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[Interview] Garry Kasparov’s citizen call to arms

Garry Kasparov in the European Parliament (credit: EP May 2007)
Garry Kasparov in the European Parliament (credit: EP May 2007)

(Archives B2) Exclusive interview with the leader of the civic opposition in Russia, former chess player Garry Kasparov

You are a known chess player. Why did you start this political fight?

— It wasn't a sudden decision. When I retired from chess in March 2005, I had achieved everything that was possible in the world of chess. Making a difference and progressing has always been important to me and this was no longer the case in chess. At the same time, my country was in such a crisis, I wanted to help it, in any way I could make a difference and progress.

Why is the Putin system dangerous?

— It’s a whole system indeed. First of all, attacks on human rights and public freedoms are already a crime. Then we don't want to wait until he's so confident or panicked to start shooting people in the streets. It's true that today they stop us, by harassing us, arresting us or beating us. But it is clearly dangerous for anyone to oppose the plundering of Russia by Putin and his elites. This system is also dangerous because of the risk of chaos. Democratic systems have a natural balance. A mafia system, like the one the Kremlin has today, has no natural way to transfer power. If there is a fight for the presidency among the Kremlin oligarchs, it could turn into a bloodbath and lead to even harsher restrictions on citizens. At the international level, having a country led by a despot who has nuclear weapons and an energy monopoly is a danger for Europe. With personal enrichment as the only motivation, and no real electoral deadline or constitutional obligation to respect, Russia's leaders would become the natural enemies of their neighbors and the European Union.

Do you think Russian citizens could restore democracy and freedoms in Russia?

- Of course. Or I wouldn't do that. But, we face two main problems. One is the Kremlin's total control over mass media in Russia, particularly television. They provide a constant stream of propaganda about how wonderful Putin's administration is. At the same time, the opposition, whatever it may be, is suffering a veritable blackout. We like to say that one month of free and independent media in Russia would lead to the collapse of Putin's regime. The other problem is deeper. The shock treatment of the Yeltsin years (*) prompted many of my fellow citizens to associate democracy with economic difficulties and suffering. It is difficult to overcome these memories and explain that democracy was not to be blamed and that, now, it is our best hope. Since we have little access to the media, the only way to reach the population remains on the streets and on the Internet.

Are you risking your life?

— I am well aware of the dangers, of course. Many of my friends and allies have been murdered. I naturally think of Anna Politkovskaya, who was an ardent defender of our “Other Russia” movement. But there are some things that you feel like you just have to do. I decided, early on, that it was worth taking the risk. And you cannot, all the time, think about your personal safety and continue to assume this role.

What do you expect from the European Union? And European citizens?

— I have always said that Putin is a Russian problem and that we do not need outside help. We don't want others to interfere in our internal affairs. But that doesn't mean we're happy to see Europe's leaders, who are supposed to be defenders of democracy, providing aid and support to Putin's authoritarian government. We ask not so much for their action as for their loyalty. Every time a country, or the European Union, acts as if everything is normal in Russia, it undermines our efforts towards democracy. Stop giving Putin the democratic cred he has in no way earned. Stop receiving him and his allies as democratic equals. Stand up against authoritarianism instead of quietly approving it!

As for citizens, like the readers of Ouest France, if they are mobilized by our situation, or just worried about the idea of ​​a dictatorship in Russia and the effect that that could have, they can do what the Russian citizens cannot: share their concerns with their elected representatives and write letters to their newspapers. They can also visit (the site of the Other Russia, the opposition movement) and share the information with others. In a true democracy, public opinion can create real change. I'm convinced.

Interview by Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Article published in Ouest-France, July 2008

(*) President of the Supreme Soviet in 1990, after the failed putsch of the generals against Gorbachev, he became the first President of the new Russia, after the break-up of the USSR, which he led until 1999, at the end of two terms. He died on April 23.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).