There is nothing more peaceful than a game of chess. The excitement and passion of an ancient game have nothing to do with any physical confrontation between the players. Of course, history witnessed many interesting cases like the poisoning of a medieval chess master Leonardo da Cutri by an envious opponent, intentional infecting of an American grandmaster Harry Pillsbury with syphilis at a St. Petersburg brothel, and the political background of the Karpov - Korchnoi and Karpov - Kasparov matches… However, the essence and meaning of chess assume a purely intellectual nature of the peaceful movement of pieces across the board, which allegorically simulates actual fighting. It’s no wonder that a joke game colloquially named “Chapayev” (when the physical force is applied by knocking the chess pieces off the board with finger flicks) is put in contrast to chess in different contexts. There is a saying in Russian: We play chess with them while they play Chapaev...

However, as it turned out, if desired, even a peaceful chess game can be militarized and vulgarized. On July 1, the fourth stage of Russian Major League Chess Championship finishes in Kaliningrad. The tournament was symbolically launched in the evening of June, 21 at the open air Fort 5 museum. Actually, there is nothing wrong the idea. It’s part of the Chess in Museums program organized by the Russian Chess Federation in cooperation with the Charity Foundation by Elena and Gennady Timchenko (the latter is Vladimir Putin’s old friend from the times of a notorious Ozero cooperative, now an oligarch and a Finnish citizen). The early stages of this Major League were held at the Tretyakov Gallery and in the Russian Museum – a wise choice for a wise game.

But in these rough times, as Russia snarls at the global community, the masters of the Sicilian Defense should not remain on the sidelines of the national psychosis. So, the tournament is being finished at a military fortress and at the opening ceremony witnesses a choreography piece called “Chess and War”.

We have long been accustomed to a militarized dance routine, but imposing a choreographic idea on a chess base is really something unique. There were times when the idea of real people representing chess pieces on a larger scale board was popular. But something quite different was presented in Kaliningrad. Accompanied with the tragic and grim voiceover, two groups of dancers portrayed the fight between the forces of Good (one guy in a sailor suit and three girls in Red Army military uniforms) and Evil (one guy and two girls in Nazi uniform). Naturally, it’s the Dark to open but the Red to win. The choreographic piece, created in an out-of-date Soviet era style, strikes with a remarkable unity of text, shots from the new Russian movies about the war projected on the screen and moves of the dancers, who are more familiar with the elements of strip and twerking.

The most ridiculous part was “The pawns – they died in pairs, the losses were immense. And having left the squares, they went to fight in France.” [Rhymed translation from Russian]

But let’s not talk about the aesthetics of this idiotic propaganda as little has changed since the early times of the Cold War. More important is the pathos of the militarization of chess: you don’t just move the pawns across the board – a crazy “Queen” is put in her place in the end, and she is being told, “All other queens will be defeated. This is our message, you should read it.” [Rhymed translation from Russian] Meaning, beware, Europe (or, the US)!

We can see that the grandmasters of propaganda don’t lack creativity. There is no doubt that we will see more of such creative insights. It’s a shame though that we have to pay their price with the lives and health of thousands of Ukrainians.

Igor Levenshtein