Turning the Chessboard

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After nearly four years of continued human and civil rights abuses in Russia, supporters of President Dmitri Medvedev nevertheless insist that concrete progress has both been made and awaits us in the future. What exactly that consists of is largely unclear, and moreover, stories of abuses flood Russia’s internet media on a daily basis.

The president’s supporters were hard pressed to maintain their illusions after September 24, when Medvedev announced that he would not be running in the 2011 presidential elections: the gauntlet would instead be passed back to Putin, now likely to remain in office until at least 2024. Some, like Arkady Dvorkovich, were vocal in their disappointment. Others continue to invest their faith in the president’s purported agenda of modernization. It is the latter that opposition leader Garry Kasparov confronts in this new op-ed.

Turning the Chessboard
By Garry Kasparov
October 7, 2011

After the public humiliation of Medvedev on September 24, one would think that even his most devout followers, the ones who tried in vain to find the reform-minded characteristics of a “liberating tsar” in the pale image of Putin’s shadow, had ought to have turned their backs on him. The first one to emerge from their stupor was Sergei Aleksashenko (naturally, the people with the most direct connections to money will react to the operative changes of a situation quicker than others), who decided to refute our image of Medvedev as a weak leader without any willpower. After that, Igor Jurgens told us unabashedly that, regardless of the apocalyptic predictions that he and Yevgeny Gontmakher have been eagerly feeding the Russian press over the course of the past year, life is not going to end after Putin’s return to the Kremlin. “We will continue modernization, because there’s no other option,” – with this phrase, one of the main ideologues of systemic Russian liberalism has once again confirmed that the members of the Institute of Contemporary Development saw the campaign in support of Medvedev as a purely tactical measure related to additional opportunities to influence the situation in the country. Whereas it is impossible for liberals of the court to have strategic differences with the Putin regime.

Today, Ekho Moskvy Editor-in-Chief Aleksei Venediktov also spoke to both the country and the world about Medvedev’s grandiose reforms that we have failed to notice, reforms that do no less than begin to dismantle the Gulag. Medvedev, it turns out, has begun deep reforms in the sphere of human and civil rights, a sphere that not Khrushchev, nor Gorbachev, nor Yeltsin were able to take a stab at. Nikita Sergeyevich, of course, did not have enough of Medvedev’s polish, and he had a proletarian disdain for bourgeois civil rights and freedoms, but it’s his name that’s associated with the release of millions of Gulag prisoners – and, by the way, the denouncement of the cult of personality (Stalin’s, not Putin’s).

Venediktov writes that “the time has come to flip the chessboard and try to see all of this from white’s point of view.” First of all, I don’t understand at all why the Kremlin government is a priori given the white pieces, and, moreover, chess analogies are unlikely to be appropriate when talking about the Putin regime. Chess has clear rules that are obligatory for both sides, and the Kremlin, as we known, are always free to change whatever rules don’t fit into their Procrustean bed of political expediency. In fact, Aleksei Alekseyevich, I would like to note that “flipping the chessboard” is a term from the movie Gentlemen of Fortune, where it became customary to wipe the pieces off the board and smash it over the head of one’s opponent. When talking about chess, we usually say that the board is “turned.” And so, having turned the board, we see the position from white’s side. I see the Yukos case; I see the deaths of Magnitsky and Aleksanyan; Taisiya Osipova, who is being bullied by jailers and prosecutors with impunity; I see a tightening of so-called anti-extremist legislation; there’s a monstrous growth of corruption alongside the total lawlessness of the security services, I see that; I see a political space that has been completely paved over – but deep reforms in our system of rights, excuse me, I don’t see. Obviously, I lack the proper qualifications…