The Garry Kasparov Interview, Part 3

5/16/2005 – He has left chess behind, and so does this final installment of Mig's interview with Garry Kasparov. This segment provides details of Kasparov's political ambitions and opinions. What is the future of democracy in Russia, and what are Bush and other western leaders doing? Read about Kasparov's toughest fight yet.

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The Garry Kasparov ChessBase Interview, Part 3

New York City, the week of March 20, 2005 – Mig Greengard spent the week with Garry Kasparov and kept his new digital recorder handy. After that came the typing up 20 pages of transcript! (Yes, twenty.) Part 1 included retirement, computers and Deep Blue, and a look at Kasparov's own chess and other chessplayers. Part 2 discussed Kasparov's picks for his best games and career achievements, a look back, and the future of professional chess. This Part 3 focuses on his political ideas and aspirations.

POLITICS - The great game

To a certain degree, political involvement will be part of this big picture, using my experience to help play a role in helping Russia resurrect democracy. Right now it just doesn’t exist. First you need free elections, actually any election! Putin is pushing us to the stage at which the election will just be a coronation ceremony. The next parliamentary election is supposed to be in 2007, but the rules are so draconian already any party can be virtually denied participation if the Kremlin doesn’t like them. Presidential elections are in 2008, but they are already testing the water to change the constitution to make the president appointed by the parliament, which would be quite convenient. It’s all about looking at Putin’s record, which is unmistakable. At every turn he has moved to erase the democratic procedures from the political map in Russia.


Exchanging business cards after the famous Charlie Rose interview show.

There’s nothing wrong with being “the chess guy” in politics. How is being a chessplayer worse than being a general? As I’ve said before, we have too many generals and colonels in Russian politics and very little intellect. Russia is heading in the wrong direction and someone of my celebrity status can communicate the message. The opposition has no access to television, you can’t campaign. It’s not like politics in the civilized world. You don’t have a fixed environment where you can go on talk shows, raise money, campaign normally. There’s no healthy debate. Here you can hear both Bush’s view and Kerry’s view. Not just one, dominating the country.

Or both of Kerry’s views?

Yes! But in Russia today all of television is under control, the print media is mostly under state control, and there are very few media outlets that can afford to criticize Putin and promote out views. So my status can be an important entry. We’re not fighting for positions of high office, we’re just fighting to make sure we have campaigns, election, a chance for people to vote for or against us. We’re at a very early stage of a political fight. It’s about making sure democracy survives. Then we could consider the next steps.

By technical standards, Russia right now doesn’t even qualify to join the European Union, let alone the G7. I thought that stood for the seven great industrial democracies, but I don’t know in which part of that definition Russia fits into right now. “Great” you can argue, but as for “industrial” and “democracy,” it just doesn’t qualify. No free elections, no independent judiciary, no free media.

Some people say, and we know their names, Berlusconi, Blair, Chirac, Schroeder, to a lesser extent Bush, who at least has said a few things, they say that this is a special kind of “Russian democracy.” They didn’t buy this story from other people, from Pinochet, for instance. The West won the Cold War because of a strong moral stand. It stood on the pillars that guarantee its moral superiority. Today, it’s nice to talk about democracy in Iraq, but not at the expense of democracy in Russia. Making the world safe for democracy should have universal standards and application. If it’s split into regions, fighting for democracy here, but over here no, that’s not going to work.

Do you see yourself running for office?

That’s an open issue still. As a professional chessplayer I’m used to making projections in stages. If we don’t succeed I don’t see Russia having a real election in the foreseeable future. So it’s about raising protests to protect the mechanism of the elections. Everything else is just irrelevant right now. In the process of this fight we’ll find out from the people whether or not they want to listen to me and my associates, or anyone. If yes, then we might be able to mount enough support for a campaign. Many things will be decided and clarified during the process.


Soho photo shoot for his book. (Larger versions of similar pic here.)

Where do you start?

The first thing is to create what is the first, in my view, the first real opposition political force in Russia. We hope to combine support from different political groups. Putin’s regime is threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. They are realizing that democracy is not an alien invention. It’s something that can help them resolve conflicts, to be heard, to make life better for themselves.

We’re not starting from scratch, a certain amount of work has been done already. I’d made my decision to retire before Linares, and I didn’t do any real preparation for Linares at all. I was in St. Petersburg at an anti-Putin rally in February.

We have very little money available. It’s difficult for people to contribute because it can be dangerous for them. There are people who don’t want to give their names, but if you’re fighting Putin, here’s some cash and good luck. We’re relying on different businesses in Russia that are willing to channel some money without confessing to it.

My own goals were clearly stated in the WSJ article, I want my son to live in a free country. Whether or not I eventually run for office is not my main concern right now. I don’t want it to distract from our main course of having real elections. Right now, for me, it’s about making a difference, not ambition.

When Yeltsin took up power we thought we had what we needed, but he failed to clean up the bureaucracy and we slid back. It was too hard. He couldn’t dismantle the nomenklatura state.

For me it’s about being on the front lines. You can say I’m not a coalition builder or a charming politician, but Russia needs people to stand up, to be in the front line.

Left: Wife-to-be Dasha Tarasova

Isn’t this a dangerous game?

It is, definitely. Of course of I’m concerned about my personal safety, but so what? That’s part of the game today. Complaining about it won’t help the problem. I hired security and I do what I can for my family and myself. What more can I do? I could move to New York or London and enjoy life, but I don’t want the KGB to rule my country. It’s as if you asked me to play chess and gave me a bad position. I can’t complain, it’s not a good position, a few pawns down with our king under attack, but you have to play.

There are no guarantees I won’t end up in jail next to Khodorkhovsky. I can only rely on my reputation, which is very different from any of the guys involved in Russian politics right now. I made money, but not by stealing or privatizing or any of the business scams or political scandals. I always stood certain values and defended them over the last fifteen years. I have an intact record. If they want to go after me, they will have to break another barrier to do it.

Khodorkhovsky is in prison for doing things that other oligarchs are still doing in Russia, it’s quite amazing. It’s still being practiced by those who are loyal to the Kremlin. He’s not being punished for not paying taxes, but for wanting to pay taxes. He wanted transparency and wanted to pay taxes to the treasury while Putin and his cronies wanted the money to be delivered to the Kremlin in suitcases. Khodorkhovsky’s plan to make Yukos transparent was a deadly threat to Putin’s entire corrupt regime.

I don’t expect President Bush to protect me, I’m not stupid. They’ll be “seriously concerned” again, at most. But I believe there are limits to Putin’s power in Russia. He’s part of the bureaucracy and it only goes as far as it believes it can go and still maintain the status quo. Putin has to be a strong dictator for them. Right now the ground under him is very shaky. He’s not losing control, thanks to very high oil prices, but the general social unrest is there.

The incompetence and corruption of the government is quite obvious for the majority of people in Russia. The question is whether they feel any big change is appropriate or if it should take more time. If the Putin regime continues to go downhill, stability will be shown to be just an illusion that the western leaders would like to believe in. This supposedly stable Russia is supplying Iran with nuclear technology! The problem is that Putin’s Russia is doing everything to disrupt global stability. He’s trading Russian influence in areas of instability for gains at home.

I’m not appealing to the government, I’m talking to the Russian people. We are going to the regions, from town to town. There is the internet, a few media outlets. But in many regions people are ready to hear our case. People and businesses everywhere are being starved by the centralized Kremlin structure. All the money goes to Moscow.

Right: Computer fun with daughter Polina

Have you ever met Putin?

No, but unlike Bush, I don’t need to look into his soul, I look at his record!

How will you be organizing your time?

Politics are the top priority now, and will be for at least the next few months and maybe even for the next three years. But right now we have to move very quickly.

How will you define success in your political activities?

In Russia it’s very simple: if we have democracy reinstalled in Russia, we’ve been successful. If we have an election, and Putin’s policy of appointing officials is cancelled, that’s success.

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