Bobby Fischer's beliefs turn him into political pawn

Eric Talmadge,  Associated Press
August 8, 2004

TOKYO -- As Bobby Fischer sits in a Japanese detention cell fighting a deportation order, supporters have described the wayward chess legend as a prisoner of politics, a man of convictions who has been mercilessly hounded by U.S. officials. But they have been careful not to go too far into just what Fischer's convictions are.

Stopped by Japanese immigration officials at Narita international airport just outside Tokyo on July 13 after trying to board a flight to the Philippines, the former world chess champion is being held for allegedly traveling on an invalid passport.

Fischer has not been allowed to speak publicly since, but supporters say he is appealing deportation on the grounds that his passport was revoked without due process. To avoid being sent to the United States, Fischer is also considering claiming German citizenship and is seeking political asylum in Japan or a third country.

His past statements could cloud his chances for success, however.

On a rambling Web site Fischer's supporters acknowledge to be his home page, Fischer launches numerous attacks on Jews and decries the "international Jewish conspiracy" and "Jew-controlled U.S.," which he says are behind plots to rule the world and ruin his life.

At one point, the site denies the Holocaust.

"The so-called 'Holocaust' of the Jews during World War II is a complete hoax! It never happened," it says. "The Jews are liars."

"Japan beware you're backing a loser," it adds. "Don't go down the drain with the filthy Jew-controlled U.S."

Masako Suzuki, Fischer's lawyer, stressed that Fischer's beliefs -- he has also hailed the Sept. 11 attacks -- should not be an issue in the deportation proceedings. But she acknowledged they could make Japanese officials less sympathetic to his requests for asylum.

"In reality, it can have an impact," she said.

Fischer's comments could become even more of a problem if he goes ahead with the plan to claim German citizenship. Supporters say Fischer, whose father was German, has the documents to do so but has not begun the application process.

Denying the Holocaust is considered a serious crime in Germany, and though there might be a legal nuance that would allow Fischer to go to Germany without fear of punishment, he would probably need to tone down his rhetoric if he wants to stay there.

In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government has been in touch with Tokyo and is aware that Fischer has a German father. But he said it was not clear whether Fischer would qualify for citizenship, or whether Fischer's position on the Holocaust would constitute a crime.

Fischer, now 61, has good reason not to want to return to his homeland.

He became an American icon when he dethroned Boris Spassky in a series of games in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1972 to claim America's first world chess championship in more than a century. But he lost the title a few years later and fell into obscurity before resurfacing to play an exhibition rematch against Spassky in the former Yugoslavia in 1992.

Fischer won the rematch on the resort island of Sveti Stefan and more than $3 million in prize money. But the victory came with a high price -- it was played in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed to punish former President Slobodan Milosevic. If convicted, Fischer, who hasn't been to the United States since, could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Still, his decision to play in Yugoslavia may pay off once again -- though it's a very long shot.

On Monday, officials in Montenegro indicated their country is willing to take Fischer in if the United States and Japan are open to sending him there.

Because Yugoslavia -- renamed Serbia-Montenegro last year -- was the site of the rematch, the country has a "moral obligation to help Bobby," said Bozidar Ivanovic, a top chess official there.

But President Filip Vujanovic indicated Tuesday that U.S. officials were not supporting the idea.

"Obviously, there aren't conditions for Fischer to be granted asylum" in Montenegro, he told state-run radio.

John Bosnitch, Fischer's de facto spokesman in Japan and founder of the Committee to Free Bobby Fischer, said Tuesday that Fischer has yet to decide whether to pursue the Montenegro option.

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