Kasparov on TIME ‘Person of the Year’ for Putin

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TheOtherRussia.org brings this exclusive statement from opposition leader Garry Kasparov on TIME Magazine awarding its “Person of the Year” award to Vladimir Putin.

First let there be no misunderstanding about what this award is supposed to represent. According to TIME, it is for the person who “has done the most to change the news, for better or for worse.” Obviously Putin has been in the news a great deal in 2007, and it’s clear that the direction he has moved my country has been “for worse” both for Russians and for the international community.

Putin’s regime has crushed dissent, rigged elections, and systematically destroyed democratic institutions and civil liberties, processes that only accelerated in 2007. Despite record oil and gas prices that sent the Russian GDP skyrocketing, the vast majority of Russians outside the major capital cities have seen little or no improvement in their standard of living, largely due to runaway food prices and a decaying infrastructure. With most of the corporate and state revenues leaving Russia for western real estate and personal bank accounts, the gap between rich and poor here has reached staggering levels.

The TIME announcement praises their selection for restoring his country to prominence in the international arena, dispelling “anarchy”, and recovering national pride. The magazine does express concern about his “troubling” record on human rights. The same things could have been said about Adolf Hitler in 1938, when he took his turn as TIME’s Man of the Year. “Fascism,” TIME wrote then, “has discovered that freedom – of press, speech, assembly – is a potential danger to its own security.” Again these words apply equally well to this year’s winner.

In 1938 there was no doubt that Hitler was a force for evil and TIME made that very clear. But with Putin they perpetuate elements of Kremlin propaganda into the story and often present Putin’s mythology uncritically. Yes, there was epic corruption in the Yeltsin years, but have things improved under Putin or just become more efficient and quieter? Are Putin’s pet oligarchs less rich, less rapacious, less influential? The main difference is that because there was still a free press under Yeltsin, the people found out what was going on. Putin eliminated that possibility – along with many of his critics – soon after taking power.

That Putin has created a “strong Russia” is the biggest fallacy of them all. In fact he and his cronies have hollowed the state out from within. Power now resides with the giant corporations like Gazprom and the small group of loyalists who run them. Putin has managed to bully Europe with Russia’s energy wealth and to damage global stability by entertaining and defending the likes of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Intimidation and provocation, however, should not be misconstrued as real strength. The Tsar’s new clothes are woven entirely from oil and gas.

I understand that this award is not intended to be a beauty contest. But for all of Putin’s attacks on the West, this will be promoted widely within Russia and around the world as a victory and an endorsement by the West of Putin’s policies and practices of dictatorship. It’s an early Christmas present to the Kremlin when what they really deserved was a lump of coal.

I will add a brief response to Putin’s jibe in the TIME article about my speaking English to reporters after my arrest last month. First, I also spoke in Russian, which oddly enough never makes the Kremlin-controlled newscasts. Second, since opposition statements are almost completely banned in the Russian media the foreign press usually makes up 90% of attending media at opposition events. Lastly, I would be delighted to show Mr. Putin which of us speaks and writes better Russian. Perhaps he will accept my challenge to a debate on national television or allow an editorial of mine to appear in a major newspaper.