In The Holy Fire Of Revolution

In The Holy Fire Of Revolution


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Garry Kasparov is/was the greatest chess player in the world, who, having beaten every human opponent, took on a monstrous blue computer and, rumour has it, won. Now he is taking on Vladimir Putin in his new role as leader of a radical opposition party that has joined a dissident collective, under the title The Other Russia. Success on this most unlevel of playing fields is far from assured.

Masha Novikova’s revealing, if erratic, documentary exposes something that the Western media pays lip service to, namely the loss of civil rights and freedom of expression post Yeltsin. It does not name the journalists and activists murdered during this period, although occasionally they are alluded to as an ever-present threat. “Even in the Soviet era, it wasn’t as dangerous as this,” remarks an observer.

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During a year of campaigning for the general election in 2007, Kasparov has his passport confiscated (briefly), is not allowed on national television or radio and spends five days in jail for not having permission “from the proper authorities” to hold a rally, during which time he is kept in solitary and not allowed access to a lawyer. One hundred and twenty of his supporters were also locked up and 39 of them given between one and four years for carrying anti Putin banners. A trusted member of Kasparov's staff, a woman in her late twenties, was beaten unconscious by two youths with baseball bats one evening after working late at the office “as a warning.” Reluctantly, she employs a bodyguard now.

It is impossible not to admire Kasparov’s courage as well as his outrage at what is happening to the motherland. He is a diminutive, handsome, intelligent man who appears to have a natural flair for the campaign trail, although any resemblance between this and an American election would be like comparing a donkey to a Derby winner.

The glimpse of small town Russia, even big town Russia, is a collage of ugly architecture and crass modernisation. The girls wear skin tight jeans and old people have faces carved out of poverty. Riot police resemble frightened children confronting noisy crowds of disgruntled grannies and their disillusioned offspring. “My father was killed by the fascists,” one screams. “Hit me!”

Democracy is dead! Long live the people! The Other Russia, with its loyal band of followers, is trapped in a world of contradiction in which assassination has been sanctioned by the security forces (secret police) and opposition to the Power That Be feels helpless because once it looks like gaining popularity Rentathugs and youth gangs, shouting “Kasparov is Judas!”, are put on threat alert.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2009
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A year on the campaign trail in Russia with the world's greatest chess player.

Director: Masha Novikova

Starring: Garry Kasparov

Year: 2008

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: Russia


Human Rights 2009

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