1989 and its heritage - meeting with Garri Kasparow

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Garri Kasparow, May 14, 2009, Warsaw, foto: Tomasz Kawka

1989 and its heritage - meeting with Garri Kasparow, Planete Doc Review Film Festival

Thursday, 14 May 2009, following the screening of In the Holy Fire of Revolution by Masha Novikova, at 6 pm
KINOTEKA, Pałac Kultury i Nauki, Warsaw

After the Polish premiere of Masha Novikovska's film In the Holy Fire of Revolution the Heinrich Böll Foundation invites you to a meeting with the film's protagonist – world class chess champion Garry Kasparov moderated by journalist Jacek Zakowski.
The meeting will be held in Polish, Russian and English.

Maria Przelomiec, a journalist specialising in former USSR countries writes exclusively for Planete Doc Review Film Festival about Garry Kasparov and the film In the Holy Fire of Revolution.
This year’s Planete Doc Review Film Festival will be screening a Russian film that pretty much picks up from where we left off a year earlier.
Here I’m thinking about Nino Kirtadze’s “Durakovo: The Village of Fools” which tells the story of an educational centre that instils the cult of being ruled by the iron fist of Orthodox Russia, about Irene Langemann’s “Rublyovka – Road to Bliss”, which explores the famous resort outside Moscow inhabited by Russia's ruling, financial and cultural elite, and what is left of its former residents, and about Masha Novikova's “Anna – Seven Years on the Frontline” dedicated to Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist murdered in 2004 and whose killers are still at large. This year’s film In the Holy Fire of Revolution deals with the opposition in Russia, especially the faction centred round world famous chess player Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov deserves a documentary in his own right. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, to a Jewish father and an Armenian mother, he lost his father when he was 7 years old. Kasparov won the World Junior Chess Championship at the age of 17 and became a Grandmaster a year later. From here, the story should have quietly unfolded to its inevitable happy ending. But, Kasparov forsook a comfortable life in the West to buy into the toughest game in town, the Russian democracy stakes.

Kasparov officially retired from chess in 2005 and ran as a candidate in the 2008 presidential elections. He travelled around Russia trying to meet voters but was prevented in doing so at every turn by local authorities in thrall to the Kremlin. He finally teamed up with former vice-president Boris Nemtsov, prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov (who was severely beaten recently by a group of unknown assailants ), and several other non-parliamentary opposition activists to create a new movement, Russian “Solidarity”.

This is what the film is about. That it should be screened at a festival in Warsaw in 2009, the 20th anniversary of the “Solidarity” victory is no accident. The leading characters touch on the Polish example in their opening discussion. The picture of Kasparov with Pope John Paul II suggests certain analogies.

The main hero, who would more than anything like to see the Polish phenomenon repeated in Russia, is in any case a guest of honour at this year's screenings. Sure enough, we are treated to live footage of demonstrations being broken up by the police and sham trials being conducted, but that is where the similarities end. The genesis of Russia's “Solidarity” insurrection is a completely different story from ours. Here we see political groupings at work rather than a grassroots mass movement. That probably explains why it attracts considerably less support than did its Polish prototype. You cannot help but smile when you hear Kasparov promise, during a 2007 demonstration, that there would be no trace of Putin's government within a year.

And well we might have. The effects of the global economic crisis are particularly visible in Eastern Europe and Russia is no exception. Dozens of Russian cities saw their first grassroots demonstrations in years during autumn. The Internet and text messages were deployed to bring people out onto the streets to protest against an increase in vehicle duty. Demands that Putin’s government resign could be seen alongside economic slogans in the ensuing demonstrations. Whether the divided Russian opposition, including Kasparov’s “Solidarity” movement, can seize this opportunity, and if so, to what extent, remains to be seen.

The report of the debate can be downloaded here.