On Saturday, we reported on how the Russian people had disgraced themselves and the memory of a great Russian patriot by neglecting the Andrei Sakharov journalism awards. The ignominy continued: Over the weekend, only about 2,000 people (some pictured, left), many associated with extremist political factions, protested the Kremlin's abolition of minimum voter turnout rules in Moscow, under a coalition group called "The Other Russia" led by Garry Kasparov. Though the event could have served the double protest of protesting the Kremlin's involvement in the sensational recent spate of killings of its adversaries, the Russian people once again disappointed the West and betrayed their children by ignoring the opportunity entirely, even as the Kremlin did all it could to snuff out the protest with arrests and other intimidating behavior both before and during the march. The International Herald Tribune reported:
About 2,000 Russians rallied on Saturday in central Moscow to protest recent electoral law changes and what the demonstrators said is the Kremlin's growing authoritarianism. The demonstration, organized by several opposition groups who united under the banners of the Other Russia movement, had originally planned to march down a main Moscow avenue in what was dubbed the "March of Those Who Disagree," but city authorities banned the march, allowing only a rally instead. Organizers had vowed to go-ahead with the march despite the ban, but the activists ended up only holding a demonstration and the crowd began dispersing after 1 p.m. Moscow time, just over an hour into the event. The activists held banners reading "Russia without (President Vladimir) Putin" and other placards criticizing his government. Organizers said police had detained several dozen activists for alleged violations in Moscow and about 200 other protests had been detained on their way to Moscow. Natalya Morar, spokesman for Other Russia said many had been taken off trains and buses and put into detention cells.
We have asked before, and we will keep asking: What is WRONG with the people of Russia. They are standing idly by while their government strips them of every indicia of personal authority and integrity and returns them to a neo-Soviet state. Not even a cadre of elite can be found which can last for more than an hour of protest or even deign to actually move out of their assigned places. Granted, Echo Moskvy and the Associated Press reported that the authorities had moved to block entry to Moscow by many people from outlying areas who had wanted to attend, and the demonstrators were surrounded by police with water cannons and helicopters (see arrests depicted at above right by OMON, the domestic KGB). But this is only more reason for action by Russians, not less (after all, they stood up to Hitler's invading forces -- is their own government really more terrifying?), and Martin Luther King and Gandhi were also faced with such obstacles, and they drew much larger throngs of support, and Moscow alone is a city of TEN MILLION PEOPLE. If just 0.1% of the city itself supported this protest, five times more people than actually did would have shown up.
The Times of London interviewed Kasparov (who has set up his world headquarters in Palm Beach, Florida, looking to collect big donations from its tony residents) before the march:
As the world’s greatest chess player, Garry Kasparov employed his formidable intellect to outwit rivals before seizing on a weakness to crush them.
The Russian grandmaster is now applying those skills to a new game of strategy aimed at defeating his toughest opponent of all — President Putin. At stake, he argues, is the fate of Russian democracy.
Mr Kasparov, 43, is the most prominent name in The Other Russia, a coalition of opposition groups formed in an attempt to break Mr Putin’s grip on the Kremlin at the presidential elections in March 2008. The gambit begins today when The Other Russia attempts to demonstrate in Moscow under the banner of the March of Dissenters. The authorities have banned the march and warned the organisers of criminal charges against anyone taking part.
In an interview with The Times Mr Kasparov compared Mr Putin’s Russia to Pinochet’s Chile and the Communist regimes swept away by the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe.
“We are not fighting to win elections in Russia, we are fighting to have elections,” he said. “The word ‘election’ should be removed from our political vocabulary now. It is an appointment process.”
He will not be a contender for the presidency but The Other Russia aims to create the conditions under which an anti-Putin candidate can win. It appears, however, to be an uneven contest against a man who enjoys 80 per cent approval ratings.
Most Russians want Mr Putin to overturn a constitutional bar on a third term in office. Many will back whomever Mr Putin endorses to succeed him.The President appears supremely confident, surrounded in the Kremlin by the siloviki (the power elite), a hand-picked group of former KGB comrades who dominate Russia’s political elite.
The chess master, however, sees cracks in the Kremlin wall and believes that Mr Putin will give him an opening for a counter-attack. Mr Kasparov argues that, despite the oil riches, the vast majority of Russians are increasingly enduring economic hardship that will burst to the surface politically next year.
“I don’t think we are seeing a super-confident Kremlin. It is not one Kremlin any more, the ruling elite is split into many different voices,” he said.
“If the temperature is rising, we will see the collapse of the Kremlin power structure. Putin has to make his move and name a successor, but this is a man who has never made a painful choice in his life.
“Other groups may be extremely upset and this inability to organise a transition of power will create a crisis. That’s our chance.
“If we can keep The Other Russia united for the next six months there will be more and more losers in the Kremlin battle who are looking for other options. The momentum will be on our side. It gives me some optimism, although not much because it could go either way. There could be repressions and arrests.”
He sees the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London as evidence of the power struggle. Mr Kasparov said: “All the theories about what happened to him have in common that it was initiated by some Kremlin forces. The danger is there and that is what Western leaders fail to recognise, that Putin is not in control even in the Kremlin itself.”
He knows that he is playing a dangerous game. Critics of the Kremlin have fallen victim to a series of unexplained attacks recently, from the murders of Mr Litvinenko and the journalist Anna Politkovskaya to the mysterious poisoning of Yegor Gaidar, the former Prime Minister.
Mr Kasparov travels around Moscow with two security guards constantly at his side and his movements are carefully planned. But he brushes aside concerns for his safety in pursuit of his dream of a more pluralist and democratic Russia.
“I can calculate the possibilities as a chess player and I have to be honest and say that our chances are not high. But I take this as a moral duty, and when you do something out of moral duty, then who cares?” he said.
“I travel all over Russia to meet our supporters and they are constantly being harassed by the authorities. My only way to help them is to stay put.
“So I am here, I am fighting and I try to defend our rights. I don’t feel that I have the right to be scared.”
The Other Russia has drawn criticism for including the National Bolshevik Party, an ultra-nationalist group that flirts with the ideology and symbols of fascism. Mr Kasparov has defended its inclusion, saying that they have all agreed on common principles in support of free speech and democracy.
Mr Putin’s two terms in office have been marked by the growing power of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, throughout Russian government. A study this week of more than 1,000 senior politicians and bureaucrats found that 78 per cent had a background in the security service or the military.
Mr Putin has also insisted on what he calls the “verticality of power”, restoring Kremlin authority by abolishing elections for regional governors and turning them into presidential appointees.It's time for Garry and other self-appointed leaders of the opposition to begin calling the people of Russia to task for their outrageous cowardice and sloth in regard to the rise of the neo-Soviet state. Kasparov need not fear the loss of support, because from the weekend march it's clear he -- and in fact democracy itself -- has very little to lose. He himself admits he's "not fighting to win elections" so it's time for him to begin saying publicly the things that need to be said, before the window for such speech closes entirely. And if he's not willing to risk his life for the country, then its time to find someone who will. Kasparov has been regrettably quiet as the Politkovskaya and Litvinenko killings have unfolded, though maybe he's been working behind the scenes in Russia in some manner, and his first comments are tepid at best. This is his moment, the world's attention is turned to Russia and focussed on Russian outrage. Kasaparov begins to give LR the impression of being "another Yavlinsky," a fellow who will fade into the shadows when the going gets tough. We sincerely hope this is not the case and desperately wish to be proved wrong. On the other hand, it's simply impossible to be overly critical of Kasparov when the Russian people have given him so little reason to believe they are worth fighting, much less dying, for.
Indeed, we must ask ourselves: Are they?