Kasparov vs. the Kremlin

1/21/2004 – In the last election the party backed by President Vladimir Putin won more than 300 seats in the 450-seat Duma. Now a group of leading Russian liberals, including world chess number one Garry Kasparov, have set up a committee with the stated purpose of working for fair elections – in 2008.

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The BBC news service and the Washington Times are reporting that Garry Kasparov will lead a group of Russian liberals in an effort to keep President Vladimir Putin from staying in the Kremlin after 2008. The group admits it cannot stop the popular president from being re-elected this March, but has vowed to fight any efforts to extend his term. The new movement, "2008: Free Choice", includes liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, Soviet-era dissident Vladimir Bukovsky and TV political satirist Viktor Shenderovich, whose programme was recently taken off the air.



Kiselyov, Parkhomenko, Kasparov and Nemtsov laying out the goals of the Committee 2008: Free Choice on Tuesday. Foto: Itar-Tass

The Moscow Times reports that Kasparov's group sees no hope of challenging President Vladimir Putin in this year's March election and have formed a movement to find a "democratic alternative" in 2008. "We must have guarantees that the elections are a fight between different forces," said Kasparov, the head of the Committee 2008: Free Choice group.

The group said it will be financially independent of the oligarchs to guarantee its freedom. "We decided to chip in $200 each. ... The most important thing is that the sponsor will not only be one person but, let's say, a lot of people putting in $200 apiece," said Irina Yasina, a member of the committee.

Joanne Pittaway summarizes the Russian news on the topic:

Chess, so often the metaphor of choice employed in political journalism, has become a very real campaign partner in Russian politics as Garry Kasparov was formally presented as the chairman of the newly founded Committee 2008: Free Choice, a pressure group aimed towards ensuring a fair and democratic succession to the Russian presidency.

Last December, elections were held in Russia to the Duma, and this year the electorate of the country will again be going to the polls to choose a president. Vladimir Putin, the present leader of the country, is expected to win easily in a campaign that has already been marred by voting discrepancies and allegations of corruption, the themes of which have already been touched upon in this ChessBase report. Recognising that 2004 is too soon to make a difference, Kasparov asserted that in 2008 Russia, "Must have guarantees that the elections are a fight between different forces," in order to ensure that the next president is a “representative of the people…and not just Putin’s heir.”

The Committee is made up of leading members of Russia’s liberals. At the lunchtime press call with Mr. Kasparov was the Union of Right Forces leader; Boris Nemtsov, and the journalists Yevgeny Kiselyov and Sergei Parkhomenko. Boris Nemtsov has been a leading figure in Russia’s ‘new’ political system for some years now, coming to prominence under Boris Yeltsin. Kiselyov saw his independent TV station ‘TVS’ closed down in July 2003. The reason given was financial, but it is widely known that it was silenced due to its criticism of the Putin regime. Recent estimates are that 85% of the media in Russia is now state owned, something of a step back for a country which once so proudly threw off the shackles of communism and declared it would embrace both democracy and freedom of speech.

This is not the first time that Garry Kasparov has entered the political life of the country. In 1990, Kasparov co-founded Democratic Russia, the forerunner of the democratic and liberal movements in the country. Then in 1996, Kasparov allied himself with the late General Alexander Lebed in his movement “The Third Force”, a pairing in which Kasparov was criticised for what was seen as mere courting of the public’s favour.

Though the Committee members were positive about the effect that they could have on the country, other attendants at the christening of Kasparov’s new baby today were less than congratulatory. Sergey Mitrokhin, a leader of Yabloko, the liberal party that has lost badly in the recent elections, voiced the common complaint amongst the doubters that the democratic movement in Russia needs active participation in the electoral process, not another democratic structure to add to the many that already exist there. It should be noted though that at this time, no member of Yabloko has been asked to join Committee 2008. Interestingly, Boris Nemtsov also announced today that he would be standing down as leader of his party, the Union of Right Forces, to take a back-seat role.

Time will tell whether Committee 2008 will really make a difference in a country where that is what is so desperately needed; differentiation and choice. At present, though no one can deny that things in Russia are more stable than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they are still a long way off from democracy. However, chess fans know that Garry Kasparov is always a man who faces a challenge head-on. Let’s see how he fares in his toughest match yet; Kasparov vs. the Kremlin.


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