Limonov by Mark Ames - The eXile
About Book of Emmanuel Carrère, "Limonov" :
" I'm conflicted on the
bio. It's a very good reworking of Limonov's first-person works, but Carrère's "I" is insufferable "
The trial of Edward Limonov in Saratov.2002
by Mark Ames - 2013 in NSFWCorp
THE FULL TEXT, HERE :
...///... In April 2001, Limonov had been arrested in the
Altai Mountains with a handful of his National-Bolsheviks Party members in a pre-dawn raid by Putin’s FSB, the successor
to the KGB. They bound him, shipped him to Moscow, and tossed him into the notorious KGB prison, Lefortovo.
VIDEO OF THE ARRESTATION :
Realizing that a Moscow trial could be problematic — support for Limonov
was pouring in from writers and literary critics across Europe, especially France — the Kremlin moved his trial to the provincial Volga town of Saratov, where he was charged
with acquiring illegal weapons, raising an insurrectionary army, and plotting the overthrow of Kazakhstan.
The weapons and the army were never found; the plot
evidence came down to an article in Limonov’s party newspaper, headlined “Other Russia” [Drugaya Rossiya] — a banner name later appropriated by Garry Kasparov and the anti-Kremlin opposition.
In late 2002, I was the only American journalist to go down to Saratov and report on Limonov’s political trial.
hated Limonov still because his radical
anti-neoliberalism was hostile to everything held they held dear. Limonov’s defense team was desperate — he was facing 30 years in prison, meaning
he’d die there.
After writing up his trial for The eXile, I went back to Moscow and stayed in contact with Limonov’s lawyers, who had been passing
me letters from Limonov, one of which I published in the eXile.
And then suddenly, very fast, things got weird: His lawyers pushed me hard to come down to
Saratov to put me on the stand. They wanted to question me on something, but they wouldn’t tell me exactly what. At first I thought it was because our phones were tapped — that
was a fact of life in Russia, communications monitored, phones tapped.
Russia’s FAPSI agency employed some 120,000 snoops just to listen in on Russian phone calls. (I’ve always assumed
the same happens here, but apparently other American journalists believed until recently that things operate the way we’re told in middle school civics classes.)
Then I found out that in the final months before Limonov’s arrest, my conversations with him had been recorded by a white van parked on the Stary Arbat where his apartment was at the time. Every other Sunday, I’d go to Limonov’s to pick up his newest eXile column, which he’d pen by hand in his trademark broken English. We’d spend a few hours drinking tea and snarling
at the world.
Those final months of his freedom, late 2000 through early 2001, our conversations about President Putin had turned darker — a lot of speculation about Putin’s
role in the apartment bombings, his ties to the Tambovskaya grupperovka, and rumors in the Japanese press that Putin had a thing for little boys.
Limonov later told me that when the prosecution allowed him to listen to the surveillance recordings himself, he nearly shat himself over what they recorded — if the prosecution
translated them and introduced recordings as evidence, the temperamental judge, who took himself and his position very seriously throughout the proceedings, would’ve walked over to Limonov's defendant cage and shot
him point-blank himself.
Luckily, the prosecution was already so sure their case was
decided in-advance, they didn't go through the
trouble of translating everything they recorded.
Since I couldn’t get a firm answer out of Limonov’s lawyers about what exactly they wanted to ask me on the witness stand or why
they wanted me in the trial, I asked my own lawyer what he thought. “Don’t go, not unless you ready to pay for it,” he said. “Limonov’s defense team is desperate. They want an
American involved. It’s pretty clear their strategy is to get you on the stand, rile up the prosecution, and then have the prosecution go after you to internationalize the trial.
Limonov’s going to spend the rest of life in prison — he's what, 60 years old now? I can't tell you what to do Mark, but my advice is don't go, and stop taking the lawyers' phone calls. It could get very bad, so only do it if this is what you want and what you believe in.”
A couple of days after Limonov’s lawyers pressed
me to return to Saratov and allow them to put me in the witness stand, Russian state television ran a vicious hit-segment against Limonov, painting
him as a dangerous and violent Bolshevik terrorist.
VIDEO OF THE
The part that made me nearly shit my pants was when the voice-over told viewers, “some of Limonov’s money
for his armed revolution came from an unnamed American source.” For evidence, they played a recording of Limonov’s voice telling his party diehards, “I even have an American friend giving us
money for our revolution.”
My name was never used, but Limonov didn’t have a lot of American friends, I paid him regularly for his eXile work, and his lawyers
were trying to suck me into the Saratov death-trap. Who knows what else I said during our Sunday conversations — half the time I was wired out of my mind.
That was when I reached out to Vasya. I’d first met Vasya in 1995, right after he earned his LLM from Harvard and returned to Moscow looking for work. The investment company I worked for at that time needed
a lawyer, and we arranged to meet Vasya at the Radisson hotel, but he never showed up that day — it turned out that he’d been arrested by Moscow’s racist police. Vasya was half-Armenian, which to Russian
cops meant he was a “black-ass” who could be shaken down for bribe money, or tossed into a holding cell.
Now it was 2002, and Vasya was the
top legal executive at Russia’s largest oil company, Yukos ( then headed by Mikhail Khodorkovsky ), which at one time ranked as the fourth largest oil company in the
The last time Vasya helped me out of a bad situation, his advice was practical: These are the steps you have to take to not fall victim to an “accident” planned by the Orekhovo-Borisovo grupperovka. I did everything he told me, needless to say.
This time, in the top floor club at Metelitsa, Vasya greeted me with an almost
sad expression on his face, like he was looking at a lost cause. He didn’t offer me advice; instead, he got philosophical with me, which was scary in its own right.
“You know mate” — Vasya always used the word “mate” when speaking English, if only because it annoyed Americans — “my father always told me something
that I’ve only recently started to understand, and I’m going to tell it to you now: Everyone dies by their idea. Do you understand what I mean, mate?
We all die by our own idea.
You know my father — he was a member of the Academy of Sciences, he’s a physicist, a great physicist, and for the Soviet times, in the 1970s, to be a physicist in the Academy of Sciences was really
the top of everything.
But he got into a fight with a powerful clan, on principles, politics — I won’t get into that now, but
my father did not back down. And he paid for it. He was kicked out. He lost his privileges. He lost everything. And he told me, many
times now, ‘Everyone dies by their own idea.’
So you have to ask yourself what is your idea you’ll die by. Limonov — we know his idea. For some reason, mate, you like this guy. I don’t
like Limonov myself, I can’t stand that motherfucker. But at least I know this about Limonov – that he’s living and he’s probably going to die by his idea. No one thinks he’ll ever get out
of jail alive. I think he’s a motherfucker for taking other people down with him, but some people are weak, and those people die by someone else's idea.
You see what I’m saying, mate? I’m not going to give you any advice or tell you what to do anymore. You like trouble, you like that kind of journalism. I don't get the point of it. You know what
I think about your shitty newspaper, mate, and all fucking journalists for that matter. But you’re my friend, and I try to help my friends. I don't like losing my friends.
Now, about this Limonov trial. What his lawyers are trying to do to you, is fuck you to save their client — is this your idea, mate? Just think about what you believe in before you do something
stupid or weak.”
( ............. // Here, the story of Vasya ... He was arrested after Mikhail Khodorkovsky . He
died of AIDS in prison.. ///............. )
Just about the only other person I know who held firm against political repression and grew stronger from
conviction is Limonov. To everyone’s shock, just as the crackdown on Vasya’s company was launched in the summer of 2003, Limonov, who’d beaten all charges but one, was released early on parole from the
“colony” in the town of Engels.
He returned to Moscow to a hero’s welcome — hundreds thronged his train
as it pulled into Paveletsky Vokzal. Duma deputies, writers, artists and hundreds of young radicalized political activists greeted Limonov as a hero of his convictions who stared down the awful power of Putin’s state, and won.
Prison changed him in some profound ways: He became dedicated to prison reform and prisoners’ rights, he became a great
admirer of the Chechen people and Islam, he abandoned most of the nationalist side of his politics for an even fiercer leftist politics, and he made alliances with liberals he’d
once despised — partnering with chessmaster Garry Kasparov, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Boris Nemtsov and others.
wrote seven books during his two and half years behind bars, and shortly after his release, in his 60s, Limonov married and had his first children.
ago, a French biography on Limonov won the Prix Renaudot and became a must-read in the Sarkozy cabinet; this year, an Italian film company bought the rights and announced plans to
make a $20 million film. His politics are still as radical and frustrating to outsiders as ever.
I never talked to Limonov about the potential trap his lawyers set for me, and he never
brought it up to me. I never begrudged him or his lawyers for doing what they felt they had to do to free their client. That wasn’t the “idea” that I was ready to impale myself on.
MARK AMES - 2013
----- ----- -----
Who's Afraid of Edward Limonov?
03.15.2002 | CULTURE
Edward Limonov, one of Russia's most famous authors, has been sitting in the KGB's Lefortovo prison in Moscow since April of last year (2001).
As author of several taboo-breaking novels, editor of the radical newspaper Limonka and chairman of the National-Bolshevik Party, Limonov has been one of the most controversial and scandalous public figures in post-Soviet Russia.
Today, he awaits charges that he was conspiring to overthrow the state of Kazakhstan, to acquire illegal weapons, and to form an illegal armed militia.
He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Until this January, Limonov's case got no attention whatsoever
outside of Russia. Which is odd, considering how much press jailed Russian writers, no matter what their politics, used to get during the Cold War.
Moreover, Limonov is a dual French citizen, where he lived throughout the 1980's and grew to fame as the enfant terrible of modern European literature. The West's hitherto silence on Limonov's imprisonment is therefore baffling, if
not downright hypocritical.
Recent developments may mean that things are slowly beginning to change for Limonov. Two months
ago, a petition began to circulate among France's literary elite calling attention to Limonov's case and for the government to work to free him. The petition was signed by so many heavyweights that it eventually became a feature on France-1 state television.
The petition was the brainchild of Parisian journalist and writer Patrick Goffman. "When we heard that Limonov was facing 23 years in
prison or perhaps even more, we realized that he was not involved in a petty quarrel with the Russian government, but rather that this was serious," Goffman said. "We started a petition with three Parisian writers, and from there it snowballed into something
The "Free Limonov" petition is a Who's Who List of France's cultural and literary heavyweights, some 70 figures spanning the political spectrum from the left to the right, from Russian émigrés such as Vladimir Boukovsky, Alexander Ginzberg,
and the widow of Andrei Sinyavsky to such luminaries as author Bernard Frank and Le Figaro literary critic Patrick Besson, who called Limonov "the best living Russian writer." It includes many leading publishers, including Vladimir
Dimitrijevic, director of l'Age d'Homme in Lausanne, one of the West's oldest and largest publishers of Slavic literature.
"Limonov is one of Russia's greatest artists," said Dimitrijevic, whose house publishes everyone from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn. "He is
a great writer and a very courageous man. I will always stand by a man who suffers for the truth." Since then, several PEN clubs around the world have called for his release: PEN Russia, Italy, Belgium, Bolivia, Italy, Spain, Taiwan, and others.
On March 1st, Sara Whyatt, PEN International's Program Director for Writers in Prison Committee, issued an official statement expressing
International PEN's "concern about the trial process against writer and Bolshevik Nationalist [sic] Party leader, Eduard Limonov."
While the statement noted that PEN "considers many of the views expressed by Eduard Limonov to run counter to its own charter," it recognized Limonov's importance in modern Russian letters: "Limonov, during his exile in the USA and France in the 1970's
and 1980's, gained a reputation as one of Russia's most noted avant-garde writers, leading this organization to take a special interest in his case."
Oddly enough, while the Limonov detention has made regular TV radio and print press in Russia, the Western press corps in Moscow ignores his case. Only in my newspaper The eXile, where Limonov was a regular contributor up until his
arrest, and a few smaller articles in our straight-laced rival The Moscow Times has Limonov's detention been written up.
it more dangerous to be a dissident today than during the Cold War?
In 1974, Limonov, who had gained fame in Moscow's unofficial
and underground art world as a leading avant-garde poet, was subjected to repeated KGB harassment and finally expelled from the Soviet Union, along with what became known as the "Third Wave" of Soviet dissidents. Back then, the Western media and diplomatic
corps persistently fought for the right of Soviet citizens to publish and express themselves openly, and fought for the rights of anyone jailed or punished simply for the crime of disagreeing. The reason, we said then, was that we believed that freedom of
expression was every human being's basic right--indeed that to differ and express was itself to be human--all the more so if that opinion or work of art upset the Powers That Be.
Cut to 2001. Edward Limonov, now one of Russia's most famous public figures after more than two decades as a leading émigré writer in America and France, is once again the target of the KGB, today renamed
Last April, after completing a book on jailed Krasnoyarsk aluminum baron Anatoly Bykov, Limonov left for the Siberian
region of Altai. On April 7, more than 50 counter-intelligence goons surrounded the dacha where Limonov and a few others, including the co-editor of Limonka, a viciously anti-government newspaper, were staying; at 4 a.m., they raided, dragged them out and
made them lie face-down in the snow, and--failing to find anything besides the royalties Limonov received for his Bykov book--hauled him straight to Lefortovo Prison. He must be the only dissident to have been persecuted TWICE by two opposing regimes in the
The case against Limonov rests on a sting against two teenagers busted in February of 2001 in Saratov for trying
to acquire illegal arms. After a few months of coercion, they changed their story and accused Limonov of putting them up to it. This is the basis for the case against Edward Limonov.
Since then, the prosecution's case snowballed, capping with December's additional charge of attempting to overthrow the state of Kazakhstan, and with January's failed attempt to shut down Limonka and Limonov's extreme left-right
political party, The National-Bolshevik Party.
Today, with so many leading French figures lining up behind him, Limonov's
supporters are hoping that the French government will work to free him. Meanwhile, Limonov is running in the March 31 elections for a vacated seat in the state Duma in Dzherzhinsk, considered to be among the most polluted cities in Russia. He will face off
against candidates from the Communist and pro-Kremlin Unity parties. Limonov has harmed no one and has stolen nothing. He is a dissident against both Putin's emerging neo-liberal dictatorship and against Western hegemony. His views were extremist, but not
linked to a single death or injury. He called for re-nationalizing property, boycotting Western goods, and attacked Western-leaning liberals as stooges. He managed to build a significant following among Russia's alternative youth, particularly artists and
"It is not possible to put a man like this in jail and to separate it from his writings and what he is," said Dmitrijevic.
Indeed if Limonov's life has been characterized by one thing, it's that he has always been in opposition to Power. When Limonov arrived
in New York in 1974, he quickly grew into the role of a dissident within the dissident movement, arguing that the West was in many ways just a more sophisticated version of the Soviet Union, with more sophisticated propaganda, and just as little tolerance
for true dissent. America didn't want to hear that. He found it nearly impossible to publish his political writings in the United States, so he turned to novels.
The Americans were reluctant to publish his first three novels, including It's Me, Eddie and His
Butler's Story, both of which shunned standard anti-Soviet émigré literature in favor of a kind of debauched hyper-egoist anti-American stance. The books are funny, incisive, and vexing. This was not what America wanted to read about itself
from an ungrateful Soviet émigré.
The positive reception his novels received in France inspired him to move
from New York to Paris with his then-wife, singer Natalia Medvedeva, in 1982. In the next few years, he published some of the world's greatest modern fiction, including Memoir of a Russian Punk (Podrostok Savenko in Russian), a water-tight masterpiece about
one brutal epic weekend in the life of a lumpenprole teenager in Kharkov during the post-Stalin era. His aesthetic was frighteningly cold, merciless and insectoid, more Jean Genet than Dostoevsky. Limonov was granted French citizenship in 1987, after taking
France's avant-garde literary scene by storm; in 1986, French Cosmopolitan even named him one of France's top 40 leading cultural figures. Limonov wrote for several radical French publications, first siding with the left, then with the right.
In 1991, after the first official publishing in the Soviet Union of his controversial 1979 novel It's
Me, Eddie sold nearly 1.5 million copies, then-President Gorbachev re-instated Limonov's Russian citizenship.
And that was the year, from the point of view of the West, that Limonov went bad. He sided with Serbia during its wars with its neighbors and the West, fighting alongside the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia and publishing his
war correspondence. He joined the shadow cabinet of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's ultra-nationalist, anti-Western LDPR in 1992 as its Minister of Interior, sided with the anti-Yeltsin rebels in 1993, and formed the National-Bolshevik Party in 1994 with radical-intellectual
Alexander Dugin and Yegor Letov, lead singer of the punk group Grazhdanskaya Oborona, whose genius as a lyricist is matched only by his ability to attract wanton violence at his concerts on a level that would cause most Western punks to piss in their Dickeys.
Over the past decade, Limonov has been smeared with the racist and anti-Semite labels, even though there is no substantive proof to
support these accusations. Many in the Western media and academia will say off the record that they think Limonov got what he deserved.
Limonov is an alien to such people. He was shaped by the avant-garde, in particular Russian avant-garde writers of the 1920s such as Daniil Kharms and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, as well as the Anglo-American avant-garde of the 60s and 70s. He told me
that the first English poetry he translated into Russian after moving to New York was the lyrics of Lou Reed. Reed, both as singer of The Velvet Underground and as a major figure in Andy Warhol's Factory scene, was aggressively anti-bourgeois and anti-liberal,
taking much of his aesthetic from the sado-masochist underground, from the violent fringes of society, from fascism and revolutionary aesthetics, in order to confront contemporary Western culture. Soon after Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, Limonov fell in with the
punk movement in New York, which also agitated against liberal middle-class culture and values, relying heavily on violence and the threat of violence, though also more often than not on outrageous humor. Limonov never changed his heart or tastes; indeed,
much of his sympathy with the skinheads goes directly back to The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Lou Reed, a Jew from Long Island who carved a giant iron cross in his skull and strutted around stage in a black leather uniform singing "Kill Your Sons."
Russian artists, going back to the Romantics like Lermontov and Pushkin, up through Dostoevsky and experimentalists like Kharms, have
always had a way of borrowing their aesthetics from the West, Russifying them, and taking them one step too far, which is why they are generally superior to our Western artists. The same could be said of Limonov.
Which is why he is not only misunderstood, but loathed.
A conference-hopping American academic, a Volvo-chauffeured Western correspondent whose Moscow life consists of going from sushi bar to hotel lobby sucking up to sleazy oligarchs, an unscrupulous FSB agent who wouldn't bat an eye at extracting a bribe
from a Caucasian fruit trader but recoils in horror at Limonov's freak show and descriptions of homosexuality--all are equally incapable of placing Limonov in context. Through their simplistic moral lenses, he is repulsive, a threat. He's where he belongs--in
Limonov is perhaps the only Russian artist to be persecuted both by the KGB and, 30 years later, the FSB. And he
is the only one who today rots in jail due to a collective wall of silence in the West.
As a personal friend and former editor
of Limonov, I am finally hopeful. Sara Wyhatt of PEN International has now spoken out. The pressure put on by France's literary elite, followed by declarations of support from so many PEN clubs, has finally raised Limonov's profile. Now the real question is:
will the Western media, whose power was so great in freeing dissidents in the Soviet era, bother to report on the plight of a writer who not only pissed off the Russian authorities, but also the West?
In the autumn of 1998, I got a call from Edward Limonov asking me if I could do a favor for him. His newspaper Limonka—known for its mix of extreme politics and avant-garde aesthetics—was preparing to celebrate its
fourth anniversary at the Mayakovskaya Museum.
“My boys begged me to bring Johnny Rotten to the party,” Limonov told me, laughing. “I know it’s a small chance, but maybe Mr. Rotten will think
it’s interesting to speak before a group of radical Russian youths who worship him.”
“Don’t you have an agent in the U.S. you could use?” I asked, knowing
that Harvey Keitel had just purchased the rights to make a film based on Limonov’s first novel, Eto ya, Edichka.
“No, I have no agent anymore. After I went to fight for Serbs in 1991, I
lost all my connection to that world. No one will touch me,” he said, with a mixture of pride and scorn.
Taibbi and I had just signed a deal with the William Morris agency, so I was able to track down Johnny
Rotten’s agent in LA. I called the agent’s office, spoke to an assistant, and was told to put the request in writing. Knowing that my rep was on the line with Limonov, I hammed the fax letter up with shameless punk-coded flattery for Johnny Rotten,
how he’s idolized in Russia like a God, how Limonov is Russian literature’s equivalent of the Sex Pistols, how Russia post-financial crisis was everything Rotten had ever sung about, etc. There would be no honorarium, but he was guaranteed an experience
he’d never forget.
A few days later, Rotten’s agent faxed his answer, which began: “Unfortunately….” Johnny Rotten was due to fly from LA to England about three days before Limonov’s
event, which was a problem, the agent explained, because Johnny Rotten always requires at least five days to recover from jet-lag. If he had less than five days, the agent explained, Rotten risked catching a cold. He couldn’t move up his flight to England
to an earlier date because he had plans to celebrate Thanksgiving in LA, and—as the agent noted—that Thanksgiving party was important to Rotten.
I knew that Rotten went bourgeois 20 years ago, but my
God, who would have thought that he’d become a caricature of a Jewish American Princess, worrying about jet-lag and sniffles and pumpkin pie?!
Limonov laughed, a bitter, disappointed laugh, when I told him.
“Oh my god, I can’t say to my boys that this is why Johnny Rotten isn’t coming,” he said. “I’ll have to think of some excuse myself.”
If you look at the historical record
of aspiring extremist artists, they all go the way of Johnny Rotten: Lou Reed holding hands with Bill Clinton and Vaclav Havel; Jello Biafra turning into a crunchy Greenpeace faggot (for which he was properly stomped at Gilman Street, barely escaping with
a snapped ulna); Joe Strummer singing pop songs ridiculing Islam; the entire ’60s radical movement who transformed into corporate-kissing, war-mongering globalization tools (Joschka Fischer, Bernard-Henri Levy, Gloria Steinem, Jerry Rubin, Susan Sontag,
Gary Trudeau, etc.); and so on, and so on.
The trend towards posing as a radical just long enough to get Invited In reached such a peak that by the time the ’90s generation came to, selling out was no longer
something you did with a red face, but rather it was expected, even celebrated, with just enough self-conscious irony to make everyone feel in on the joke.
why Edward Limonov stands as a singular example in our time, and why so many intelligent people hate him: his one-track obsession with ALWAYS STANDING AGAINST shames everyone who ever thought they had balls and character. He reminds every poseur how far they
never went. And it hurts.
When it was announced this past week that Limonov had been arrested and sent to Lefortovo Prison, where he faces eight years behind bars, nearly everyone’s reaction was, “He
asked for it.” This is the COWARD’S instinctive response; it almost fills him with a sense of relief to know that the one asshole with enough balls to always STAND AGAINST finally paid for it, because the rest of us, the other 99.999 percent, all
reached a point along the rebellion line where we caved in. We had our future to worry about. Just the fear of being ridiculed for behaving “immaturely” turned nearly every youthful rebel/idealist into a collaborator.
“Grow up”; “Get over it.”
So we did.
And our only consolation, as heart disease and humiliation tormented our every waking hour as Cubicle
Serfs, was knowing that, had we not caved in, we would have wound up suffering far worse, failing, scorned, alone, forgotten.
Only Limonov proved that wrong. He’s the only artist—and certainly the only
writer—I can think of who has stood against everything, and never reached that point where it got too dangerous and he backed down.
He didn’t merely scream “Get pissed, destroy!” before jumping
aboard the next fad, switching ideologies as easily as hairdos. Limonov didn’t lie. And that’s what’s so scary about him. And ultimately, what’s so loathsome.
Limonov became the darling of
the avant-garde precisely because he was so extreme. The French propelled him to literary stardom in the 1980s because Limonov was as anti-American as he was anti-Soviet, moreso even. They loved reading his fantasies of taking up arms against Power, of machine-gunning
the Suits, of living forever outside of the world of the Normals. They loved it so much that by the mid-80s, he was named one of the top 40 most influential figures in French culture. His books were taught in graduate seminars all across Western Europe, translated
into some 20 languages. When Edichka finally was published in the Soviet Union in 1991, it sold almost a million and a half copies, according to his Russian publisher, Sasha Shatalov, a prominent gay activist. Hundreds of thousands more
copies of his books have been sold since. That same year, during my first trip to Europe, I came across a full-page interview with Limonov in El Pais and again in Prague in a top Czech daily. That was the last year he was every European’s
favorite Bad Boy.
It was when Limonov committed the unforgivable sin of acting out his extremist words—taking up arms with the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, and the separatists in Trans-Dniestr and Abkhazia—that
the same public who celebrated his daring literature turned violently against him. When it comes down to it, nearly everyone reads literature like Limonov’s for the same reason that they eat at ethnic restaurants: to add a little spice to their dull
lives. But they don’t want the real thing: injeera with tse-tse flies; lamb vindaloo with liver flukes…. They want it safe, contrived, contained, like a weekend “Extreme” vacation kayaking down the Colorado.
That’s the demarcation line in 20th-century avant garde poetics: you can say anything you want, so long as you don’t REALLY mean it. Write songs about killing the poor or smashing
the capitalist system, then cash your royalty check and buy your wife a new SUV and invest the remainder in a Fidelity mutual fund.
Limonov sided with the Serbs because the Normals suddenly decided that they had
a cause, and that cause was to brand the Serbs as modern-day Nazis. Everyone born after 1945 has wished we lived in a world as simplistic, black-and-white, good-versus-evil as the Allies-versus-Nazis world. The plot had been waiting for decades; all they needed
was to fill in the characters. Even if it meant cutting corners around the truth, and taking thousands of lives down with it.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, and its subsequent colonization, rape, and abandonment
by the allegedly well-meaning West turned Limonov into a raging nationalist long before it became fashionable here. But Limonov’s brand of anti-capitalist nationalism could not possibly be the stale, gray-suit, crusty nationalism that has since taken
control of this country. It had to be outrageous. It had to be dangerous, not bathed in the hypocrisy of bureaucratic rhetoric. It had to be, in other words, a work of art.
For that he was branded a fascist. While
the real fascists committed genocide in Chechnya, stomped on the free press, and killed off multi-party democracy.
Today, you won’t find a single book of Limonov’s in the West, unless you go to a used
book store. He’s no longer their darling Bad Boy.
It has always been the shame of every nation and every era that its greatest artists wind up scorned, shunned, and in the worst cases, jailed or killed. Most
people today, particularly of the Russian intelligentsia, would sneer if you told them that Limonov is exactly that: this nation’s greatest living artist suffering the collective persecution of ignorance, brutality, and cowardice. Limonov’s works
will still be read in 50 years, in 100 years. Not Sorokin. Not Pelevin. Not any of the puzzle-happy hacks who won the Russian Booker Prize. Not Aksyonov or Bitov or Yerofeev or any of the made-for-dissertation novelists. Even Solzhenitsyn—a minor talent
compared to the mighty Varlam Shalamov—will probably be forgotten. Only Limonov will be read in 100 years’ time. And in the end, what lasts is what matters. The rest is fish food.
I don’t necessarily
blame the State for going after Limonov. From what I know about his case, I don’t believe they could convict him in a fair trial. When some 50 FSB counter-intelligence goons stormed the house he was staying at in a village in Altai, they only found book
royalties, and not illegal firearms (for which he is charged). The “confessions” beaten out of two luckless Saratov boys implicating Limonov are hardly credible in a country not known for its respect for due process and defendants’ rights.
That said, Limonov is an authentic extremist and he is a danger not just to the psychological well-being of every sellout alive, but to the State and Power that he opposes. So it’s almost understandable that someday,
they would find a reason to put him away.
My problem is with all the rats out there in TV land, living comfortably, endlessly pursuing a life of eating, fucking, and paying bills. A coward’s life. A bunny
rabbit’s life, to use Voloshin’s expression.
If you have any soul left in your body, you will oppose Limonov’s jailing. If not publicly, then at least in your traitor’s heart.
As Alexander Zaitchik, who edits a literary magazine in Prague, wrote to me recently, “Sucks about Limonov; since I started reading the exile i’ve lived according to a code of conduct called WWLD—‘What
Would Limonov Do?’… and it works, most of the time anyways.”
But really, who can follow the WWLD code for long? Judging by the relieved silence following Limonov’s arrest, the answer seems
to be no one.
This article was published in The eXile on March 11, 2001. Edward Limonov was put on trial and charged with terrorism and raising an army to invade Kazakhstan. He was found not guilty on terrorism charges, and sentenced to four years for purchasing Kalashnikovs, then paroled in
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