Garry Kasparov’s greatest opponent is Russian political apathy, says viv groskop
When 5,000 Russians gathered in St Petersburg at the weekend to protest against Putin’s presidency, one of the leaders of the ‘March of the Discontented’ was a man we are more used to seeing glaring across a chessboard – grandmaster Garry Kasparov.
Famous for his chess battles with Anatoly Karpov in the 1980s, Kasparov retired from the game in 2005 and is now pitting himself against Putin as an increasingly visible dissident.
Saturday’s protest – during which 100 were arrested – marked the fact that Russia’s next general election is only a year away. According to the constitution, Putin should be stepping down then. But Kasparov and his supporters are concerned the President will attempt – illegally – to stand for a third term.
Usually Russia’s opposition parties are unable to find common ground, but on this issue they rallied: representatives from left and right marched on Saturday, including from the National Bolshevik Party and Yabloko, the social-liberal party.
If this movement could find a figurehead in Kasparov, it might make some gains. But though the chess master is a household name, admired for his steely determination, few young Russians recall his heyday. “Kasparov’s problem,” a St Petersburg journalist tells me, “is that no-one under the age of 30 really knows who he is.”
Kasparov’s first match in the big league in 1985 was the longest in history, eventually broken off by adjudicators after 48 games when Anatoly Karpov began to show signs of physical and emotional strain. Kasparov is not a man who suffers fools gladly. As one critic puts it, he is the genius whom “no one would dare call a demented control freak to his face.”
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