Kasparov's Keynote Address

9/14/2004 – Garry Kasparov, the world's number one chess player, is very active in world politics. As chairman of the oppositional "Committee 2008" in Russia Kasparov was invited to speak to the Baltic Development Forum in Hamburg, Germany. As usual he did not hold back with sharp criticism of the Russian government. We bring you the entire compelling address.

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The Annual Baltic Development Forum Summit is convening its sixth annual summit in Hamburg, from September 12 to 14, 2004. The Forum summit offers a platform for debating key issues of importance to decision makers in the region. This year the official programme is "The Baltic Sea Region at a Crossroads – New Business or Business as Usual". Leaders have the opportunity to meet with partners from politics, business, academia and media of the ten Baltic countries.

The Baltic Sea region comprises ten nations: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden. Together they have more than 100 million inhabitants, consumers equivalent to more than one third of the US market and growth rates higher than most major economies in Europe.

The region boasts stable democracies, institutional structures favourable to business, proximity of markets, good infrastructure, high levels of education, strong industrial traditions and a shared history of co-operation and trade. The enlargement of the EU represents a unique opportunity to reintegrate the region and establish the Baltic Sea area as a leading growth and trading centre.

The keynote speaker on the second day of the Forum Summit was chess champion Garry Kasparov, who on the morning of this Monday learned that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin had just ordered a sweeping overhaul of Russia's political system with an aim to further strengthening the Kremlin's control over the legislative branch and regional governments.


Kasparov checking for the latest news from Russia on the Internet

All day Kasparov worked on his speech, trying to weave in remarks addressing the latest developments in his country. At six p.m. he arrived at the venue of the Baltic Forum to deliver his keynote address in a special, very well-visited session.


The main building of the University of Hamburg where the Baltic Forum was held

We bring you the entire lecture, which lasted just under twenty minutes. Afterwards there was a very animated half-hour Q&A, which we have videotaped and will bring you on a future issue of ChessBase Magazine.


Garry Kasparov – Baltic Development Forum address

Hamburg, Sep. 13, 2004

1. Thank you for inviting me here this evening. There is nothing wrong with focusing on business, but in Russia today business is politics. The government is taking over every facet of the country and the commercial sector is no exception.


Kasparov at the rostrum of the venerable University auditorium

2. To speak positively about Russia and Europe we must separate the current Russian administration from the citizens of Russia. The rich culture, creativity, knowledge, and humanity of our people are still alive and are worth more to the world than all of Russia’s oil.

  • In fact, even Russian oil is a mixed blessing, considering that high oil prices are the only thing propping up the Putin regime. If you look around the world, most citizens in oil-producing nations don’t seem to benefit from its riches. And oil, like the rest of Russia’s many great natural resources, must have markets and an open route to these markets.

3. Russia must join with Europe. For social and economic reasons this union is essential for the Russian people. The European traditions of democracy and the relative economic stability will help Russia become a modern state. The Russian people are as hungry for such cooperation as they were for those famous first Big Macs in 1990. Now that Moscow McDonald’s is the busiest in the world. It’s not a very scientific measurement, but perhaps it serves as a good indicator that the average Russian is ready to join the rest of the world.

  • Russia offers Europe and the world a long tradition of scientific expertise and innovation. A curious example is that the best computer hackers in the world are Russians. If they had economic opportunities they could be creating a European Microsoft instead of pirating software and creating viruses.

4. Standing in the way of such integration is the Putin regime’s mixing the past and present. Russia is still viewed with great suspicion by many of its neighbors and with good reason. Don't think that the past is better left undisturbed. Without cleaning up the past there can be little progress in the future. The European and Russian leadership are living in different worlds.

  • One example is how the notorious 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Stalin and the Nazis is being actively defended in Russia's state-controlled press these days. As are result of this pact, the USSR attacked Finland, invaded the Baltics, took part of Poland, and helped ignite World War Two. To have a mature relationship Russia must come clean, to recognize the crimes of its Soviet predecessors.

5. Confession is good for the soul, and it would also indicate an acceptance of the universal moral values that the Kremlin currently denies. These western values are a common language that the Putin administration doesn’t know how to speak. How can there be a resolution in Chechnya when Russia won’t even admit that what the Soviets did in Eastern Europe was wrong?

6. The Soviet past is still dominating the Russian present and politics. Putin said it himself: “We lived in a great country. Unfortunately this country proved inadequate in modern conditions.” Which is it? That’s like saying you lived in a great house, but it didn’t have plumbing. The Soviet Union could not be and cannot be part of today’s Europe. The only way it could in the past was by conquest. We must distinguish between the modern Russia we want and the Soviet past Putin is trying to rebuild.

7. In the Russian press there is no room for the Committee 2008 and a real opposition. But there is room for nationalists and Stalinists who are mourning for this "great country." They would deny basic democratic values. They say would be better off with Stalin, because at least then everyone was scared of us! This “return to glory” talk is becoming increasingly prevalent. Nazi propaganda banned in Germany, but not in Russia.

8. Unfortunately that’s not the only way in which President Putin is showing himself to be a good Stalinist. In almost every way he is still speaking the old Soviet language. He is cracking down on freedom of the press, preventing free commerce, and has turned Russia away from the democratic path.

  • Just today Putin announced that as part of his security measures against terrorism, direct elections of regional governors should be abolished. Local parliaments will have to stamp their approval of his selected candidates. Just when we need more democracy, Putin takes steps to eliminate it. Western politicians may say, well, technically, the Russian constitution doesn’t prohibit it. If the West remains quiet we can expect similar changes to presidential elections very soon.

9. Even the lucrative oil market in Russia doesn’t operate on the standards of the civilized world. The Yukos / Khodorkovsky scandal has had a devastating effect on the economy. Yet we hear from short-term speculators that this was okay, a one-time thing. Money can still be made in speculation, especially if you have inside information. Western governments don’t seem to mind this persecution. They have the same short memory as state-controlled Russian media.

  • This business crackdown is also related to security. It’s very hard to chase terrorists when your hands are full of loot. Yukos paid more tax per barrel of oil than any company, but now we hear they didn’t pay enough. Yet other companies continue without any visible problems from the Attorney General. Being a good servant of the state saves you a lot on your taxes!

10. A new book by Financial Times man in Moscow, Andrew Jack, has this to say about Vladimir Putin: “Teflon personality designed to draw out his interlocutors without revealing much about himself. Saying what they wanted to hear, and promising what they thought, while not necessarily believing or planning to implement it.” That’s also a good description of this Kremlin administration and how it talks with its Western counterparts. It tells them what they want to hear with no intention of doing it.

11. Not only is it impossible for Europe to deal with this Russian administration, they should not even try. Embracing someone who is walking in Stalin’s shoes is a disaster for Russia and a moral failure for Europe. Europe has to serve as an example for democracy and pressure the Kremlin for change. You can’t excuse Putin for merging the Soviet past with the Russian future, trying to “keep the good.” It must be purged.


Kasparov in the Q&A session after his 20-minute keynote speech

12. Instead of applying pressure, Schroeder and Chirac are extending a double standard that is very damaging for the Russian people. This is no time for realpolitik. Five years of accommodating the Putin government has achieved only the almost total loss of democratic freedoms in Russia. Any meeting of the G-7 that includes Putin is considered, back in Russia, as approval of Putin’s domestic policies.

13. The western leaders who keep hoping that dealing with Putin will produce reform are like chessplayers who only want to attack the enemy king. Such one-dimensional strategy is not effective in chess or in politics. You have to learn to play against the pawns, to play on all sides of the board. If you can convince the opposing pawns and pieces to join your cause the enemy king cannot long stand alone.

14. The terrorist horrors of the last month have highlighted how far the Kremlin has gone back in time to the Soviet days. There was no negotiation in Beslan, only total secrecy during and after the crisis. Stalinist paranoia is in display both in the state controlled media and in the parliament. Now the Kremlin is blaming the West and the United States for a global conspiracy against Russia and for aiding terrorists. Meanwhile they are firing newspaper editors of whose coverage the Kremlin disapproved.

  • Unfortunately, blaming the US for everything that goes wrong is also fashionable in much of Europe. By no means can Europe afford to let Putin play this game of playing Europe versus America to advance his own agenda.


With fellow Committee 2008 activist Yevgeny Kiselev, former head of Russia's NTV news, currently Editor in Chief of the one of the few independent news outlets remaining in Russia, the Moscow News.

15. With such paranoia being promoted in the across the country you can understand the Russians’ suspicion of the expansion of NATO and the European Union. The public image with the average Russian is exactly where the EU must pursue its agenda. Go to the people, not the government and the elites. The Putin regime clearly prefers ties to Iran and Syria over cooperation with Europe. Don’t woo the leadership, find ways to promote a positive image to the Russian people.

  • There are things to be done at the economic ground level, starting small. The big corporations are eager to look for shortcuts and cut big deals through the government.

  • The West must put pressure on the Russian leadership to conform to the ideals of the global community. They may act like them, but they are not the old Soviet leaders, they are vulnerable to pressure. They keep their money in western banks and travel to the Cote d’Azure. If you talk tough instead of giving lip service they will have to listen.


    Interview in his hotel suite after the lecture – here with Danish journalist Flemming Rose

16. The average Russian gets his impression of Europe not from Schroeder’s talks with Putin, but from the length of the queue for a visa at the German embassy. There are endless questionnaires and increased scrutiny about technicalities for everything related to the Russian people visiting and doing business with Western Europe. Europe is toughening requirements and closing doors instead of encouraging more friendly contact. The Putin regime is not prepared to talk the language of common values and friendship, but the Russian people are.

17. I’d like to end on a positive note. Considering how things are going in Russia right now that takes considerable work and optimism. Taking policies from the Communists is a failure, but I will take just one sentence from an old Italian Communist leader, Antonio Gramsci: “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”


Panoramic view from the 25th story of the hotel, with dusk breaking over the city of Hamburg


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