By Joan Gralla (

Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and an
Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion and an exile from Russia, where he was a pro-democracy opposition leader against Putin, speaks at a forum Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at Woodlands in Woodbury. The forum was a benefit for the Human Rights Foundation. Photo Credit: Chuck Fadely

Garry Kasparov, chess champion and chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, on Wednesday urged people to “stay engaged” in the global fight for democracy.

The United States’ biggest problem is that its credibility as a global leader has been “shattered” by every president since Ronald Reagan as people around the world saw it switch from too little engagement under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and too much engagement under George W. Bush, said Kasparov.

Speaking at a dinner sponsored by the Ronkonkoma law firm Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, Kasparov also delved into how his career shaped his views of dictatorships and artificial intelligence. The event was a fundraiser for the Human Rights Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Kasparov pinned Russia’s current lack of freedoms on Russian activists and the West permitting the re-election of Boris Yeltsin — and allowing him to cheat — to ensure Communists did not return to power instead of protecting the new democratic institutions that proved too fragile to withstand the rise of Vladimir Putin.

Under Putin, Russia is “besieged,” he said, adding:

“There people live in fear.”

Though Kasparov and his family fled ethnic violence in his native Baku as the Soviet Union collapsed, his 80-year-old mother, who still lives in Moscow, tells him Putin’s regime in some ways is worse than the communist state.

At least the Soviets offered a more promising though distant future, he said, while, under Putin, the propaganda machine portrays an entire world against Russia and “a culture of death.”

Kasparov, who is half Armenian and half Jewish, said his native country would never recover until it grappled with the sins of communism, as both Germany and Japan did with their World War II atrocities.

The same holds true for Turkey, which has never recognized the Armenian genocide, he said.

“Maybe it’s something mystical, the shadow over the dark past prevents you from recovering.”

Kasparov, honored as a hero in the Soviet Union after becoming the world’s youngest chess champion at 22, later lost a match to an IBM machine called Deep Blue.

Humans should not be afraid of machines, Kasparov said, jesting that 20 years from now children will wonder at how primitive this generation was for driving cars themselves, when automated cars are so much safer.

“Some good things could happen from technology because technology will help us move onto something else,” he said.

Read it on Newsday‘s website.