Gary Kasparov Arrested:

Russian opposition leader and former chess world champion Gary Kasparov has been arrested in Moscow while leading a demonstration protesting the government's policies. Here is the New York Times account, and a shorter one by CNN. Kasparov is arguably the most famous political opponent of President Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian government, and a strong supporter of democracy, civil liberties, and free markets. Here is a January Wall Street Journal article describing Kasparov's opposition activities in more detail. Back in 2001 - at a time when George W. Bush was still assuring us that Putin was a "good man" because he had "see[n] into his soul," Kasparov sounded an early warning about the ex-KGB President, noting that "Putin's KGB roots have informed a style of governance that is neither reformist nor particularly democratic" and that Russia's government was sliding towards authoritarianism by suppressing opposition media and playing on nationalistic fears. Since then, Putin has suppressed nearly all opposition electronic media, and probably connived in the murder of print journalists who had criticized the regime.

Kasparov's arrest is not only an outrage in its own right, it is significant as an indicator of Putin's willingness to further tighten his authoritarianism. If Putin is able to get away with arresting even a world-famous opposition leader, less exalted opponents of the government can expect even harsher treatment. Hopefully, there will be enough of an international outcry to persuade Putin to desist and force him to tread more cautiously in the future. But it is hard to be optimistic about Russia's immediate political future after the experience of the last several years. As Kasparov put it in 2005, Putin has "abolished the nature of democratic institutions [and] he will go further." The mere fact that the current president of Russia is an authoritarian former high-ranking KGB official is a strong indication that things have gone badly wrong 15 years after the fall of communism. It is as if the Chancellor of West Germany in 1960 had been a former high-ranking Gestapo or SS leader.

UPDATE: For those who read Russian (I know we have some readers in that category), here is a link to the website of the United Civic Front, the opposition political movement that Kasparov founded in 2005. It has extensive coverage of his arrest, as well as that of some 250 other opposition leaders and protestors arrested at the same demonstration in Moscow.

UPDATE #2: Apparently, Kasparov has been released, but only after being forced to pay a fine "for participation in a banned protest rally."

Gary Kasparov to be Investigated by KGB Successor Agency for "Promoting Extremism":

Although former chess world champion and Russian opposition leader Gary Kasparov has been released from detention, he is now going to be investigated for "promoting extremism" by the FSB (hat tip: VC reader Victor Steinbok), the Russian domestic intelligence agency that is the successor to the dreaded KGB and includes numerous former KGB officials in its ranks. The FSB does not enjoy as much coercive power as the KGB once did, nor does it have any equivalent to the old Soviet system of Gulag concentration camps, where tens of millions died. There is nonetheless a disturbing amount of continuity between the two agencies in both personnel and policies.

As I noted in my earlier post about Kasparov, the measures taken against him are important not only in their own right, but as a deterrent to other opposition political activity. If the government of President Vladimir Putin (himself a former KGB colonel), can repress a world-famous figure like Kasparov with impunity, it can even more easily do the same thing to less well-known members of the opposition who have fewer supporters in the West. Moreover, if Kasparov's statements can be described as "promoting extremism" and thereby banned, the same can be done with virtually any speech critical of Putin's government.

Kasparov's political views are quite conventional by Western standards (and also by those of Russian advocates of democracy and liberalization). He supports a Russia with strong protection for civil and economic liberties, political decentralization, and a non-imperialistic foreign policy. For a sampling of Kasparov's views in English, see here and here. For the official (Russian language) platform of Kasparov's United Civic Front, see here. The latter focuses on political democratization; most of it would be completely uncontroversial in any Western democracy. If Kasparov's platform is illegal "extremism," so is virtually any other liberal democratic-oriented opposition to the policies of Putin's increasingly authoritarian Russian state.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Gary Kasparov to be Investigated by KGB Successor Agency for "Promoting Extremism":
  2. Gary Kasparov Arrested: