Skip to main content

Putin's government cracks down on dissent, chess champ seized

Police Grab Ex-Chess Champ Who Opposes Putin
Garry Kasparov Now Prominent in Russia's Anti-Putin Opposition

By AMMU KANNAMPILLY
April 14, 2007 — - Over a thousand people gathered in central Moscow today to protest against the Russian government's growing crackdown on political dissent and its increasing tendency to curb the country's newfound democracy.

The march -- banned by the Kremlin -- saw the presence of several prominent figures from the pro-democratic movement in Russia, including former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov and ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

Kasparov was detained by police almost as soon as the demonstration began. According to an eyewitness account published on the Russian news Website, www.gazeta.ru, Kasparov was among 20 or so activists held by police as the march began to gather pace.

"This regime is criminal; it is a police state," Kasparov shouted as police hauled him away in a van.

He was released 10 hours later by a Moscow court, which levied a $38 fine on him for "public order offences."

In all, Moscow police admitted to having arrested 170 people, though activists claimed the actual figure was in the region of several hundred.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing multiple instances of unprovoked aggression towards demonstrators, with police using batons to push people back, and dragging them into police vans when met with resistance.

Local residents pointed to the presence of several "tough-looking, plainclothed men" and "vehicles without license plates" in the side streets surrounding Turgenev Square and Pushkin Square, where the protestors had gathered.

Hundreds of people marched down the streets, chanting "Shame, disgrace" and holding up human rights pamphlets from non-governmental organisations.

The demonstration broke up an hour and a half later, when the riot police began to disperse people and push them into the Moscow subway system.

In an interview with the only remaining truly independent Russian radio station, Echo Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), former Prime Minister Kasyanov said that he "witnessed riot police openly beating people up, with no attempt to hide it."

He added that the protest was organized under the aegis of the "Other Russia" coalition, in order to "demand free and honest elections and the right to free speech."

Saturday's march came after three other demonstrations met with similar police resistance in the cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. The "Other Russia" plan to hold another banned protest on Sunday in St Petersburg.

Although the official opposition party, the "Radical Nationalists" also led a 500-strong march today, their focus was largely nationalistic and pro-Kremlin. They were supported by the "Young Guard", a pro-government youth group: About 1,000 activists demonstrated in favor of Putin's regime near Moscow State University.

But the largest numbers belonged to the riot police, some 9,000 of whom were deployed across central Moscow in preparation for Saturday's marches.

Regulations passed recently by the Moscow city council require that all demonstrations must follow a strict rule limiting the density of protestors to one person per five square feet. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov denied any political reasoning behind the new ruling.

But the sheer number of police on the streets on Saturday underscored the high level of threat estimated by the Kremlin with regard to such "dissenters' marches."

This weekend's demonstrations are perceived as a key test of popular support for the Russian pro-democratic movement before next year's presidential elections. The relatively small numbers seen at the Moscow rally suggest that the opposition has yet to fuel public imagination and draw high levels of support.

That said, the police strength deployed across Pushkin Square and Turgenev Square may have revealed a surprising level of insecurity in the Kremlin.

President Putin enjoys the kind of approval ratings most world leaders would relish. According to a public survey conducted by the internationally respected Levada Center in February 2007, Putin's approval rating was 81 percent.

What makes the democratic opposition's task even harder is the lack of a sufficiently populist leader. Kasparov is well known in Russia and abroad for becoming the youngest-ever world chess champion in 1985. But his Jewish roots and Azeri background (he hails from Baku, Azerbaijan -- formerly a Soviet republic) make him unacceptable to the majority of Russian voters.

Other opposition figures, like Kasyanov and the exiled tycoon, Boris Berezovsky, don't have anything like the respect commanded by Putin.

Furthermore, the anti-Putin movement is racked by division. A review of the various groups operating under the "Other Russia" umbrella -- from the far-left Workers' Party to pro-western liberals like Kasparov -- suggests that the only thing uniting them is a shared opposition to Putin. And that may not be enough to make a dent in the Russian President's armour. Yet.

Putin has stated that he will not run for a third term as president in 2008. He is still to designate an official successor, but speculation favors two men -- Russian first deputy prime ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev. Both are known for their loyalty to Putin, and are unlikely to swerve from the established political course.

In the meantime, however, the presence of Kasparov, Kasyanov, and hundreds more at today's demonstration would appear to show that this fight is not over yet.

After nearly six hours of questioning, Kasparov left the courtroom, promising to appeal the guilty verdict.

Speaking to ABCNews.com, he said: "This court rejected the very presumption of my innocence. I was the one who had to prove that I was innocent, although there were no concrete allegations against me.

"Nevertheless," Kasparov said, "we consider today a victory. The outrageous behaviour of the authorities only demonstrates that we live in a police state. But we are not going to stop here. We will continue to struggle."

He added, "Although the Russian constitution clearly stipulates that every citizen has the right to speak freely, the current regime doesn't respect that right. The opinion of the average man simply doesn't count."

But for the time being, at least, the average man in Russia appears to prefer backing Putin to supporting the opposition.

Tomek Rolski contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Gays and Lesbians Opposed to Violence (GLOV) Reforms

As appeared in Metro Weekly...

Stirred to Action
Viciousness of recent anti-gay attacks spurs community reaction
by Will O'Bryan
Published on September 18, 2008

Perhaps a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to motivating a community, a picture -- far more than flow charts of crime statistics or bullet points in a report -- may actually be invaluable. Add to that picture a compelling online essay, and you have the start of a community movement.

With a number of publicized attacks against local gay people in recent months, from Nathaniel Salerno's attack on a Metro train in December to Michael Roike and Chris Burrell being beaten to the ground near the 14th and P Streets NW intersection in August, the viciousness Todd Metrokin suffered in Adams Morgan in July -- written about on The New Gay blog by his friend Chris Farris in late August -- may have been a tipping point.

''There are the anecdotal stories you hear from your friends,'' says Pete Perry, a loca…

A Proposal for We The People to Institute Positive Change

Hello sisters and brothers, subjects of the United States Empire, it has become clear the elected representatives on Capitol Hill no longer truly represent us and our best interests, but rather are serving their elite major campaign contributors. They serve the interests of the extreme rich and large corporations, certainly not the average American worker, student, or retired individual.

In order to improve our government, we, a collective of dedicated social justice activists, propose three demands to those who have power to legislate within the Federal Government. We list those demands here, and will then discuss how to make sure they pass into the law of the land:

1) Universal single payer health care, something that nearly all other developed nations of the world already possess for their citizens. We, as human beings, have a right to good health and to never be financially crippled in this pursuit of our own well-being. We demand that Congress pass House Resolution 676 and a Sen…

A week ago I was in DC Jail -- This is a reflection

A week ago, I was spending my third and last night in DC Jail. A loud, violent and cruel place. A place populated by young black men, as a white inmate I was an extreme minority. And as a gay white man of somewhat slight build, I elected to get the protective custody order from Judge Lynn Liebovitz upon my sentencing. My sentencing, in retrospect was not that severe, and this is because my pre-sentencing officer had recommended probation and I admitted that my days of being arrested for expressing my moral and ethical beliefs (which put me in complete opposition to the U.S. Government’s foreign policy) were over. Perhaps someday, when I am retired and close to my friend Eve Tetaz’s age I may resume nonviolent civil resistance against the moral bankruptcy and downright evil policies of the U.S. Empire, but for now I choose a different life for my lifetime partner and myself.

Many of you have expressed an interest in discussing my experiences further, and I am open to accepting questions…