Fischer Tries Citizenship Maneuver
Chess legend Bobby Fischer has told Japanese authorities that he considers himself a German citizen, invoking his German-born father in an attempt to stymie any effort to extradite him to the United States.
Fischer is being held at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, where Japanese immigration officials seized him -- after a rough struggle, they acknowledge -- on July 13 as he tried to leave Japan for the Philippines. The Japanese government ruled Tuesday that it would deport Fischer for entering the country in April without a valid passport.
Washington canceled Fischer’s U.S. passport in December 2003 on the grounds that the onetime world chess champion is a fugitive. He is wanted for defying an order by President George H.W. Bush against traveling to the disintegrating Yugoslav state in 1992 to play a $5-million exhibition match against Cold War-era rival Boris Spassky.
Fischer said he never received notification that his passport had been revoked. He is expected to appeal the Japanese government’s deportation order before its deadline at midnight tonight, friends here said.
Meanwhile, speaking Thursday through a loosely organized committee of about 20 chess-playing supporters in Tokyo, Fischer made a countermove against the Japanese government. Noting that his father, Hans Gerhardt Fischer, was born in Berlin in 1908, Fischer said he was a German citizen, entitled to a German passport.
Under German law, anyone born before 1975 to a German father who was married at the time can become a citizen.
Significantly in Fischer’s case, Germany’s extradition treaties do not allow its citizens to be deported to face charges in other countries, German officials in Tokyo said.
“Bobby is without a doubt a German citizen by their blood law and he is entitled to a passport,” Russell Targ, Fischer’s brother-in-law, said in a phone interview from Palo Alto. “He has not committed any crime in Japan; he is only being held for not having a valid passport,” Targ said.
German officials in Japan said Fischer would have to prove that his father was a German citizen in March 1943 when Fischer was born in Chicago for citizenship rights to be passed on. They said Fischer would have to come to them in person if he wanted to apply for a passport.
Targ said he had acquired Hans Gerhardt Fischer’s passport and certificates of birth, death, marriage and divorce from surviving relatives and hospitals, all of which indicate Bobby Fischer’s father was a lifelong German citizen.
The charges against Fischer stem from the exhibition match held on the 20th anniversary of his historic victory over Spassky -- after which he disappeared from the public stage. The rematch in Yugoslavia, which Fischer also won, marked his first and last return to international competition.
Since then, the man many regard as the most daring and creative chess player ever, has lived reclusively and traveled almost constantly. His passport pages, posted on his website, show an itinerary wending from Japan to Hong Kong, Hungary and Austria over the last four years.
But it is Japan where Fischer has spent most of his time since 2000. He likes the anonymity of Japan and the country’s ubiquitous spas, friends said. Executives at Seiko, the Japanese watch company, said their software engineers have been working with Fischer here to develop an advanced chess clock.
Fischer’s Tokyo supporters called a news conference Thursday to demand that he be released and allowed to travel to Germany. They criticized the Japanese authorities for serving Fischer with a deportation letter before a full inquiry had been conducted.
And they accused the current Bush administration of pursuing Fischer to settle a score from the first Bush presidency, as well as to punish him for noxious anti-Semitic, anti-U.S. statements he has made on radio shows in Iceland and the Philippines in the last three years.
Most notoriously, Fischer went on a Manila radio station the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, praising the devastation as “wonderful news” and wishing the United States to be “wiped out” by its enemies.
“Bobby has said a number of really disgraceful anti-Semitic, un-American things,” said Targ, who has been estranged from Fischer since separating from his sister, Joan, in 1992. “He has disgraced himself as an American.
“But nobody else involved in that chess match has been punished. As a lifetime member of the American Civil Liberties Union, I don’t think he should be in prison for playing chess,” Targ said.
He said he worries about the mercurial Fischer’s ability to make the proper choices in defending himself, noting he has yet to hire a lawyer. “His decision-making abilities are not excellent,” said Targ, adding that he was the one who came up with the idea of invoking Fischer’s German roots.
Fischer’s supporters in Japan, on the other hand, insist that their friend remains sharp and up for the fight. “He is lucid, insightful and brilliant,” said John Bosnitch, a Tokyo-based Canadian journalist and chess player. He said he visits Fischer daily and had been appointed a “friend of the court” in Fischer’s defense.
“He is in no way insane. Not one iota,” Bosnitch said.
Fischer has said he was assaulted when he was taken into custody. “There are bruises on his face and broken teeth,” Bosnitch said, adding that Fischer told him he was “jumped by a number of men and beaten as he struggled to stand.”
Japanese immigration officials do not deny they used force to bring Fischer into custody.
“We tried to put the handcuffs on him but he resisted firmly,” said Yogi Koga, spokesman for Narita’s Immigration Bureau. “So we needed to take him with about 10 people because he’s a rather big guy.
“He may have gotten some light cuts or something. But he hasn’t asked for any kind of medical treatment.”