Kasparov on ‘Practicality’

Garry Kasparov. Source: NYTimes.comOn March 31, 2011, a British magistrate court rejected a request from former Soviet dissident and longtime human rights advocate Vladimir Bukovsky to arrest former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, on the basis that the latter should be prosecuted for brutally suppressing protests in Tbilisi, Baku and Vilnius in 1989-91, leaving 100 people dead and 2,000 wounded at the hands of the Soviet army. Bukovsky’s move was widely and harshly criticized by Russian civil society as impossible to achieve and a grasp at self-promotion.

According to leading opposition figure Garry Kasparov, such uncalled for criticism is not only rooted in an infantile and outdated Soviet mindset, but directly harms the purported goals of what remains of the Russian intelligentsia.

By Garry Kasparov
March 9, 2011

Vladimir Bukovsky’s demand to criminally prosecute Mikhail Gorbachev for the crimes of the Communist regime committed while he led the country has evoked a sharply negative reaction from the Russian intelligentsia. Many of the commentaries are full of sarcastic mockery and derisive judgments of the motivations for Bukovsky’s unexpected step. Aleksandr Podrabinek responded to this criticism very thoroughly and with careful consideration. I would like to add that the negative perception of the initiative of one of the most famous Soviet dissidents is formed by not only a desire to justify Gorbachev, but also its attitude towards the current government.

If you ignore the transparent hints at how Bukovsky is not relevant to contemporary political reality then the basic point of the criticism in one form or another comes down to a lack of practicality for criminal prosecution. Indeed, even with a substantial legal basis to detain Gorbachev in Great Britain, the English Themis sees the difference between the “father of perestroika” and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (who, in fact, gave up power because of the results of a national referendum) with closed eyes. So critics forget that those who believed in practicality and the possibility of reforming the regime from within didn’t spend long years in the camps and psychiatric hospitals during Soviet times. And it’s unclear on what basis Gorbachev’s well-wishers want Bukovsky to abandon the principles that he has been certain of his entire life.

The main point of difference is that today’s Russian intelligentsia, preserving its Soviet roots, continues like before to live in expectation of freedom granted from above. It’s amazing how people who, in their words, consistently uphold liberal values simultaneously avoid their realization in every way, referring to practicality. It’s obvious that everyone is equal before the law, but it’s necessary to make an exception so that the reprisals against peaceful demonstrators in Tbilisi or Vilnius don’t overshadow the global picture of the positive changes brought about by perestroika. So the talk about free elections, about the market and competition, the rule of law and the war against corruption have diverged from real actions for the course of nearly twenty years because all this time it’s been necessary to allow “minor exceptions” for the sake of moving along the path of “necessary reforms.”

As a result, we live in a country where there is no political competition, where the court has turned into an appendage of the executive branch, where reforms have resulted in the utmost monopolization of the economy and the bureaucracy is thoroughly corrupt. Such a divergence of government rhetoric from end results is immediately striking even to a layman who pays no attention to politics, and makes the entire structure of Russian systemic liberalism flawed. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that a large part of the Russian population rejects liberal values, which, alas, have begun to be steadily associated in the collective consciousness with the reforms of Gaidar and Chubais.

There was also nothing common between this notorious practicality and Andrei Sakharov’s continuous fight for human rights and democratic freedoms in the Soviet Union. I wouldn’t want during the upcoming anniversary celebrations of a man whose life position should serve as a reference to those who want to see our country truly free for the first violin again to be played by people waiting for the tsar’s next manifesto and now considering the fight against Putin’s regime only through the prism of practicality.