----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le reportage de Mark Ames, tel qu'il fut publié dans The eXile, en 2002, au moment du procès de Limonov
The trial of Edward Limonov, the 59 year old former "The eXile" columnist and one of Russia's most famous writers, has been going on for nearly two months now, and the English language press has still all but ignored it.
While there has been plenty of press about the state's attacks on two other, far less talented writers, Vladimir Sorokin and Bayan Shiryanov, Limonov's case remains almost completely unknown.
Limonov, as chairman of the extremist NationalBolshevik Party, is charged with attempting to buy arms, raise an army and invade Kazakhstan. The weapons and the army were never found, but the trial in Saratov is going ahead anyway.
He was arrested in April of 2001, held for over a year in Lefortovo, the former KGB's prison in Moscow, then transferred to Saratov this summer for trial. He faces up to 25 years at hard labor.
I arrived in Saratov, an 80 minute flight south of Moscow, last Tuesday evening. The prosecution was still in the middle of calling its witnesses. It plans to call some 26 witnesses in all, in a trial that should
last at least until the end of the year. The courthouse is located in a nondescript fivestory building, hidden by a row of sidewalk birches, next to a large private high school.
When I arrived,
five workers in blue overalls were struggling with a white ATM machine at the courthouse entrance. I couldn't tell if they were taking it away or putting it in. In the sunken lobby on the first floor was a branch of O.B.I. bank. O.B.I. halfcollapsed after
August 1998, and is said to be owned by Almazexport Group, a scary diamond export company. What the hell its bank branch and cash machine were doing inside the highest court in Saratov is anyone's guess, but the grotesque scene seemed apt: Limonov faces life
in prison, while Putin has yet to jail any of the oligarchs who stole everything of value in Russia and sent millions to early graves. A crowd of glum O.B.I. bank depositors or moneychangers sat in chairs waiting their turn. In most countries, a bank branch
located on the first floor of a state court house would raise a lot of questions; in today's Russia, it's one of the few signs that the bank may just be strong and connected enough not to steal all of its depositors' money the way most banks did a few years
I had to pass through a metal detector in the foyer. The cops told me I'd have problems bringing a video camera upstairs. When I told them that I'm an American journalist coming to see the
Limonov trial, they suddenly got nervous, turned away and let me pass, pulling a classic Sergeant Schultz "I see nuzink!" move.
I'd been given the wrong time for the start of the trial, and
had to wait in the hallway until the lunch break. I sat in something like a grammar school desk chair, next to one of the goons in camouflage fatigues. Across the hall were three skinheads, all young and thin, in bomber jackets, one with a Confederate flag
patch. (That idiotic Confederate flag is something I never understood about skinheads why support the side that not only got its ass kicked, but was also responsible for the fact that there are so many angry AfricanAmericans in America in the
first place?! Then again, the skins also support Hitler, who murdered more of their beloved white people than anyone in history.) With them was Arina Koltsova, the 21year old press secretary for the National Bolshevik Party who had moved from
Moscow to Saratov a few months earlier with her boyfriend to better coordinate food and medical donations to Limonov and the five other National Bolsheviks on trial.
The three skinheads standing
with her were waiting to be called as witness by the prosecution. Two came from Krasnoyarsk, one from Rostov. "They've been sleeping on the floor of our studio apartment," Koltsova told me. "It's been crazy at our house. We've been letting all the prosecution's
witnesses stay with us for free. Yesterday we had a crazy journalist from Cheboskary here, an old alcoholic who was drunk from the time he arrived until he left. When he took the stand as a witness, he couldn't even tell which one of the defendants in the
cage was Limonov. The prosecutors were shaking their heads. It was hilarious." « After the morning session ended, everyone in the hallways was herded and forced to stand halfway up the stairwell against the wall, about 50 meters from the defendants,
while the guards led them away. There must have been some 15 to 20 police and camouflaged paramilitary goons guarding Limonov and the defendants. The same security routine was repeated on their way back into the courtroom after lunch. See if you can spot the
new name for Limonka after the authorities banned it Watching a Russian trial can be unsettling.
The defendant, whether a young female poet like Alina Vitukhnovskaya or a pensionaged radical
writer like Limonov, is always obliged to sit in a grim cage, whose bars are generally painted greengray, police standing on either side. The defendant's cage was introduced into the courts during Gorbachev's time after Soviet prosecutors were impressed
with the use of the cage during Italy's crackdown on the Mafia. How any defendant could possibly be judged impartially or appear potentially innocent if he's already sitting in a cage, and a judge is used to seeing him in that cage, is beyond me. But that's
how it is.
The presiding judge, Vladimir Matrosov, was an impressive figure, not just because he's got one of those dignified trim beards, but also because of his quick thinking and sardonic wit
during the cross examination. He also has one of the worst facial twitches I've ever seen. At first I thought it was an affectation, or that he was trying to cut a comical figure like Inspector Clouseau's fatally annoyed chief. Then I realized that the
right corner of Mironov's mouth jerked nearly to his ear at regular five second intervals, as quick as a frog's tongue snapping at a fly. The twitch never stopped.
Mironov had overruled the FSB's
attempt to close the trial to the public and media. However, he banned all cameras and interviews during trial proceedings. Still, the Russian media had managed to both film and interview Limonov in his cage. But they've lost interest in the trial. There were
fewer than ten people in the public seats at the trial, most of whom were Limonov sympathizers like acting National Bolshevik leader Anatoly Tishin.
There was only one local journalist. I
was told I could film with my video camera, but everyone told me something different about when and how I could use it. So just before Mironov took the bench I reached for my bag and took out the camera, at the prodding of both a friendly National Bolshevik
and Duma deputy and former Vladivostok mayor Viktor Cherepkov (who is serving as a special counsel to Limonov).
A cop and one of the camouflaged paramilitary thugs yelled at me to put the camera
back. Cherepkov yelled back that he was a Duma deputy, that he would raise the matter in the Duma and with Attorney General Ustinov, and insisted that I pull the camera out and film. I was nervous, mostly for the camera, but I pulled it out anyway.
Suddenly three goons were on me faster than one of Mironov's facial twitches. One of the paramilitary goons looked exactly like Putin, only bigger and balder. Another had his baton out. They prepared to seize me and
drag me off, god knows where. There was an uproar. "Da ladno, ne nada," I said. "I'll put the camera back. There's no need to take me away." To my surprise, they backed off when I put the camera in the bag.
Only after the session was over, at around 6 in the evening, was I able to briefly film Limonov. When I tried to ask him in English how he felt, a cop grabbed me and made me leave, telling me I wasn't allowed to speak to him. Limonov
smiled at me. That, and a beaming wave hello when he first saw me, was all the contact I had with Limonov. Most of the prosecution's witnesses only helped Limonov's cause. They either came off as harmless bohemians or actually undercut the prosecution's claim
of a grand master plan for invasion directed by Limonov.
The prosecutors were a strange pair. The Moscow prosecutor, a highranking deputy in the Attorney General's Moscow office named Sergei
Verbin, has a long, dark, sunken face with a thick drooping mustache and tinted glasses, almost the spitting image of Felix, the evil police informant in the Bmovie classic Deep Cover.
sidekick, the local federal prosecutor from the Saratov oblast, has the plump, boyish face of a onetime Pioneer leader who marries a younger version of his mother. Both wore the royal blue uniforms and gold star lapels of the federal prosecutor's office.
Neither seemed particularly impassioned about their case, neither offering particularly compelling questions during the sessions that I witnessed. It generally went like this: Skinhead struts into courtroom, tries hard to look calm and collected while clutching
the creaky podium...
Verbin: "Have you read the article 'Drugaya Rossiya'"? Skinhead: "No." Vergin: "Have you seen bulletin number 5 for the NBP?" Skinhead: "No." Verbin: "Did Savenko E.V. [Limonov's
real name] ever speak to you about buying weapons or invading Kazakhstan?" Skinhead: "No." Verbin: "No further questions."
The afternoon session wasn't much better for the prosecution. The first
witness called, a tall, gentlelooking 29year old graphic design artist from Rostov, spoke so softly that he had to move twice. Judge Mironov at one point quipped, "Should we get you an interpreter?" Another time, when others in the courtroom complained
they couldn't hear the witness, Mironov, working on the success of his previous joke, quipped, "Maybe we should get an interpreter for him so that the rest of us can understand what he's saying." Everyone obediently laughed; Mironov's spasm became a restrained,
selfsatisfied twitch, rather than a tick. Eventually Mironov ordered the softspoken, nervous skin to stand right in front of him and his two geriatric "people's witnesses," a pair of grayskinned babushki on either side of Mironov who could barely
keep their eyes open or their heads from falling into their chests. Even still, you could barely hear him. Someone was pounding the wall with a hammer above us. The Rostov skinhead's testimony ended in shambles when Limonov's attorney turned the subject onto
his graphic design and artistic background, and his relationship with other former National Bolsheviks who went on to form the popular rock group Zapretniye Barabanchiki, who had a number one hit in Russia two years ago with "Ubili Negra" or "They Killed a
Negro." The other two skinheads I'd met in the morning session, both from Krasnoyarsk, were just as unhelpful to the prosecution.
They denied ever hearing about plans for an armed invasion of Kazakhstan
or the controversial article in Limonov's newspaper, Limonka, called "Drugaya Rossiya" or "Another Russia" which the prosecution alleges was a blueprint for the invasion of Northern Kazakhstan and the implementation of a National Bolshevik regime there
with Limonov as its leader.
The publication of the "Drugaya Rossiya" article early last year, while Limonov was in Krasnoyarsk researching his book on aluminum magnate Anatoly Bykov, plays a big
role in the prosecution's case. Limonov's defense claims that Limonov didn't write the article. Not only has the prosecution failed to prove that Limonov wrote "Drugaya Rossiya," but just yesterday, Limonka's editor, Alexei Volonets, admitted in court that
the real author was Vladimir Linderman, a National Bolshevik party member in Latvia.
When the prosecution asked why Linderman had never revealed himself before, Volonets said, "Because he
was afraid he'd be arrested and thrown in jail." In fact, Limonka, the incendiary newspaper named after both Limonov and the slang for hand grenade, was finally shut down by the authorities last month. However, the newspaper is already back in print, renamed
"Generalnaya Liniya" or "The General Line" in small print, and the same Limonka logotype in large.
The head of Limonov's defense team is Sergei Beliak, a famous attorney who once defended Vladimir
Zhirinovsky against Boris Nemtsov following the famous orange juice throwing incident. Beliak, who looks like a young bohemian himself, appears in court wearing a black leather sport coat over a black turtlneck, with a modest goatee growing on his
chin. Beliak is joined by one Moscow aide, three local Saratov attorneys and Duma deputy Cherepkov, but he handles nearly all of the load himself. He is sharp, imposing and nuanced in his treatment of the prosecution's witnesses.
It wasn't until the following afternoon, last Thursday, when a tall former NBP member from the Volgograd branch took the stand, that Beliak showed his fangs. This witness was unlike any of the others. He was unusually confident and
articulate, speaking without the shy defiance or the ums and ahs of his predecessors. I wrote in my notes that it appeared he'd been prepared. His testimony was the first that really damaged Limonov and the other defendants. He said everything that the prosecution
wanted to hear: that when he came to Moscow for an NBP congress, he'd been told of plans to buy weapons, rendez vous in Altai with several other National Bolsheviks, and invade Kazakhstan.
When it was Beliak's turn, he asked, "What is your employment again?" Witness: "I work for the social department of the Volgograd administration." Beliak: [mocking tone] "You work for the social department of the Volgograd administration. I see, I see.
The Volgograd Administration. [pause] And how did you pay to come here?" Witness: "The police helped pay for my trip here." Beliak: [mocking tone] "The police helped pay for you to come here. I see, the police. So, you work for the Volgograd administration
and the police paid for you to come here and give testimony."
Beliak caught him lying about how many times he'd run afoul of the police in previous years. It got so brutal that the prosecutor twice
objected, and the judge upheld his objections to Beliak's questioning. The witness started to break. He admitted he'd never heard Limonov trying to obtain weapons or ordering the invasion. He admitted that he didn't know who wrote "Drugaya Rossiya" and that
he hadn't even read it.
After the trial, I spoke to a National Bolshevik who remembered the witness. He described him as a big talker and bullshitter, and laughed when I asked if he thought
that he was a police plant. "You can probably say that." The witness and another sketchy character powerwalked out of the courtroom and down Ulitsa Sovietskaya, then around the corner. I followed them to see where they were going. In a state of agitation
and confusion, they circled in the middle of Ulitsa Pushkinskaya, making first as if to take a taxi, then a bus, then as if to get into a white Lada devyatka. Then they nervously walked back to the corner of Ulitsa Sovietskaya and peered around the corner
to see if they were being followed. Then they power walked the other way down Ulitsa Sovietskaya.
Limonov looks surprisingly healthy for a 59 year old asthmatic imprisoned
for over 18 months. He spends each session of his trial writing detailed notes of every word said, concentrating hard, and delivering questions when appropriate.
His long, mostly gray hair reminds
you of an older Che Guevera, while the goatee is Kalinin by way of Colonel Sanders. He looks like what he is : a defiant radical who hasn't been broken.
But things are worse than they appear. While
in Lefortovo, Limonov was given enough space and comfort to complete seven manuscripts, two of which have already been published. In Saratov, he has to share a holding cell with three men: an accused murderer, robber and burglar.
Beliak claims that Limonov gets on fine with his cellmates, that they've "read all of his novels, even the first one," a reference to the infamous descriptions of homosexual sex in "It's Me, Eddie".
Some reports in the French press have not made Limonov's cellmates out to be as respectful. Whatever the case, Limonov has stopped writing. He also has not been able to send letters to friends (I haven't received
a letter since June), and has received few himself.
Arina, the NBP press secretary living in Saratov, told me that she and another National Bolshevik got jumped by a gang of unknown people
not long after they moved to Saratov. As they beat her and her friend, the attackers yelled things like "Limonov is a faggot!" "It was probably some people connected to the police," she told me, shaking her head. It's not hard to imagine. Even though the Putin
regime has demonized Limonov for being a fascist, Putin's own youth movement, Moving Together, has been linked by many, including Novaya Gazeta, to Nazi and skinhead organizations. The link is barely hidden.
Last month, when Ireland's soccer team came to Moscow to play the Russian national team, one of the eXile staffers spent an afternoon and evening with a large group of Moving Together members. One of them pulled our staffer aside and said, "You
know, I'm a fascist. I think we have to get rid of all the Jews and niggers." He nearly stomped our staffer's halfJewish friend who was with him because his name was David. "Your name's David? Are you a Jew? Are you a Jew"?! the Moving Together teenager
asked menacingly. David lied. "I would have been killed," he later told me. "I was completely outnumbered."
Nothing has been more frustrating about Limonov's trial than the Western
press's silence. The few correspondents I know who have tried to sell the story to their newspapers have failed. Others are openly happy to see Limonov behind bars, as if he got what he deserved, even if few believe that Limonov really posed a threat to Russia
PEN International, the umbrella organization representing writers around the world, issued a statement in March expressing concern about the nature of Limonov's trial and calling
for his release. But that is one of the few voices of protest from the hypocritical West.
I just don't see how a journalist can claim to stand for freedom of conscience and dissent...except in
the case where his own values are under threat. Then again, since 9/11, it's hard to be surprised: most American journalists showed just how deep their journalist ethics really ran, abandoning what little skepticism, inquisitiveness and impartiality they had
left for pure jingoism once they felt threatened. So much for universal values.
Does Limonov really pose a threat? Yes, I think he does. As an Afghan war veteran friend told me, while fascist fruitcakes
like Barkashov may have actual armies of men, they're merely cub scout masters with no fresh ideas who pose no threat to order. People like Limonov and the artists, intellectuals, poets and punks who gather around him are the kind of radical intellectuals
who, although they themselves may not pose a physical threat, come up with ideas that might take root and germinate. That's what threatens the regime. And that's why Limonov, alone among Russia's extremists, is in real danger of spending the rest of his life
Mark Ames - The eXile - 2002