When Garry Kasparov retired from chess to go into Russian politics and oppose Vladimir Putin’s turning away from democracy and a free market economy, Kasparov’s family and friends feared for his safety. Indeed, in the subsequent months, Kasparov was bashed over the head with a chessboard, detained by the authorities, and his associates were beat up and arrested–apparent warning shots from Moscow to show him that they could squash him at any moment of their choosing.
And yet the chess community is divided on the issue of his safety. Vladimir Kramnik, Kasparov’s younger countryman who displaced him as world champion, believes that the older, outspoken Russian has nothing to fear from the Kremlin. He told the British magazine Chess (in an article called “When Lev met Vlad,” issue No. 4, 2007) that he didn’t believe that Kasparov’s life was in danger and that Russia was not the totalitarian state portrayed in Kasparov’s interviews in the West.
Contrast this with the attitude of New in Chess, the Dutch magazine that is a must-read for the grandmaster set and other fans of the royal game. Kasparov writes a chess column for New in Chess, and in issue No. 4 an editorial note marvels that this was the first time the 13th world chess champion had failed to turn in his column, owing to the rigors and dangers of his campaigning for an open Russia. “[Putin] likes to present the Russian opposition as an insignificant small group of disgruntled people,” New in Chess said. “But if the group is so insignificant then why does he send thousands of militiamen into the streets to keep this small group from uttering their protests?”