Whatever welcome Garry Kasparov was expecting when he toured the North Caucasus last week, the rude reception he received from local authorities appeared to take the chess champion-turned-liberal politician aback by its ferocity.
In Dagestan, police prevented him from visiting a refugee camp; in North Ossetia, he had eggs covered in ketchup thrown at him; in three cities the authorities refused to allow his plane to land; and in town after town meeting venues were canceled or suffered power outages, and hotels became mysteriously booked up or closed for repairs.
Kasparov, a harsh critic of President Vladimir Putin and a leading member of the United Civil Front, a newly established opposition group, was touring the North Caucasus on a campaign stump last week. On his itinerary were meetings with ethnic Dagestani refugees and the Beslan Mothers' Committee, but instead Kasparov spent most of his time struggling to overcome various obstacles put in his way, in some cases apparently by local authorities.
Kasparov is not the first opposition politician to find his campaigning efforts sabotaged or obstructed. In 2004, presidential candidate Sergei Glazyev saw his campaign thwarted as electricity was turned off at meeting venues in various cities, and he had to resort to holding meetings on the street.
Kasparov had a plane chartered specially for his tour, but airports in Stavropol, Rostov-on-Don and Taganrog refused to allow it to land.
"We made no secret of our itinerary. We distributed it to reporters," Kasparov's spokeswoman Marina Litvinovich said. "Those who tried to sabotage our trip clearly had this program in front of their eyes."
A campaign visit to Novosibirsk by Kasparov last month was also hit by cancellations, with authorities forbidding him from holding meetings at a college with students and opposition politicians, and a local television station canceling a planned studio appearance.
When he spoke outside a house of culture in Vladikavkaz, a group of teenagers threw eggs covered in ketchup at him, Litvinovich said.
Local authorities denied any involvement in the incident, and state media in Moscow accused Kasparov of trying to "make political capital" out of the Beslan tragedy.
North Ossetian President Taimuraz Mamsurov said that the teenagers had attacked Kasparov in a "spontaneous demonstration of their feelings."
"Three days before the visit of Garry Kimovich, anti-government and anti-presidential posters and manifestos were placed on all the walls. So people had plenty of time to form their own point of view and think about what they wanted to do," Mamsurov said in an interview published in Thursday's Rossiiskaya Gazeta government newspaper.
"Accusations in our direction or in the direction of the special services are absolutely groundless. It is quite clear from the videotape that the teenagers were throwing eggs and ketchup. As we all know, teenagers do not serve in the FSB," Mamsurov said.
Litvinovich and at least one journalist traveling with Kasparov said that they saw the teenagers who threw the eggs being brought to the meeting and driven away in a police vehicle after the incident.
"What is very important is that people were coming up to us in North Ossetia to say that they were sorry about what the authorities were doing, and to apologize that they could not show us traditional Caucasus hospitality," Kasparov said.
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