In 1993, in the aftermath of the Russian Constitutional Crisis, Eduard Limonov, Aleksander Dugin, and Yegor Letov, came together to found the National Bolshevik Party (NBP). This would be their chance to transform the Russian political sphere with novel ideas, to push for an alternative that is measured, moderate, yet radical. Aside from defining their political programme, Limonov and company were faced with a dilemma: what would be the symbol of this new movement? According to a later interview with Letov, their choice of banner and symbolism was meant to appeal to the different groups of social resistance in Russia. The older folks of the political opposition were mainly communists, yearning for the golden days of socialism – the hammer and sickle would be their guiding symbol. Young radicals were also prime real estate for NBP recruiting efforts. They were drawn to edginess, hooliganism, and had a weak spot for skinhead aesthetics; the high contrast black, white, and red, reminiscent of the Nazi banner, would suit them well. Thus, the NazBols began their political struggle.
“Shaved heads, black sleeves, a young wolfhound is marching. With thundering steps, the nationalist walks, he is the ideal of the Russian tribe!
The Yankee criminal, the Japanese trickster, the treacherous Fritz (ed. German), seek our demise. But from the Kurils to the Baltic sea, the Russian nation is the strongest of all!
The Slavs believe in Slavic gods; we make a holy vow to take back Chisinău, Kiev and L’vov, Sevastopol’ – the hero (ed. Sevastopol’ was named a ‘heroic city’ for its role in WWII); all will be Russia, united once more!”
– Marching song of the National Bolshevik Party
Becoming Based – Developing the Party Programme
From its inception, the NBP was a radical party mired in controversy. They advocated for state control over strategic economic sectors, while promoting private enterprise everywhere else. This economic policy, for Russian standards, is considered quite moderate. In the social sphere, however, the NazBols really turned up the rhetoric. In 1995, Limonov published the Blacklist of Ethnicities in the party journal Limonka (little lemon, also the nickname for the F-1 hand grenade). This short text detailed the existence of ‘evil peoples’, namely Chechens, Ingush (a related ethnic group), Crimean Tatars, Czechoslovaks, and Balts, and how Stalin was right to deport these people during and after World War II, as they were collectively responsible for their war crimes. According to Limonov, the Tatars, Ingush, and Chechens, had a ‘penchant for banditry’, and agreed that they were ‘unsuitable for re-education’. He furthermore claimed that the Czechs and Slovaks were at fault for the actions of the Czechoslovak Legion, who, during the Russian civil war, killed both Reds and Whites alike while pillaging villages in Siberia. The Balts, on the other hand, were a treacherous people, in Limonov’s eyes – during the October Revolution, they organised the first divisions of the Red Army (Latvian Riflemen), but suddenly started complaining about ‘Russian occupation’ and making laws that targeted Russian-speaking minorities in the region. Limonov’s scathing polemic would see him tried, and later acquitted on charges of inciting ethnic strife.
Particularly after Dugin left the NBP in 1998, the party stepped up its activities. Establishing several wings in neighbouring countries, particularly in Ukraine and the Baltic States, the NBP organised many protests against the discrimination of Russian-speaking people abroad. More interesting, however, are the action of the NBP within Russia. On 11 September 2002, the NBP organised a meeting ‘in solidarity with the rogue countries’ outside the US embassy in Moscow. In the words of an anonymous attendee, the demonstration commemorated the ‘kamikaze heroes’. Another participant said: “On 9/11, the Arabs did what everyone else in the civilised world secretly wanted to do.”
In the lead-up to the legislative elections of 2003, 2 NazBols attended the national electoral forum. After receiving receiving the stage to discuss their party programme, the members exclaimed “There will be no fair elections!”, and dousing the Chief Electoral Commissioner in mayonnaise. From 2004 on, the NazBols started carrying out ‘direct actions’ in Russia, first occupying the office of the Minister for Health, and later occupying the lobby of the Presidential Administration. For the latter action, 40 NazBols were charged with ‘illegal seizure of power’ (i.e. coup). The actions of the ‘40 Decembrists’ (in reference to the Decembrist revolt of 1825) became a hype in Russian mass media, securing a partial acquittal of charges.
As the NBP amassed support and became increasingly combative in its actions against government, the party and its members were targeted by government agencies. Earlier on, in 2001, Limonov was arrested on suspicion of ‘terrorism and forming paramilitary groups’, and spent 2 years in prison for illegal possession of firearms. In 2005, the NBP office in Moscow was raided by special police units; by the end of the year, the Supreme Court ordered the disbanding of the NBP. The NBP continued to operate in legal limbo; during this time, Limonov was involved in helping set up the Other Russia movement, a coalition of opposition parties. The government’s ultimate decision to outlaw the NBP in 2007 had a mixed reception in Russia: many human rights activists argued that the NBP had outgrown its extremist history and was now transforming into a truly democratic party. One even argued that had Limonov not set up the Other Russia coalition, the NazBols would have been allowed to carry on as they were. Eventually, in 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia’s decision to ban the NBP was unproportional on account of a lack of evidence regarding the alleged extremism of the party.
The Other Russia Movement – Russia without Putin
The struggle of Limonov and his compatriots was far from over. Even after the disbanding of the NBP, the majority of NazBols would follow Limonov into the Other Russia political movement. The Other Russia, formed in 2006 by leading members of civil society and opposition parties, was to become a national forum for the political opposition against Putin. It brought together actors from all sides of the political spectrum, from Western-style liberals (like Garry Kasparov and the Moscow Helsinki Committee), to communists (e.g. the Russian Left Front), academics, all alongside NazBols.
This coalition created a broad platform to express national discontent, and set about creating a tradition of civil disobedience and resistance in Russia. The Other Russia organised, under its banner, a series of protest action against the government, known as the Dissenters’ Marches. From 2006-2009, series of protests would shake Russia and garner a great deal of international attention and political momentum for change. The first Dissenters’ March took place on 16 December 2006 in Moscow, where 6000 gathered on Triumfal’naya square in central Moscow, demanding electoral reform and an end to censorship. The march was quickly contained by a police cordon and 100-300 people were arrested en masse, many of whom former members of the NBP.
In 2007, the Dissenters’ Marches started spreading throughout Russia’s major urban centres, with large protests taking place in a different city almost every month. At each turn, however, they were hindered by resistance from public authorities proposing different meeting grounds, police cordons blocking processions, and organisers being detained and later released without charges, or a minor fine at most. For the first March in St Petersburg, local governor Matviyenko broadcast warnings via official media and public announcements to not join the ‘extremists’. City police raided known opposition organisers’ houses and pulled would-be protesters from incoming trains. Despite the efforts of the government to thwart the march, an estimated 7000 showed up to the protest.
Around the 2008 Presidential elections, more Dissenters’ protests were organised, and certain artist groups became involved in the opposition. Chief among them was the radical street-art group Voina (lit. “War”), who used creative performances and provocative imagery to effect political pressure. During a Moscow march, for instance, they joined the protests with signs saying: “I fuck the little bear”. “Little bear” here, is a pun playing on Mevedev’s name, deriving from medved’ (bear). The group Voina, while not affiliated directly with the Other Russia, would come to impact the public perception of the protests. The group itself led an interesting life: all of its member rejected wage labour and avoided the use of money in any possible situation. Renouncing modern society, they effectively lived off of urban foraging (i.e. dumpster diving and shoplifting) and DIY projects.
On the day before Medvedev’s election as President, Voina occupied the Moscow State Museum of Biology to set up a site of protest. Under the slogan “Fuck for the heir little bear”, five couples had sex in public. According to Voina’s spokesperson Alexei Plutser-Sarno, the scene perfectly illustrated pre-election Russia, “where all of society is being bent over and railed by the governing elite. While Putin is fucking over the country, the little bear gets to watch.”
As protests throughout the country intensified, so did police actions. To counter this state action, Limonov and other in the Other Russia coalition moved to make their ad-hoc Dissenters’ Marches a tradition. First, they experiment with unannounced protest actions, counting on the right to free assembly. This, however, would quickly reduce the turn-out for protests, effectively enabling the police to make easier mass arrests. Because of this, Limonov and company decided to compose Strategy-31, based on the 31st Article of the Russian Constitution. Starting in 2009, on the 31st of every month, they would hold sit-ins at the Triumfal’naya square where the very first Dissenters’ March was held; these actions would continue continue for a whole year.
Internationally, and within liberal circles, the moves by the Other Russia were quite well received, yet the public remained largely indifferent, in part due to state media being critical of the protests. Limonov, among the most active organisers of the marches, was often arrested and detained by security services for ‘inciting public unrest’ and ‘advocating political extremism’. Yet Limonov was steadfast and principled in his beliefs and actions, and ultimately, no convicting evidence could be produced against him. Indeed, this was only the first part of the struggle…
The Second Front – From Coalition to Party
Serious momentum was building for civil society in Russia. After more than a year of building a tradition of civil resistance, Limonov pushed the coalition to open a second front, to create a political programme and register for elections. Limonov knew that the Ministry of Justice would be unlikely to treat his application fairly; in his eyes, Russia never had democratic elections, after all. Their strategy would be steadfast, even when denied a platform: to use any civil means available to pressure the political establishment and break up the monopoly of political power in Russia. Even with their attempt at registration rejected, the Other Russia would serve as the vanguard of all political opposition against Putin.
On their first party congress in July 2010, they decided on their programme: a set of reasonable policies, including left-wing and right-wing ideas; the part could characterised as centrists, aiming to appeal to all Russians. Their strategy was simple. First, get registered as a political party (optional). Second, participate in elections. Third, protest against electoral fraud and falsified election results. Fourth, demand a recount of votes. Fifth, victory for the opposition coalition.
“We are the most courageous party, the most uncontrolled. We want to create a climate of political freedom, and so we are very irritating to the Kremlin. We make the government crazy.
– Eduard Limonov
This concludes the second chapter of this series of three articles on National Bolshevism. What will Limonov and friends get up to? Will the Other Russia succeed politically? Find out in the next and last chapter, coming out in 2 weeks!
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