meet the president

Meet the President – Kalmykia

Al Jazeera meets Kirzan Ilyumzhinov, the head of Europe’s only Buddhist country.

Kirzan Ilyumzhinov, the president of Kalmykia

In Meet the President Al Jazeera gains exclusive access to world leaders who – for a variety of reasons – are more than just presidents.

In this episode of Meet the President Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull travels to the Russian Republic of Kalmykia to meet its chess-loving president, Kirzan Ilyumzhinov.

Situated on the north-western shores of the Caspian Sea, Kalmykia is the only Buddhist nation in Europe.

It is also one of Europe’s poorest and least developed regions, although Ilyumzhinov has big plans to change that and says he can see the country being not only one of the richest republics in the Russian Federation but in the world.

He made his first million US dollars when he was just 26 and when he was elected as president in 1993 he began investing his own money in the country.

He tells Al Jazeera that he has spent more than $2billion on roads and schools. Ten years ago there were no roads in Kalmykia, there were no gas pipelines and few houses had running water.

Now roads – albeit very bumpy ones – are appearing, 90 per cent of people can get gas in their homes and most households have running water.

But one of the achievements of which Ilyumzhinov is most proud is his nation’s love of chess. He takes Jonah Hull on a tour of Kalmykia’s Chess City.

Watch this documentary of Meet the President here:

This documentary of Meet the President aired from 28 May 2007

Watch Part One here:

Watch Part Two here:

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