Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Past imperfect II

So where were we? We'd been trying to reconcile Brigitta Sinka's memory of a boycotted Women's Olympiad in 1960, with the apparent fact that no such Olympiad had ever taken place, and discovered that an Olympiad had been planned for 1961, but apparently called off at the last minute since East German players were not granted visas. This in turn seemed to be connected to the creation of the Berlin Wall, which began in August of that year.

The idea was to try and get some contemporary account of the cancellation, for the purposes, as much as anything else, of clarifying the whys and wherefores: trying to establish, as my inner history graduate would like, what exactly happened and when.

Last week a commentor offered us this:

Now here's the British Chess Magazine from October 1961. (Thanks to Richard James for images.)

I'm still short of a thorough account, but absent further information I'm going to leave it there, at least as far the Women's Olympiad itself is concerned: at least we know there was an event planned and organised, we know that it was cancelled and we know the reason why.

In fact (BCM November 1961, page 312) there appeared to be a plan to reschedule it

but evidently nothing came of this. I guess it would be of historical interest to trace the whole fiasco from start to finish, including the chaos a last-minute cancellation must have caused (had competitors already arrived? surely tickets must have been paid for and bookings made?) and what happened to the proposal for a rescheduled competition in Poland. But as I say, I'll leave that for another writer on another day.

One thing that's emerged is that the ill-fated Women's Olympiad was only one of a number of events that were affected by the Berlin Wall crisis and the refusal to issue GDR competitors with visas. If we look at more of that page from November 1961 (it's Harry Golombek reporting on the FIDE congress in Sofia) we can see other events mentioned:

As mentioned last week, the BCF didn't hold the Students International Team Tournament, this being transferred to Mariánské Lázně. The Interzonal wasn't played in the Netherlands as planned and nor was it played in Spain or the USSR, but in Stockholm, where Fischer won at a canter and, as far as the East German representative is concerned, drew with Wolfgang Uhlmann.

There's some background to this (which you can read on Google Books if you're careful scrolling) in "A Game of Political Ice Hockey: NATO restrictions on East German Sport Travel in the Aftermath of the Berlin Wall", by Heather L Dichter, in Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945 by Dichter and Johns (eds) et al, University of Kentucky Press, 2014. To summarise - the bar, in NATO countries, on issuing visas to sporting competitors for the GDR (and, I'm guessing, other cultural and official representatives, though I don't know that) was originally there because NATO members had agreed not to recognise the GDR. It dated back years, i.e. it wasn't induced by the creation of the Wall, and it's not clear to me that it was generally enforced - in fact it can't have been, in chess anyway, since East Germany had sent a team to the Munich Olympiad of 1958. (I note, too, that in football, Wales hosted the East German team in a World Cup qualifier in 1958.)

Indeed it's hard to see how the various chess events could even have been contemplated for the UK or the Netherlands*

BCM August 1961, page 225

had the refusal of visas been contemplated.

But then in August 1961 the Wall and the balloon went up, the visa policy was enforced, and that was that. The second Emmen Olympiad never happened and Brigitta Sinka never played in one. And it was, it seems, subsequently thoroughly forgotten. Hopefully, thanks to Ms Sinka and her interviewer, we have succeeded in bringing it back to the notice of chess history.

[* EDIT 15 July - Mark Weeks observes that the proposed Internzonal date must have been January 1962, not 1962]
[Thanks to Richard James, Roger de Coverly, Mr Burger and Gordon Cadden]


Anonymous said...

I wonder when the policy was quietly dropped. Uhlmann for one, reappears in Western events not so long after. Perhaps it was realised that if you denied visas to GDR residents, you were helping to enforce their own government's policy of no travel to the West introduced by the Berlin Wall and not overturned until 1989.


ejh said...

The article I linked to via Google Books says that the policy ceased to be in any way workable after the IOC recognised the GDr in tie for the 1968 Olympics. (Prior to that there was an all-German team, which seems to have been the case in other sports too.) Shortly after that the West German government changed its approach to the GDR anyway.

What the article doesn't do in any particular detail is go through examples of the policy being implemented, or not being implemented, in sport after the immediate aftermath of the Wall going up, i.e. 1961-2. It does give an example or two of events being transferred from NATO countries because the visas restrictions meant they couldn't be properly organised there. Oddly though I note that the 1966 Women's Olympiad was held in Oberhausen, West Germany - and an East German team competed, coming third.

Anonymous said...

I did a check as to where Uhlmann played in the early 1960s. He doesn't appear to have played in a NATO country until Hastings in 1965-66.

I had to look up the names of other GDR players on the Olimpbase site. One of them Pietzsch played in a tournament at Dortmund in 1961, but after that only Eastern or neutral venues. Cuba, for the Capablanca Memorial, seems to have been a favoured destination.


Anonymous said...

Wolfgang Pietzch actually became a GM at a time when the title was still quite an exclusive one (far more so than today) He is almost forgotten now.