Considered the strongest chess player (Garry Kasparov dominated the chess scene for 21 years. He holds many tournament records and he is widely known for losing a rematch against Deep Blue in 1997, which is populary misrepresented as the computer surpassing humans in chess.) of all times, Garry Kasparov retired from professional chess in 2005—after having achieved everything a chess player could—to concentrate on Russian politics. His possibly toughest match yet.
Democracy and freedom are abstract concepts and there are techniques that allow people with sufficient power to deal with opposition without physical attacks. Labeling the opposition as (usually Western-sponsored) enemies is often a good start, which will justify a harsher treatment in defense of the country’s interests. Being proactive and not allowing opponents on air to get their message out is instrumental. An establishment that can influence the media won’t waste energy on competing with other ideas (which could be difficult), and can concentrate on promoting its own narrative instead. Legal obstacles represent another favorite in the arsenal of staying in power. These can range from prohibitive requirements to outright bans. A more creative step is to invent your own opposition. That could be the interpretation of the new liberal party Pravoye Delo (Right Cause). The leader of one of its three founding parties conceded: “It’s the reality in this country… These days you can’t form a party without the Kremlin.” Pravoye Delo is not in the opposition but it can conveniently sap away the support of some liberals.
Some of the Victims
- Famous for her Chechen war coverage and the author of the book Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot dead on October 7, 2006.
- Russian dissident and former member of fsb (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, the successor of kgb.), Alexander Litvinenko, died on November 23, 2006 after being poisoned with radioactive polonium. He made numerous allegations against the Russian government.
- Larisa Arap was illegally hospitalized in a mental institution against her will and kept under drugs in 2007 following the publishing of her article on the mistreatment of children at psychiatric clinics.
- Magomed Yevloyev was shot in the head in a police vehicle on August 31, 2008. He exposed a mass voter fraud in Ingushetia during the 2008 Russian presidential election.
It was estimated that 21 journalists were killed since 2000.
Kasparov is a very outspoken critic of the Putin’s regime; maybe too outspoken. “I do not talk in details—people who knew them are all dead now because they were vocal… I am quiet. There is only one man who is vocal, and he may be in trouble,” said a former KGB general about Kasparov in 2007. The reason for Kasparov not being in the kind of trouble one would expect is his name. He is an internationally recognized figure frequently appearing in Western media. But he still remains a subject to some bullying: A year ago, he was detained during a demonstration and sentenced for five days on grounds of resisting arrest. His cooperation with radical left- and right-wing activists is a double-edged sword.
Kasparov is the author of the book How Life Imitates Chess. I see some discrepancy here though. Kasparov would never keep playing in a position where the odds were so much against his favor; just waiting for the other player to blunder would be an insult. As he often explains in interviews, he feels he has to try and do something, or become indifferent and leave the country. However, life is often very unlike chess. A sharply falling price of oil will not wreak havoc in your chessmen, yet for the current regime in Russia the fall from 145 to less than 50 USD per barrel could prove fatal.
Does Kasparov recognize that the analogy between politics and chess is limited? Yes, he conceded: “In chess, there are rules.” In defense of his book, I would say that life does imitate chess in the sense that there is a group of spectators, intently following the battle on the chessboard, but in this match, they need not remain silent.
After this article was largely completed, I discovered a captivating interview conducted by Bill Maher during Kasparov’s presidential candidacy in 2007. I found it insightful and engagingly funny.