Be a brave woman and play in Nalchik!

Nalchik is the chosen place of FIDE for the Women´s World Championship to start at the end of August. This town of 270 000 inhabitants in the Russian Republic of Karbadino-Balkaria lies close to the highest Caucasus peak Elbrus, but is mainly known for what happened there in October 2005. Gunmen attacked police stations, a prison and the airport. About 140 people were killed. The gunmen were said to be Chechens (the usual culprits in Russia) by officials which seemed plausible enough, as the Chechen capital Grosny is the next big town to the East. But many believe the gunmen to have been separatists of a different ethnic group. Some eye-witness reports can be read here.

After the attacks more Russian security forces have been brought to Nalchik. But there are constant rumours of shootings and killings in and near the town which suffers from a depressingly high rate of unemployment. Thus, not everybody is convinced that the situation is under full control. It would seem that the Russian government wants to use the Women´s World Chess Championship to prove it.

I asked a few of the qualifiers what they think. Iweta Rajlich admits that she has been trying to avoid the question so far. She adds that she would certainly not go if she was pregnant. Katia Atalik has already made up her mind. She won´t play as, even if she could somehow convince herself that she wouldn´t have to fear for her life, she couldn´t concentrate in the heavy presence of security forces. And then there are speculations that the tournament may yet be postponed and moved elsewhere at short notice, as has happened earlier with FIDE events.

PS: The German Foreign Service is warning not to travel to Karbadino-Balkaria for safety reasons. The magazine Schach reports that the German federation´s coach Uwe Bönsch is not allowed to travel to Nalchik, and that the federation has advised its players Elisabeth Pähtz and Marta Michna Keti Kachiani-Gersinska not to go. The battles of the last few days in nearby South Ossetia will certainly not help to calm down those who are concerned.

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