Thursday, 24 May 2007

I'm a Believer!

Something has happened to shake my sense of postmodern relativism and replace the void at the heart of my existence. A revelation of sorts. Nothing earth shattering in the schemes opf things - no angelic appearances, speaking in tongues, or transportation to the heavens, but we have to start somewhere. I believe in Garry Kasparov, the Chess Grand Master and longtime Russian pro-democracy campaigner.

Now that sounds ridiculous. But I had just finished another one of those conversations yesterday in which it was generally agreed that working in politics is bad for morale because all politicians seem interested only in a) sex b) power c) sex d) expenses claims e) sex f) column inches g) policies, etc.
In the absence of real, inspirational leadership, we were saying, our lives lacked ideological stature. Where were the real men, the real battles, a belief worth getting out of bed for in the morning? At least those who work outside the political process can still believe in human governance. To those of us subjected to its mechanisms it seems all too flawed and pragmatic.
Well, Mr Kasparov answered at least some of those questions for me when he came to address our Group Meeting last night. Here was real intelligence, real authority, wit, sincerity, playfulness, gravitas, all in one person. Here was someone who spoke passionately about what he believed in - while all the while remaining absolutely rational and in control of the facts. It was beautiful watching him talk - his argument, like his chess-playing, clearly highly strategic. I'll give you a brief run down of it now because I thought it was highly interesting.

There is only one rule in Putin's Russia he said - there are no rules. Putin's regime is totalitiarian and oligarchical. Its motto? "Expenses nationalised, profits privatised", to the extent that the 100 richest Russians have wealth amounting to 30% more than the entire country's budget revenue. This gang of thieves, in Kasparov's opinion, is a threat only to the Russian people since cold wars can only be fought on an ideological basis and Putin's regime is ideologically empty.
Despite being a nominal democracy, there are laws in place which ban criticism of the opposition during electoral contests - which are rigged in any case because candidates must first be approved by the Kremlin. Democracy, liberalism, etc, in Kasparov's mind, are like convex mirrors in a Russian context because all such labels are more marketing ploys than descriptions of reality.

As such, political survival is the primary objective of the various opposition groups, who are forced to trade secrets about each other (thus preventing, at least in any official sense, a united front from forming against the regime). Nevertheless, these groups coalesce around a couple of key issues in a programme, and attempt never to stand against each other, thus maximising their chances of election.

They are continually undermined in their quest for a more democratic Russia by a regime which respects neither its own international obligations nor its own Constitution, which contains a clause on upholding Human Rights. During the EU Russia summit the police cracked down on peaceful protest in Samara at precisely the same time Putin promised Merkel to uphold freedom of association and expression.

This brazen duplicity - and the West's refusal to confront it - is, according to Kasparov, one of the chief problems for the democratic opposition. Every time Putin is seen on a podium with respected European leaders, the regime is legitimated. And Putin can pretend to the world that those who oppose his regime back home are an illegitimate and trouble-making minority. Thus Western recognition = political repression in Russia. The solution is thus to treat Putin's regime like that of Ahmedinejad, Lukashenko or Mugabe's. Or demand that it lives up to its democratic credentials.

Kasparov also advised that EU nations pay much more attention to the amount of Russian money being laundered through financial capitals, particularly London. The danger that countries could freeze these (stolen) assets is one area of weakness for an otherwise untouchable regime and makes it vulnerable to outside pressure. The same goes for Putin himself who has spirited billions of dollars out of the country and is rumoured to be around as rich as Bill Gates.

The key to effecting change will be when Putin stands down next year. Regime infighting means there is unlikely to be consensus on a successor - since a weak one would provide Putin with protection and a strong one could secure the survival of the oligarchical system. This may provide the opposition a chance to make real inroads. But only if the international community stops legitimating the current government.

1 comment:

Peter said...

That's one of the best posts you've written.