Ex-Chess Champ Pushing for Change in Russia
DEBORAH AMOS, host: Here in the States, we have more presidential candidates than we can keep track of. But in Russia, the opposition to President Vladimir Putin is much more complicated. A coalition called The Other Russia failed to come up with a presidential candidate in its convention last week, even though the group has gathered for protest since the spring.(Soundbite from news report)
Unidentified Man: Hundreds turned at in the city of St. Petersburg, but were met with force.
AMOS: That’s a news report about a police crackdown on The Other Russia in April. The group’s leader, Garry Kasparov, was detained in front of reporters and later arrested.(Soundbite from a news report)
Mr. GARRY KASPAROV (Former Chess Grandmaster): Tell your leaders that this regime is criminal. It’s a police state. They arrest people everywhere because they’re scared to speak, but we…
AMOS: Kasparov, of course, is the former chess grandmaster, regarded by many as the greatest chess player ever. In 2004, he started working closely with anti-Putin groups, and in 2005…
Mr. KASPAROV: And today I played my last professional game.
AMOS: He retired from high-stakes chess and entered the world of high-stakes politics. Garry Kasparov joins us now from St. Petersburg. Welcome to the program.
Mr. KASPAROV: Thanks.
AMOS: A Russian public opinion poll suggests that you have about 10 percent of the population’s favor, but Putin is up in the 70s. How do you explain his consistently high ratings?
Mr. KASPAROV: I don’t think we can rely on any public polls in the country where authoritarian regime is fully in control of mass media. People do not have access to proper information. They cannot make judgment about certain political events. I would recommend to concentrate on the polls that concentrate on issues that are important for ordinary citizens. And all these questions are showing that the government lacks any support from the mass of Russian population.
AMOS: I have often heard that in Russia, democracy there is called managed democracy. How would you define that?
Mr. KASPAROV: It’s either managed democracy or now Putin uses the word sovereign democracy. I believe that any adjective added to democracy is counterproductive because it’s an attempt to cover up the lack of democracy.
AMOS: Do you have to instill some sort of shift within Russian society to bring people around to the idea of democracy-democracy, the plain kind that isn’t hyphenated?
Mr. KASPAROV: It’s the $64,000 question and it’s probably most important for our success or failure in our fight in Russia, because in Russian political and cultural tradition it was not the case where people could see the connection between high living standards and political freedom.
But now they keep asking a simple question. Why at the time, when country’s treasury is filled with billions and billions of dollars from the oil and gas export, why at this time the living standards for majority of Russians are declining? And they are suspecting, yet they are not sure, but they are suspecting that it has something to do with the fact that there is very little, if any, of public control left in the country, which means that bureaucracy is fully in charge and the corruption is spreading.
The moment people recognize that political freedom is absolute must to control these corrupt bureaucracy, will be turning the table.
AMOS: You are known as the best chess player ever. And I wanted to know if you use any of those tactics as you’re figuring out how to challenge Vladimir Putin and the men who he will run in his place in the next election.
Mr. KASPAROV: I’m used to playing in accordance with the rules. And I know that I’m now facing the enemies that are not playing by the rules or even they change the rules at their convenience anytime they wish. But the lack of the rules is also the rule, and I have to make sure that we are not losing immediately under such circumstance.
AMOS: So you’re still playing political chess. Where are you in the game?
Mr. KASPAROV: I’m still, you know, on the weaker side of the board. But I think that the trend is working in our favor because one year ago nobody believed we had a chance. Now people believe that our chances are looking weak, but we’re still in the game. In four months I think you will be more bullish evaluating our chances to win.
AMOS: Well, we will be watching. Garry Kasparov is the former chess grandmaster, now heading up the anti-Kremlin coalition called Other Russia. Thank you.
Mr. KASPAROV: Thank you very much.
National Public Radio
(NPR)July 11, 2007