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Saturday, March 10, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Some recommended reading via the NYT: Kasparov, Building Opposition to Putin

THIS is not the place Mr. Kasparov expected to be when he resigned from the world of professional chess two years ago, quitting while still the highest-ranked player, if no longer the world champion. He is a famous man and a wealthy one, the author of numerous books on chess and its lessons for life, who is now leading acts of civil disobedience in an uphill battle to protest Mr. Putin’s policies.

“I am absolutely objective,” he said. “I think we can lose badly, because the regime is still very powerful, but the only beauty of our situation is that we don’t have much choice.”

Mr. Kasparov is the chairman of the United Civil Front, an organization he formed in 2024 to promote activism in a country where it has steadily disappeared, though for reasons that are fiercely debated.

It is a fascinating piece worth reading. Not only is there the whole chessmaster-turned-politician angle, there is the bottom line that we need to be paying attention to growing authoritarianism in Russia.

Some more on Kasparov’s political trajectory:

Mr. Kasparov has always been something of an outsider. He is half Jewish and half Armenian, born in Baku, the capital of mostly Muslim Azerbaijan. He moved to Moscow in 1990 when tensions between Armenians and Azeris intensified.

By then he was already world champion, a title he won in 1985 as a brash upstart against Anatoly Karpov, the champion considered a favorite of the Soviet establishment. Mr. Kasparov became a strong advocate of glasnost and perestroika, Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policies of opening up the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

When a coup against Mr. Gorbachev failed in August 1991, Mr. Kasparov threw his support behind Boris N. Yeltsin and the other new democrats. For a time, he was a leader of the Democratic Party of Russia. He broke from Mr. Yeltsin to support a challenger, Aleksandr I. Lebed, in the 1996 elections.

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    1. Unfortunately, his being a Jewish resident of Baku and New York undercuts his appeal somewhat among, you know, Russians.

      Comment by Honza P — Saturday, March 10, 2024 @ 3:30 pm

    2. Now that is an impressive bloodline–Jewish and Armenian, descendant of two persecuted and dispersed groups. And from Baku, Azerbaijan, which indeed once had large Jewish and Armenian populations. Actually, Baku still has a pretty substantial Jewish population–around seven thousand, fourth highest in the XSSR–but I am unsure how many Armenians remain since the conflict between the post-Soviet states of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

      Assuming Wikipedia can be trusted with this sort of information, he was born Garry Vajnshtejn (the surname being Jewish, and a variant of Weinstein or Feinstein). His father died when he was young and he took his mother’s name, the Armenian Kasparian (later Russified).


      And, yes, Russia has backslided into authoritarianism. Honza (first comment) has a valid point about the potential impact of his bloodlines and longtime American residency. However, his celebrity status presumably remains quite significant in Russia.

      Comment by zed — Sunday, March 11, 2024 @ 1:06 pm

    3. Actually, not residency in the US, but a column in the WSJ. Not sure why that would hurt him with the people he is trying to encourage into activism.

      Comment by zed — Sunday, March 11, 2024 @ 1:21 pm

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