Playing chess in Sochi

NY Times:


... an animated gray-haired man had edged his way alongside the podium, and then he stepped onto it, sending whispers through the crowd. It was Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, who was in Sochi promoting the campaign of Mr. Pakhomov’s archrival, Boris Y. Nemtsov.

Mr. Kasparov, born to an Armenian mother, had been sitting quietly, signing autographs, for nearly two hours. He was mobbed by admirers, men in their 40s and 50s who had loved him since childhood. When an organizer for Mr. Pakhomov’s United Russia Party tried to get Mr. Kasparov removed from the premises, saying his presence amounted to political campaigning, the head of the village’s administration glowered and snapped, “He is my idol!”

Mr. Kasparov’s remarks began innocently enough. He made an offhand mention of Mr. Nemtsov, so subtle that it was easy to miss. Then he began to sling arrows at Moscow, saying Soviet Russia had supported Turkey at the time of the massacres.

Mr. Pakhomov, standing behind him on the podium, looked as if he had eaten a lemon.

Two minutes and 33 seconds into Mr. Kasparov’s speech, a local official stepped forward and said his time was up. Mr. Kasparov turned to the crowd with an incredulous look.

“What’s happening?” he said loudly. “I cannot speak? Maybe it’s better to be silent?”

They shouted “No!” and erupted into applause. He went on, at leisure, to criticize the rise of racist violence in Russia, saying that “genocide doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, and to put it mildly the government is doing very little to stop this debauch of nationalism.” He said Moscow had prevented generations of Armenians from connecting with their roots, and then he went further.

“The authorities are the source of problems,” he said. “The K.G.B. was behind the Armenian pogroms in Baku. The K.G.B. set nations against each other. We should never give in to these provocations.” He finished up — “I love you, and we are one family” — and the crowd applauded long and hard.

In the audience, Vartyan S. Mardirosyan, a lawyer, was chuckling delightedly at the spectacle. He said the authorities in Sochi had cracked down so hard on dissent that it reminded him of Soviet times, when people were too afraid to express their political opinions outside their own kitchens. The ceremony had been an “undeclared competition,” said Mr. Mardirosyan, 68, with Mr. Kasparov both the underdog and the undisputed winner.

It is an interesting competition with repression and openness. While Kasparov won this battle for talk time, it is still likely that the Kremlin will still steal the election. I was not aware of the Russian complicity in the Armenian genocide, but it sounds credible.


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