of young people occupied offices in the Health Ministry
last summer after forcing the building's evacuation when they arrived
in fake uniforms and pretended to be the bomb squad. They then
a portrait of Putin out the window.
The state has responded harshly. As many as 50 party activists are in
prison. And the defendants in the current trial face up to eight years in
prison for their two-hour occupation, which ended when police
stormed the building.
The party was founded in 1994 by Limonov and figures from what he
cultural avant-garde. The party's flag was adapted from
Limonov's books and the group was initially regarded as a
countercultural oddity with some neo-fascist and hard-line nationalist
Limonov had returned to Russia after years in exile in the United
States and France following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He
worked in Manhattan as a housekeeper for a wealthy
family and later
turned his misadventures in the city and his scathing take on American
life into semi-autobiographical novels, such as "It's Me, Eddie," that
were acclaimed in Paris.
Limonov now says the group has become a "classical left-wing party"
that has shed
its chauvinistic origins. His opponents in the government
"If chauvinist, pro-fascist forces provoke an upsurge of Islamic
extremism, it would pose a serious
threat to the integrity of our
multicultural state," Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of staff in the
Putin administration, said in an interview with the German magazine
And some members make little attempt to hide their
xenophobia. At a party meeting in Moscow this week, an activist
visiting from Murmansk spoke bitterly about Chinese moving into his
and taking jobs from Russians.
Limonov was sentenced to four years in prison in 2001 for his part in
what the state said was an attempt to foment a coup in Kazakhstan. He
released after 2 1/2 years, a period in which he wrote eight books,
including his reflections on 52 leading world figures, from Mao to
"I became wiser and
more tolerant," Limonov said of his time in
prison. "Prison is a good school of life."
Such sentiments infuriate the parents and friends of some of the young
could face long prison sentences for the antics he dreams
up. "I'm very angry with him," said Natalia Lind, whose 23-year-old
son, Vladimir, a former philosophy student in St. Petersburg, is on
trial. "These kids are like steppingstones for him."
Limonov rejects the allegation, but the party, on the back of its
activists' willingness to confront the state, has forced its way
middle of Russia's fragmented opposition. The National Bolsheviks are
now forming loose alliances with the youth wings of the Russian
Communist Party and the reformist Yabloko
Limonov sees his young charges as the opposition's street vanguard
during the parliamentary elections in 2007 and the presidential
election in 2008. He said he admired
the tactics of the protesters whose
Orange Revolution toppled the old regime in Ukraine but is no fan of
the country's new president, Viktor Yushchenko. At a party meeting
Limonov sported a T-shirt with the words "For Ukraine
"We need a confrontation with Putin, and that is easy to organize, but
only with a union of opposition
forces," Limonov said. The Kremlin, in
response, has organized its own youth group called Nashi, or Ours,
which organizers said will take to the streets to defend the existing
in the event of any kind anti-establishment revolt in Russia.
Limonov relishes the prospect of a showdown. And he professes little
worry that he might face another, longer term in prison. Laughing,
said, "I've still got my green card."