Last week, top Putin aide Vladislav Surkov answered questions at the London School of Economics about innovation in Russia and the state of the country’s political system. In response to one question about the mass protests that Russia has seen over the past year and a half, Surkov claimed that, nevertheless, “the system has triumphed over the opposition.” He also criticized the Investigative Committee for cracking down on Skolkovo, a controversial technology hub that Surkov has partial oversight over. Days later, he was forced to resign. In this latest op-ed, Garry Kasparov examines the rigged game that Surkov helped to construct and that ultimately consumed him.
The Higher-Ups Write Them Out
By Garry Kasparov
May 7, 2013
People often ask me whether or not a good knowledge of chess is useful in Russian political life. Offended, I respond that chess has fixed rules and unpredictable results – in what we refer to as “Russian politics” everything is the other way around: the results are predictable, and the rules change constantly.
When Mr. Surkov recently informed the world that “the system has triumphed over the opposition,” satirist Victor Shenderovich exposed the secrets of this triumph to his readers, bringing up his own wonderful 1989 story, “How Antoshkin and Kolobov Played Chess.” And indeed, today, as he puts it, his “narrator is alive and well!”
Kolobov beat Antoshkin in chess for seventy years in a row: he “always played black without the queen,” and when he “asked to play white and with the queen, Kolobov silently placed a hairy hand on his face and gave him a strong shove,” then “took both of his rooks – one with his right hand, and one with his left…” In addition, “if Kolobov didn’t like Antoshkin’s move, he would punch him in the face and make him change it,” although he personally “never thought about his moves, moving quickly, twice in a row.” In other cases, “two of Kolobov’s people would grab Antoshkin by the arms and legs and beat his head against the wall” or “beat his legs and morally debase him.” And sometimes “a judge would declare that he was mentally ill and send him to the nuthouse.” And so on. “And Antoshkin could never come to terms with the fact that Kolobov was the stronger player.”
It is a painfully familiar picture. Sure, there are differences, such as the know-how of the current regime, as they put it. While the “game” used to be guaranteed only by “Kolobov’s people” and “judges,” the contemporary “chess party” that is taking place with the whole world watching has engendered yet another important category of participants for this “match of the century” – numerous commentators.
An entire cohort of these commentators has grown among Russia’s systemic liberals: they need to somehow stir up interest in the “battle.” And everywhere we hear: “Look how interestingly the party is developing!” or “Yet again, despite Antoshkin’s stubborn resistance, our immortal leader Kolobov has triumphed!”
Right now, it is precisely these commentators who are playing a loathsome key role: without them, Kolobov & Co. would be typical white-collar rats and butchers. But what can you take from a Kolobovian butcher? Throughout eternity, their heads have ever only been filled with a pair of curves that intersect at a right angle. But now, “triumph” is too little for the utterly resentful Kolobov: he wants to be accepted as an intellectual in the best of European and American society. “And, with bated breath in this sweetest of moments, he asks his servants to call on Antoshkin – to measure his intelligence.”
This turbid stream of lying commentators holds up the ruling regime. And when Antoshkin cries out in outrage: “My rook was just there! …Please, comrade, all my moves are already written out!” Kolobov is always ready with his answer: “The higher-ups write them out.”
I recently saw Tarantino’s new movie “Django Unchained,” about slavery in the American south. Within this brilliant panorama of caricatured genuine scoundrels and sadists, the behavior of an elderly black servant evokes particular disgust: he loyally serves the cruel and cynical slave master, trying with all his might to preserve the institution of slavery. For him, it is the only environment that he can live in. The analogy comes naturally.
Translation by Kasparov.com.