During the years of the Soviet Union, prominent figures would be airbrushed from history if they became an embarrassment to the USSR government.
The most prominent chess figure to suffer this treatment – and there were many – was Viktor Korchnoi (pictured cover and left), who defected to the West in 1976 and became a non-person.
Korchnoi’s past tournament performances were removed from books while his current successes were played down. Tournaments where Korchnoi was competing were boycotted, though this was not applied to World Championship events.
Korchnoi’s persona non grata status was extended to a bizarre extent in 1977 when newspapers reported that Tigran Petrosian had lost his Candidates Match and published the games, yet Korchnoi’s name was entirely absent from many reports – Petrosian had lost to a ghost.
Such absurdities were thought to have ended with the demise of the USSR but the publication of a recent Russian sports history book indicates that political censorship has returned.
In 2015 the Spartak Sports Club celebrated its 80th anniversary and published a book celebrating it’s greatest achievers.
The writer Evgeny Gik was asked to compose the chess section of the book and he concentrated on Spartak’s two World Champions, Garry Kasparov and Petrosian.
When the book was published, Gik was stunned to see that all the material and photos of Kasparov had been omitted, as had Kasparov’s name in the list of Spartak Members who had been awarded the Order of the Red Star or won Olympic gold.
The editor of the volume explained that he had no idea who had ordered the change – that it was someone higher up.
The President of chess’ world body FIDE, Kirsan Iljumzhinov expressed regret for the omission – “a purely political decision” – but explained that it had probably been done “because Kasparov talks too much.”
(It is notable that Kasparov is also missing from Spartak’s Wikipedia pages.)
Kasparov has, since his retirement in 2005, become a major critic of Vladimir Putin and no longer travels to Russia for reasons of personal safety – he has in the past been attacked and also arrested.
However Kasparov (pictured below) always believed that his chessboard achievements would ensure that he could not be ignored – a belief that may now be proving overoptimistic.
One prominent Russian chessplayer commented in 2012, to some scepticism, that every time he returned to Russia from a tournament, the country felt more and more like the USSR.
With Kasparov starting to be expunged from the record books, that fear is looking remarkably prescient.