Prominent Russians: Eduard Limonov
Eduard Limonov (real surname Savenko) is a well-known Russian nationalist writer and a social commentator. One of the most controversial authors of his generation, some political scientists even label him a fascist. Limonov is the founder and the irreplaceable leader of the banned radical National Bolshevik Party, an opposition member and a leader of the “Drugaya Rossiya” (“The Other Russia”) movement.
Childhood and youth
The future writer and politician was born on February 22, 1943 in Dzerzhinsk, an industrial town on the Oka River, near Nizhny Novgorod into the family of Soviet Army officer Veniamin Savenko and his wife Raisa, who after the baby was born quit work and became a full-time mother.
In 1947 when Eduard was small the family moved to Kharkov, the town in Ukraine where Limonov would grow up. At the age of six he went to a school in Kharkov, where he studied for eight years.
After school Eduard plunged into dissipation. His youth was full of crime, his deeds illegal and his friends – petty criminals. His first shopbreaking dates back to January 1958. He did not give up his unlawful occupation, but practiced the shady profession until the age of 21. Limonov has been known to the police since he was 15, and was even detained several times. Though it may be said in his defense that such a “turbulent” youth was inevitable – Limonov lived in the suburbs in a criminal milieu together with hundreds and thousands workers. One day, however, he terminated his criminal career – that day his close friend was arrested and later tried in court and gunned down.
At the age of seventeen Eduard started to work, he experimented with many professions and crafts: for short periods of time he worked as a vanman, an ironworker, a builder, a steel-maker, a furnace-charger and even a fettler. In 1963 Limonov took part in a strike in Kharkov organized by workers at one of the major plants in the city.
After school Eduard started poetizing. His love for languages (he spoke fluent English and French) and literature made him try to enter the Kharkov Pedagogical University, but he wasn’t accepted. In 1967 he finally moved to Moscow, and lived there until 1974. He took up literature and poetry lessons – his teacher was Arseny Tarkovsky (a prominent Soviet poet and translator whose poems appeared in the films “The Mirror” and “Stalker” directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, his son). Limonov managed to gain a certain popularity among Soviet Underground writers.
In Moscow Limonov continued writing verse (he wrote poetry till the beginning of 1980s and sometimes even today publishes a verse or two in his LiveJournal blog), later he started writing prose and finally deeply immersed himself in journalism.
The US and NY
In 1974 Limonov decided to leave Russia and went to the United States. As Limonov himself explained later, the reason for such a step was the condition made by the KGB: either Limonov agreed to become a secret collaborator or he had to emigrate to the West, which Eduard chose in the end.
When Limonov arrived in New York, he had no job and nowhere to live. In order simply to keep alive he took any job he could find, ignoring the lack of time, fatigue and petty salaries. At the beginning of his lengthy stay in America, Limonov worked as a bricklayer, a family tutor, a house-steward, a tailor... During his stay in the States, the hard-headed writer held 13 jobs.
Eduard started writing novels and spent two years working as a proofreader at the New York newspaper “Novoe Russloe Slovo” (or “New Russian Word”), publishing accusatory articles against capitalism and bourgeois lifestyle. He also joined the US Socialist Labor Party, which caused him some troubles: although the writer was not once summoned for questioning to the local FBI division.
Limonov fell in with the New York punk and avant-garde scene, acquired an admiration for Lou Reed (an American rock musician best known as the guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground as well as a successful solo artist whose career has spanned several decades), as well as such American writers such as Charles Bukowski (a German- American poet, novelist, and short story writer). Later, when Limonov’s novels were published and republished around the world he was sometimes accused of imitating Bukowski’s style and manner of writing.
In May 1976 the flamboyant proofreader enchained himself to the building in which The New York Times was positioned: by doing so, he wanted to make the quality newspaper print his articles. The New York Times, however, ignored Limonov.
That same year a Moscow newspaper “Nedelya” (“Week”) reprinted Eduard’s article “Disappointment” that was printed in the “New Russian Word” in 1974. After the article emerged in the USSR, Limonov was fired from the “New Russian Word,” thus the notorious article was the first and the only one that was published in the USSR until 1989.
It's unclear what legal status Limonov had in the US that allowed him to stay there for six years; the writer never became the US citizen and has never tried to become naturalized.
In 1980 Limonov moved to France. There, he drifted together with France’s Communist Party; moreover, he also wrote articles for the party’s press organ – “Revolution” magazine.
In 1987 Eduard gained French citizenship; but not by chance – the citizenship was granted to Limonov under the pressure of the left-wing public, as the French secret service (DST) was strongly against his naturalization.
Limonov's works are noted for their cynicism. Apart from novels, he wrote memoirs and short stories describing his experiences in Russia when he was young, and in the United States during his long stay there. Limonov’s works are known around the globe for obscene language, shocking eroticism and provocative political statements.
In 1976 he wrote his first novel “It’s Me, Eddie” that made him well-known and recognized as a writer, but quite an infamous one - the novel abounds with erotic details and contains harsh criticism of the US. In November 1980 the book was published in France under the title “Russian Poet Prefers Negroes.” About 35 American publishing houses refused to print the novel, and only French editors found it readable and guessed the book’s future popularity.
In 1979 a book of poems entitled “Russkoe” (“Russian”) was published; two novels “The Story of His Servant” and “A Diary of a Looser” followed in 1982. Other novels written by Limonov - “Teenager Savenko” (1983), “A Young Scoundrel” (1986), “Executioner” (1986) and a collection of stories “Common Incidents” (1987) were less famous throughout the world, but highly valued in Russia. His books were published in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, Serbia, Croatia and Denmark.
By the mid 1980s Eduard Limonov had transformed into a writer of worldwide reputation. Twenty-two of his books were translated into French alone – no other Soviet writer has earned such fame in the country before. In Germany and the Netherlands several of Limonov’s novels have become bestsellers; moreover – even in conservative America his works were translated and published. In the 1990s one US senator noted with much discontent that Limonov’s novels were more harmful to the US that the whole of Soviet propaganda.
Since the late 1990s, Limonov has been a regular contributor to "Living Here" and later to the “eXile” (an English-language newspaper published in Moscow). These are the only known print publications where Limonov wrote and still writes articles in English; he specifically asked the editors to preserve his "terrible Russian English style." Although most of his featured articles are political, he also writes on other topics, including articles in which he gives advice for ambitious youngsters and discourses upon life.
In the USSR Limonov’s works started to be published only in 1989. His early works were finally published in Russia – these were “It’s Me Eddie” (Limonov’s most famous novel in Russia that was republished several times), “Cognac Napoleon,” “The Murder of a Guard” and a book of articles “Disappearance of Barbarians.” among others.
Limonov was awarded several prestigious prizes, including the "Jean Freustie Prize" – a well-known French award (for his novel “A Foreigner in a Native Town”). In 2002 he received the Andrey Bely Award in the “Prose” category for his novel “Book of Water.”
At the beginning of the 1990s Limonov was restored Russian citizenship and returned to his mother country, where he became engaged in politics. On 4 October 1993 he participated in the White House defensive battle (the Supreme Soviet of the USSR). At the time the newspaper “Soviet Russia” published articles written by Limonov heart and hand. Later he established a newspaper “Limonka” (Russian nickname for the modern lemon-shaped F1 hand grenade) and became its first editor.
Limonov participated in combat operations that took place in Yugoslavia in 1991-1993 and in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict (Limonov sided with Abkhazian militants). He took part in the conflict as a journalist writing articles and political propaganda, but every so often he took to arms himself.
In 1994 Eduard Limonov formed the radical National Bolshevik Party. The Party rested on the belief that a grand empire should be created, which would comprise the whole of Europe, Russia and Northern and Central Asia and would be governed by Russia alone. Apart from that the top echelon of the party believed that only a man of Russian origin could become a true president of the country. They wanted to ban abortions in Russia, banish all foreign companies from the country and taboo the import of foreign goods (to name just a few of the main requirements of the party).
Limonov intimated at preparing a military invasion of Kazakhstan in 2000-2001 in order to defend the Russian-speaking population. In April 2001 Limonov was charged with weapon keeping and creating illegal armed units (the latter charge was dismissed later). He was moved to a pretrial detention centre. After one year in the center, his trial was heard in the Saratov court, which also heard appeals from Russian State Duma members Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Aleksey Mitrofanov and Vasily Shandybin for his release. Limonov insisted that the charges were ridiculous and politically motivated, but on 15 April 2003 he was convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment for weapon keeping. Eduard served almost two years before being paroled for good behavior. During the years in prison he lost no time: Limonov corresponded with his fans and followers, managed to write eight books and even tried to fix several dates with young ladies for after his release.
After Limonov returned to Russia from France, he deeply immersed himself in politics founding a newspaper called “Limonka” and a political movement called the National Bolshevik Party.
Although the group managed to obtain official party status in September 1993, it was later reregistered in January 1997 as an interregional non-governmental organization; today it remains active in protests on various social and political issues, in particular harshly criticizing Vladimir Putin. In 2007, however, the party was legally declared an extremist organization and its activity on the territory of the Russian Federation was forbidden.
Eduard Limonov was initially a staunch ally of Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Zhirinovsky is well-known for his memorable, scandalous and sometimes even obscene statements) and was named as Security Minister in a shadow cabinet formed by Zhirinovsky in 1992. However, Limonov soon grew tired of Zhirinovsky's over the top political stunts and split from him, writing the book "Limonov against Zhirinovsky."
In 1996 a Russian court judged in a hearing that “Limonka” had disseminated illegal and immoral information. Indeed, in 1995 the newspaper published two articles “A Pineapple for the Croats” and “A Black List of Nations.” The articles talked of “bad” nations and the way they “collectively offended” Russia. Among the “bad” nations “Limonka” listed the Chechens, the Croats, the Latvians, the Czechs, the Ingush and the Slovaks. By means of his newspaper, Limonov expressed his deep regret that Stalin had not seen through to the end the deportation of the Caucasian peoples, supporting the hostilities against the representatives of the mentioned nations. “It is OK to kill them” – wrote Limonov openly in his paper.
The court recommended issuing an official warning to the newspaper and investigated the possibility of examining whether Limonov could be held legally responsible. On April 4 “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” declared that the articles that had appeared in “Limonka” were a violation of clause 4 that dealt with the “misuse of freedom of the mass media in order to stir up national hatred and propagandize war” and two other clauses dealing with rehabilitation of the repressed nations and propaganda.
In 2000 Limonov supported the November NBP occupation of St. Peter's Church that took place in Riga - after the event he wrote several articles in “The eXile” in furtherance of the occupants. NPB activists had barricaded themselves in the church's bell tower after brandishing a fake grenade, and threatened to blow up the whole building in an attempt to draw attention to the alleged mistreatment of Russian minorities in Latvia. No one and nothing was actually damaged, but the action has been referred to by some media outlets as terrorism. As a result, three NBP members were convicted and sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. Four other NBP members, who were captured before the attack, served short sentences and were deported.
Despite the fact that the party’s actions were qualified as terrorism, it was a very peculiar kind of terrorism – vandalistic and flamboyant. Young NBP activists bombarded officials and power brokers with rotten eggs and tomatoes (anyone could and did suffer – from the First Secretary of the Communist Party to Russian politicians and business managers).
Since 2000 the National Bolshevik Party has liberalized and denounced all xenophobia and anti-Semitism on its official website.
Among his idols Limonov has listed Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Bakunin (a well-known Russian revolutionary and theorist of collectivist anarchism), Julius Evola (an Italian philosopher, esoteric writer, artist, poet, political activist, soldier and perennial traditionalist) and Yukio Mishima (a Japanese writer, poet and playwright, also remembered for the ritual suicide he committed - seppuku).
In 2006 the coalition “Drugaya Rossiya (“The Other Russia”) was founded and headed by the triumvirate Mikhail Kasyanov-Garry Kasparov-Eduard Limonov. In the period between 2006 and 2008 “Drugaya Rossiya” has conducted dozens of successful campaigns that were called Dissenters' Marches. In order to put down the campaigns the authorities had to allocate up to 20 thousand policemen near the campaign venues. The NBP participated in almost all Dissenters' Marches, which, though, were held without a permit.
On March 3, 2007 Limonov and the members of his party took part in organizing the Saint Petersburg Dissenters' March involving scores of people rallying against Vladimir Putin’s and Valentina Matviyenko's (the mayor of Saint Petersburg) policies. Limonov was detained by police at the very beginning of the rally.
More that once such rallies came to no good for Limonov and his followers: they were beaten up several times. This, as Limonov believes, is due to their political activity.
A month later Limonov was arrested following an anti-government rally in Moscow. In January 2009, together with several members of his party, he was detained by police during an anti-Kremlin rally in Moscow.
In March 2009 Limonov offered himself as the only possible candidate from the opposition at the 2012 elections; it remains to be seen whether his popularity will give him the desired place.
In December 2011 Central Election Committee rejected his candidacy from 2012 Presidential run-off.
Family and private life
Eduard Limonov was married several times, apart from official spouses he had a couple of civil wives and a handful of flings, which he also felt free and proud to discuss in details.
Limonov’s first wife (not official, but civil) was Anna Rubinstein: they became acquainted in Kharkov and lived together for six years. In 1994 Anna tragically died – she committed suicide.
Eduard’s first official wife was Elena Schapova. The young couple met in Moscow, and in 1974 immigrated to the US together. But soon Elena dumped Limonov and found a new sweetheart in America - some time later she married an Italian count, a signor de Carli.
Natalia Medvedeva was the writer’s second wife. Natalia was a singer, a model, a famous musician and a writer; the couple met in the US, then moved to Paris together and were married in 1982 (Limonov was Natalia’s fifth husband).
Medvedeva returned to Moscow some time after Eduard, in the early 1990s. The couple separated in 1995, but did not officially divorce. Natalia Medvedeva died on the morning of 3 February 2003.
On August 23, 2006 Limonov married well-known Russian actress Ekaterina Volkova; in November that year their son Bogdan was born followed by their daughter Aleksandra in July 2008.
In his free time Limonov opts for peaceful homely activities – he loves to cook and sew.
Written by Anna Yudina, RT