Kasparov In TED Talk: ‘Meeting Evil Halfway Is Still A Victory For Evil’

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“Ukraine is now on the frontline of the global war of freedom against tyranny,” was one of several powerful quotes from GM Garry Kasparov in a TED Talk published on Tuesday—the day before his 59th birthday today. The pro-democracy activist and human rights advocate, who retired from chess as the world number-one player in 2005, predicted Russia’s war in Ukraine rather accurately in his 2015 book Winter is Coming.

Kasparov’s TED Talk on the war in Ukraine.

The central theme in Kasparov’s TED Talk is good and evil. He notes that he identified evil at an early age, when as a young chess star he had the privilege of traveling outside of the Soviet Union and to the West, to the other side of the iron curtain. “It was obvious to me very quickly that they were the free world and we were not, despite what Soviet propaganda told us.”

Kasparov mentions that he got into “good trouble” for his criticism of his own country and his praise for America in a famous interview he gave to Playboy magazine in 1989. The following quote, taken from chesshistory.com, must have been what he was talking about. Now 33 years ago, Kasparov answered the question why chess was so popular in the Soviet Union:

“Because most of the time, there’s nothing else to do in our country! Chess fits the Soviet Union perfectly. It’s the simplest of sports. You don’t need a special field or court for it. Just a chess set, pieces, and a quiet place in the park. It’s the easiest way for people to have a little bit of enjoyment. And if you become a strong player, chess is one of the best ways for a Soviet citizen to improve his life, to get a better position and maybe raise his standard of living above the average–which is not so good, by the way.”

Kasparov’s early activism included his demand to play under the Russian flag instead of under the Soviet hammer and sickle in his 1990 world championship with GM Anatoly Karpov. That was a year before the USSR disintegrated. Until the present day, the difference in ideology between the two adversaries on the chessboard continues: as a member of the State Duma, Karpov is supporting the Russian government while Kasparov is strongly opposing it.

Since the day Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Kasparov is being taken much more seriously by mainstream media than before. The former chess champion has been invited dozens of times in the past month by international media to share his views. As it turns out, Kasparov’s Winter is Coming, with the subtitle “Why Vladimir Putin and the enemies of the free world must be stopped,” was much closer to the truth than most people wished to believe.

Kasparov: “If I wrote a sequel, it would be called Winter is Here. And the subtitle would be: I [bleep]’ing told you so.”

Kasparov TED Talk Ukraine
Garry Kasparov during his TED talk. Image courtesy TED.

According to Kasparov, the warning signs from Putin came early, but the world failed to listen properly.

“When Putin said there is no such thing as a former KGB agent, I knew Russia’s fragile democracy was in danger. When Putin said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, I knew Russia’s newly independent neighbors were at risk. And when Putin talked at the Munich security conference in 2007 about a return to spheres of influence, I knew he was ready to launch his plan.”

Kasparov mentions the Second Chechen War, Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, and the invasion of Crimea in 2014, and notes: “It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Dictators lie about everything they have done but often they tell us exactly what they are going to do. Just listen!”

Having been told since 2005 that politics is “not black and white, not chess” and that politics requires compromise, Kasparov shows images of destroyed cities and corpses in the streets in Ukraine, and asks: “Compromise? Are you sure? Compromise with this? You cannot look at the images from Ukraine in recent weeks and say there is no pure evil.”

Showing an image from The Lord of the Rings, Kasparov argues that pure evil is no longer reserved for fiction while noting the difference with pure good: “There is no pure good. If anyone says they know what pure good is, it’s probably evil. (…) Good will disagree. Evil says: no more disagreements, ever. That was life in real Mordor: the Soviet Union. That’s what Putin wants for Russia and the world.”

As is also clear from his many tweets in the past month, Kasparov is not satisfied with the support from the western countries for Ukraine, which mostly consists of economic sanctions toward Russia and providing weapons and humanitarian help.

“The price of stopping a dictator goes up with every delay, every hesitation,” says Kasparov. “Meeting evil halfway is still a victory for evil. Evil tempts us with our weakness, with our desire for comfort.”



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