20 years under Putin: a timeline

Eduard Limonov’s support for the “scoundrels’ law,” which banned adoptions of Russian orphans by U.S. citizens, has finally ended the alliance between liberals and National Bolsheviks. Author and analyst Alexander Podrabinek, who has long warned the democratic opposition against cooperating with Limonov, discusses Russian liberals’ strange attraction to the enemies of freedom.


Photo by Yuri Timofeyev


National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov is a special case—but one that illustrates Russian liberals’ traditional preference for choosing collaborators who abhor civil liberties and who only seek power to replace freedom with their cherished ideology. Why liberals have this masochistic passion for their hereditary enemies is a separate (and very interesting) question.  An optimist would suggest consulting a psychoanalyst for the answer; a pessimist would recommend consulting specialists in counterintelligence and secret police operations.

In the late 1980s – early 1990s, the public ideologists of the country’s liberation from Communism and transition to democracy staked their hopes on a nonconformist apparatchik, who assured society of his love for a free and independent Russia. Boris Yeltsin, who had faithfully served the Communist idea for his entire life, had turned overnight into the guarantor of Russia’s future freedom and democracy. The leading liberal lights chose to rely on Communist party officials—rather than the still vibrant dissident movement—to bring about reform. As a result, the liberals themselves were soon a distant memory, while the officials gained full power, forgot the promises of freedom, and went back to business as usual. This bad political choice naturally led to another: “Operation Successor,” by which Boris Yeltsin gave the country the “gift” of Vladimir Putin.

Eduard Limonov and his party colleagues were declared political prisoners, enemies of the Putin regime and heroes. What they stood for was overlooked.

Today, history is repeating itself with a new authoritarian regime and new liberal leaders. This time, the regime is not as feeble; it is more dynamic and is capable of looking at least a half a move ahead.  The liberal opposition leaders are younger, too. However, they still feel drawn to seek support from the enemies of freedom, from a movement that seeks power in order to bring the country to heel.

The affair between the liberal opposition and the National Bolsheviks began in the early 2000s.  Love began with pity when Eduard Limonov and his party colleagues were convicted for possession of weapons and explosives. They were declared political prisoners, enemies of the Putin regime and heroes worthy of everyone’s compassion. Unfortunately, what they stood for was overlooked; had the liberals paid closer attention to the National Bolshevik program, they would have discovered the following gems:

  • “The essence of National Bolshevism is in its all-consuming hatred toward the anti-human trinity of liberalism, democracy, and capitalism.”
  • “The foreign enemies of National Bolshevism are the Big Satan – the USA and European globalists who have united in NATO and the UN.”
  • “The global purpose of National Bolshevism is the creation of an empire from Vladivostok to Gibraltar based on Russian civilization.”
  • “We shall annul all treaties with the West… We shall refuse to pay back our debts, and we shall seize all foreign investments in Russia… We shall lower the iron curtain on our borders in order to stop the aggressive invasion of imported goods and second-rate foreign mass culture.”
  • “We shall smash the criminal world. Its finest representatives will serve the nation and the state; the rest will be annihilated by military methods.”
  • “Upon coming to power, the National Bolshevik Party will carry out revolutionary changes in Russia, it will build a TOTAL STATE; human rights will be replaced by the nation’s rights.  A strong iron rule will be established in the country, which will have a climate of discipline, militancy and industriousness.”
  • “Those who had been insignificant will become a Dzerzhinsky, Goebbels, Molotov, Voroshilov, Ciano, Goering, or a Zhukov.  All of Russia will belong to us.”

Naturally, showing such a program to their new liberal friends would have been embarrassing. So, true to their cynical Leninist nature, the National Bolsheviks drafted a different one, with vague and politically correct statements—not as replacement for the old one, but to supplement it.  Thus, one could choose from the party’s differing positions according to one’s taste.

The cooperation between the liberals and Limonov became increasingly regularized.  They formed joint organizations, held rallies together, and made joint statements.  The new friends of the National Bolsheviks tried to convince skeptics that Limonov had changed. When Limonov’s liberal allies ran out of arguments, they put forward the strange idea that Limonov was some sort of art project, an eccentric character, and nothing else. The liberal-Limonov fellowship reached its peak during the “Strategy 31” rallies in support of the freedom of assembly on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square.

The police violently broke up the rallies, which aroused not only sympathy, but also support for Limonov and his followers. Things came to such a pitch that people like Boris Nemtsov, who could not tolerate the National Bolsheviks, and even Ludmila Alexeeva, who had always been cautious in her relations with the regime, began coming to Triumfalnaya. This was the moment of glory for Limonov and his party. They made headlines and felt like they were on the frontline. Liberal society sympathized with them and put ideological differences aside.


In 2006, United Civic Front leader Garry Kasparov (center) and People's Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov (right) joined with Eduard Limonov in Another Russia, a new opposition coalition.


Limonov and his followers deserve credit for behaving courageously when being terrorized by the police. They were unlawfully detained, and tried without even a semblance of fairness.   Limonov conducted himself very shrewdly, and if it were not for his ludicrous Communist and imperial ideology, he could have gained many more supporters in those days.

It was then that the first cracks appeared in the unnatural alliance between National Bolsheviks and liberals.  The rift was not the result of anything done by the regime or the police; it was the liberals themselves who initiated it—and not because of ideological differences, but for strictly tactical reasons (whether or not permits for rallies should be sought from the regime.) Ludmila Alekseeva, a co-organizer of the Triumfalnaya Square demonstrations, once again showed excessive flexibility in negotiating with the authorities by sacrificing the constitutional principle of freedom of assembly in order to get a permit for another “Strategy 31” rally. Eduard Limonov, defending his unalienable right to organize peaceful demonstrations, refused to cave in, and continued to hold unsanctioned rallies on the last day of each month that has 31 days as before.

We all remember that strange day when the liberal opposition was holding a sanctioned rally on Triumfalnaya Square, while next to them, Limonov and his supporters were holding their unsanctioned demonstration, and the police literally carried the National Bolshevik leader from the unsanctioned rally to the sanctioned gathering. One may reject Limonov’s ideas and ambitious plans, but one must admit that he behaved in a much more consistent and dignified manner than his liberal friends.

A permanent rupture came in December 2011, when, despite Limonov’s categorical objections, the December 10 protest rally against election fraud was moved at the government’s request from Revolution Square to Bolotnaya Square. This seemingly small concession to the regime marked the beginning of the road to disaster for the opposition, which refused to escalate protests, engaged in an endless process of getting permits, made unnecessary concessions, and gave up ground it had previously won. The opposition justified its actions by arguing that it had to sacrifice the quality of the protests in order to increase the number of protesters. Whether this was the case, and whether it was worth it to sacrifice quality for quantity, is a topic for another discussion.

Liberals finally realized with whom they had been dealing when Limonov unconditionally supported the law banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

Once again, Limonov and his party, which is now called Another Russia, are isolated. Limonov’s uncompromising tactics of active and firm protest could have been politically successful, were it not for his ideas of empire, a single-nationality state and autocratic government that belong to a past age. Today’s world cannot be based on either the imperial ambitions of the 19th century, or on the mixture of National Socialism and Bolshevism of the 20th century.

The liberal opposition did not become an orphan with the loss of Limonov. It seems that liberals finally realized with whom they had been dealing when Limonov unconditionally supported the law banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans. Anti-Americanism, so characteristic of the Soviet and Nazi regimes, left him no choice – what is good for America, must be bad for us! This was an eye-opener for many liberal opposition activists, who finally saw the true nature of their fellow traveler.

Such enlightenment would have been a sign of the opposition being cured from making misalliances, but for the fact that one questionable fellow traveler was immediately replaced by another. Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front, has filled Eduard Limonov’s shoes. Udaltsov is not of the same caliber, nor does he have Limonov’s charisma. But the liberal opposition could not find anything more intellectual to satisfy its penchant for masochistic alliances. Russian liberalism remains true to its nature. Add a little bit of red paint to the idea of freedom, and you will get a new version of totalitarianism. It may not be a very viable one in our globalized world, but it can survive in our lifetime.