Interview with Garry Kasparov (Part 1)

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For everybody who's looking for a good read during Christmas, we have a special treat. Chess journalist Gert Devreese had an interview with Garry Kasparov in april this year. After he saw our article on Kasparov's simul in Belgium, Gert made the interview available for ChessVibes too, and it has not lost its topicality. Today part 1 of the interview, which was published before in the Belgian newspaper De Standaard. It is about Kasparov's political career but also for example about his wife and kids. Tomorrow you can read the part about Kasparov's chess career (which wasn't published anywhere before). Enjoy!

Part 1: Garry Kasparov as a political activist ?¢‚ǨÀúPutin is no better than Mugabe'

Former chess world champion Garry Kasparov believes there is an urgent need for the Western leaders to stop pretending the Russian president Putin is one of them. "Putin's regime is no better than that of Lukashenko in Belarus or that of Mugabe in Zimbabwe."

Did you encounter problems entering in the Netherlands after your questioning by the Russian secret service FSB (the successor to the KGB) last weekend, after you were arrested after a demonstration by about one thousand supporters?

No, not to get here. Maybe I will get problems getting back into Russia again.

Perhaps you would be better off staying in the West?

No, I return to Russia. Of course we have had problems lately, and I am sure this is just the beginning of it. But my personal problems with the Russian authorities are only the tip of the iceberg. But for ordinary activists from the Russian opposition, of which I am a member, that kind of problem is an everyday occurrence. For ordinary activists across the country.

Unfortunately, until I was arrested and accused of downright ridiculous motives, the West devoted little or no attention to the fact that Russia today is a real police state. It is a real police state in which the opposition is under constant supervision of law enforcement.

Your battle with Putin seems to be increasingly dangerous. Two years ago someone knocked you with a chessboard on your head, you are now arrested and interrogated by the secret services. How far do you want to go, is there a limit to the danger for you?

(Aroused...) This is for real?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ If you really want to make a serious article, you should know that the Kremlin simply hires organizations to attack me with a chessboard. This was a minor incident.

Summoned and interrogated by the KGB, that is a lot more serious. Therefore people should yield more respect, not so much for me but for what the Russian people these days have to endure in Russia. Silly jokes, like someone throwing an egg to you, that's one thing. What I experienced last week, is on a completely different scale. When you are faced with the current oppressive dictatorship of Putin in Russia, and you take risks in order to change something - and I am not so much talking about myself, but about thousands of supporters that while we are talking are perhaps questioned by the KGB and are in danger of losing their jobs - that is something completely different.

It is clearly escalating.

(Undisturbed:) Yes. Putin's regime now disobeys all rules, it is a brutal, oppressive force. This regime falls into the same category of regimes like that of Lukashenko in Belarus and that of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Russia is not at all comparable to the countries of the European Union. And unfortunately, the West couldn't care less about what happens in Russia.

You cannot deny that the West has a double standard against Putin's regime: the Western are acting as if Putin is just one of them. At the same these leaders ignore the total rape of human rights and democratic rules in Russia. Just by this two-faced attitude they create serious problems in our country. Because that's what the Kremlin propaganda machine is using: it tells the Russians that everything is under control and OK. They are all alleged attempts to try to upset the silence by agents of the West who want to tell us that Putin hits the wrong direction.

You now travel all over Russia and the world to strengthen opposition against Putin. Do you ever time find for yourself?

Now we are under pressure in our country and we do not know what the next challenge will be. I write books. I give lectures. Tomorrow in Vienna I hold yet another lecture on the Russian journalist that was murdered, Anna Politkovskaya. I am still working on my text. I give lectures to get income. I have to earn my money somewhere. Last year I did about sixteen.

My wife and our five-months-old daughter are living in New York. We found the circumstances too dangerous for Aida to be born in Moscow or St Petersburg. I could have hired bodyguards again, but I was not sure that we could also protect the baby in the hospital. So she is born in the United States.

Actually, I am always doing something. Here in Amsterdam last night and this morning I was able to have a walk with my wife. But tomorrow we already leave again with the 06:50 flight to Vienna. I will meet with the Prime Minister and some other important people and I will give my speech. But the 27th I have kept free for my wife and me to go to the Vienna opera.

You see, my life is busy, but certainly not boring.

But you don't often see your wife and children. The toll for your private life is high.

This is indeed a major problem. We are very often unexpectedly separated. I haven't, for example, seen my daughter Aida for 2.5 months. Now we have a few days together.

Am I happy with all this? No, my limited private life is constantly interrupted. I am currently unable to build up a normal family life in Russia. My son Vadim (10), from my first marriage [Vadim is Kasparov's son from his second marriage - see the comments for a further rectification], is constantly accompanied by bodyguards. Do you think I like this?

But the larger issue for which you are fighting, prevails on your own happiness.

Indeed. So I have taken my decision and I think it is a moral obligation to start the fight against Putin. My family supports me in that. Of course they were all unhappy and concerned in New York when they saw television images of my arrest in Moscow. My wife Dasha was in New York when the police arrested me in Moscow. She is a young mother with many concerns about her baby, so then something like this is very bad news.

She did not know what could happen. The police kept me detained for nearly eleven hours this Saturday. I was running a huge risk. I am concerned about myself. People sometimes ask me whether I am afraid. Yes, I am afraid. I am a human being.

How would you like to be reminded later? As the Best Chess Player of All Times or would you also like to be reminded for your political contribution?

If I will be reminded in one way or another, that's OK for me already. When people are not forgetting you is, in this fast changing modern world where many things are quickly forgotten, already a big achievement. Let the people decide for themselves about that.

I believe that in chess I have achieved much more than I could ever have expected and I think that I can achieve many good things for my country. Whether people will remember I'm not the one to judge. I'm not doing all this to write history. My fight for a democratic Russia is my own moral choice, my moral duty. Whether we will win that fight or not, is not so important. It's just something that I have to do.

How much time do you give yourself?

I think that this struggle will be resolved more quickly than many people would think. Putin's regime will lose ground under its feet. It is so corrupt and inefficient that people will lose faith that it can cause anything positive for Russia. I think the great battle will be conducted at the end of this year, maybe early next year.

The Belgian Chess journalist Gert Devreese writes for De Standaard and Schaaknieuws. Tomorrow part 2 of his interview with Kasparov.

Here's a recent item by Al Jazeera on Kasparov's fight for democracy in Russia:


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