we be able to explain to Him how two Orthodox Christian countries have allowed their relations to deteriorate to such an extent?

Photo Besik Pipia

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