Garry Kasparov: Putin is Bad
On Saturday, two days after being released from a
Moscow jail, an editorial Garry Kasparov worked on while imprisoned was
published in The Wall Street Journal, where Kasparov has been a
contributing editor for many years. The original article appears here at www.wsj.com.
WSJOur Struggle Against Tyranny in Russia
By GARRY KASPAROV — December 1, 2007
For years the governments of the U.S. and Europe have tried to
accept Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an equal. Western diplomats now
acknowledge that there are differences between Russia and the West, but
say these differences are minor, and — in the words of one European
Union official — within an “acceptable range.”
For me and for a dozen of my associates this week, that “acceptable
range” was 120 square feet. That’s the size of the jail cell I occupied
for five days as punishment for “disobeying the orders of a police
officer” at an opposition rally in Moscow last Saturday. That’s the
charge a Moscow district court added after the fact, a charge not
mentioned in the handwritten testimony of the arresting officers.
This was the least conspicuous of the many curious aspects of my
arrest and trial. After our rally of several thousand people, we
attempted to meet up with another group led by well-known human rights
leader Lev Ponomarev. From there we intended to deliver a petition of
protest to the office of the Central Election Committee.
The police had blocked the underground pedestrian passageways, so
we had to cross the broad street instead and were soon blocked by more
police. When they moved in close, I spoke with commanding officer Maj.
Gen. Vyacheslav Kozlov, whom I had met previously. He warned us to turn
back, saying we would not be allowed to approach the CEC offices. I
offered to send a small delegation of 20 people to present the
petition. He again told us to turn back, which we did.
Of course it is inaccurate to say that the police commander was the
one in command. KGB officers in plain clothes were clearly in charge
even at the police station, and the arrest itself was as choreographed
as the trial to come. When the special security forces known as OMON
pushed in past everyone else to arrest me, we could all hear “make sure
you get Kasparov” on their walkie-talkies.
From the moment of our detention, we were not allowed to see our
lawyers, even when charged at the police station. Three hours into the
trial, the judge said it would be adjourned to the following day. But
the judge then left the bench and returned to say that we had misheard
her, and that my trial would go forward. No doubt another example of
what we call “telephone justice.”
As in the street and at the police station, the KGB and the OMON
forces were in control. The defense was not allowed to call any
witnesses or to present any materials, such as the videos and photos
journalists had taken of the march and the arrests.
After the show trial was over, I was taken to the police jail at
Petrovka 38 in Moscow, and here the procedural violations continued.
Not with regard to my treatment, which was respectful and as hospitable
as a small box with metal furnishings and a hole in the floor for a
toilet can be. I wasn’t allowed a phone call and all visitors were
refused access. Even my lawyer Olga Mikhailova and Duma member Vladimir
Ryzhkov were forbidden to visit me, despite having the legal right to
do so. My world chess champion predecessor, Anatoly Karpov, for years
my great rival, generously attempted to pay me a visit but was also
My other concern was food, since it was out of the question to
consume anything provided by the staff. (Nor do I fly Aeroflot.
“Paranoia” long ago became an obsolete concept among those in
opposition to the Putin regime.) On Sunday, thanks to growing external
pressure, they allowed me to receive food packages from home.
In a fitting conclusion, even my release was handled illegally.
Instead of letting me out at the jail into the crowd of media and
supporters, many of whom had themselves been arrested and harassed
while picketing, I was secretly taken to the police station where I was
first charged. From there I was taken in a colonel’s automobile all the
way to my home. This may sound like good service, but it was obvious
the authorities wanted to avoid the festive scene that would have
occurred outside the jail.
When I was arrested last April and fined $40, some poked fun at the
trivial amount. And five days in a Moscow jail is not the worst fate
that can be imagined. Some commentators even suspected I wanted to
provoke my own arrest for publicity, a chess player’s far-sighted
First off, the penalty is not the point; the principle is. Are we
to have the rule of law in Russia or not? Second, I have no intention
of becoming a martyr, or of leading an opposition movement from prison.
I had no illusions and now I can confirm it is not a pleasant place to
be. And this is not chess, with its cold-blooded calculations. This is
about honor and morality. I cannot ask people to protest in the streets
if I am not there with them. At the rally on Saturday, I said our
slogan must be “We must overcome our fear,” and I am obliged to stand
by these words.
It is also essential to point out that these arrests are only the
tip of the iceberg. Such things are taking place all over Russia on a
daily basis. Opposition activists — or just those who happen to be in
the way of the administration — are harassed and arrested on false
charges of drug possession, extremism, or the latest trend, for owning
There is little doubt tomorrow’s parliamentary elections will be as
fixed as my trial. The presidential elections on March 2 will be a
different sort of performance, more improvised, since even now Mr.
Putin and his gang are not sure how to resolve their dilemma. The loss
of power could mean the loss of fortune and freedom. Outright
dictatorship would endanger their lucrative ties with the West.
The campaign rhetoric of Mr. Putin and his supporters is genuinely
frightening. Here we have an allegedly popular president who dominates
the media, the parliament and the judiciary. He and his closest allies
are in total control of the nation’s wealth. And yet his recent
speeches are hysterical rants about “enemies within” and “foreign
antagonists” trying to weaken Russia — language characteristic of
So far this campaign has been largely ineffective, at least in my
case. During my five days in jail I had the chance to speak to many of
the ordinary consumers of Kremlin propaganda. They were generally
sympathetic, and showed no signs of believing the many lies the Kremlin
and the youth groups it sponsors have spread about the opposition. For
them I was still the Soviet chess champion and the idea that I was an
“American agent” sounded as ludicrous as it is.
So why is Mr. Putin so scared if things are going so well? He is a
rational and pragmatic person, not prone to melodrama. He knows the
numbers, so why the heavy and heavy-handed campaigning if he knows he
and United Russia are going to win? The answer is that he is very aware
of how brittle his power structure has become. Instead of sounding like
a Tsar, high above the crowd, he’s beginning to sound like just another
nervous autocrat. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The most anxious man
in a prison is the governor.”
So demagoguery it is and demagoguery it will be. A violent
pro-Putin youth group, Nashi, has already released a poster celebrating
Mr. Putin’s “crushing victory” on December 2. It also warns against the
“enemies of the people of Russia,” myself included, attempting to
disqualify the results. These terms jibe nicely with Mr. Putin’s own
rhetoric of threats and fear. The ground is being prepared for greater
The Other Russia will continue our activities because, simply, some
things are worth fighting for and will not come without being fought
for. All of the “minor differences” between Mr. Putin’s Russia and the
nations of the free world add up to one very large difference: that
between democracy and tyranny.
Copyright © 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
This is more believable then the rosy picture that Gorbachev painted of current-day Russia. BigT