Kasparov forms opposition group to 'dismantle' Putin regime
KHIMKI, Russia (AFP) — Kremlin critics led by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov launched Saturday a new opposition group called Solidarity, vowing to "dismantle" the regime of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
In a hand vote, about 100 delegates agreed in a hotel in a Moscow suburb to form Solidarnost (Solidarity), using the same name as the Polish union movement that pushed Poland's communist government to hold free elections in 1989.
"It is impossible to reform this regime," said Kasparov, one of the most high-profile critics of Putin, who became prime minister earlier this year after Dmitry Medvedev was elected to succeed him as president.
"Our first goal is to dismantle Putin's regime. This is the only way to restore freedom and political competition in the country," he said to applause at the new group's congress.
In another wink to the 1980s anti-Soviet movements, the new opposition group chose as its anthem the song "We're Waiting For Changes" by Russian rock icon Viktor Tsoi, whose tune was a favourite of young Russians during Perestroika.
On Friday, Kasparov had warned that Russia was "on the edge of catastrophe."
"This regime has a very short life expectancy and at the end of next year there will be tremors in Russia. We need ahead of this moment to create a powerful democratic coalition," he told a news conference.
The new opposition group includes an eclectic mix of political forces, including the former SPS liberal party, members of the RNDS party of former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who did not attend the congress, and human rights activists.
While Kasparov said he was "very optimistic" about the movement, at least one delegate was more cautious about its future.
"It does not please many people here, but we must participate because there is nothing else. If you consider yourself a democrat, you must be here," Ivan Fedorenko, an RNDS representative from Saint Petersburg, told AFP.
Fedorenko noted that the opposition hopes it can seize on the economic crisis, with Russia officially in recession, to gain ground.
"Many believe that the crisis opens a window of opportunity, that people will be unhappy because of the economy and that democratic organisations will be able to defend the economic interests and become as popular as the Polish Solidarnost," he said.
Other figures at the conference included Boris Nemtsov, a liberal who served as deputy prime minister in the 1990s.
But many leading Kremlin critics did not attend the congress, reflecting the long-running disunity of Russia's opposition.
Outside, pro-Kremlin youth activists -- who consistently disrupt opposition events in Russia -- protested, including some who wore monkey masks and threw bananas.
Shortly after his speech about 30 activists from Young Russia, a pro-Kremlin youth movement, rallied outside the conference hall, setting off smoke bombs and waving Russian flags and a banner that said "Enough lies".
Three of them wore monkey masks and tossed around bananas and leaflets saying "the monkeys are telling lies."
When the opposition opened its first congress Friday, delegates were greeted by the bizarre sight of a busload of dead or wounded sheep being dumped outside their conference centre.