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Andrei Dmitriev: Who Are the National-Bolsheviks?

[While I was attending the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum in Helsinki in early July, Grigory Pasko introduced me to an intelligent, articulate young man named Andrei Dmitriev, one of the leaders of the banned National-Bolshevik Party. I have been interested in the “NatsBols” ever since I met their charismatic leader, Eduard Limonov, several years ago in Moscow, and have been carefully watching developments in Russia as the Kremlin has methodically turned the screws on this organization, destroying it with merciless cruelty. When I asked Andrei what the West should know about the plight of the opposition in Russia, he burst into an impassioned litany I immediately realized would make a wonderful article for the blog. I told Andrei that if he put his thoughts down on paper, I would get them translated so they could reach a wider international audience. Here then is the result. In his article, Andrei Dmitriev addresses himself primarily to the people of Europe, but his observations and challenges are applicable to all of us who are concerned about what is going on in Russia today. – Robert Amsterdam] Who Are the National-Bolsheviks and What Do They Want to Say to Europe? By Andrei Dmitriev, National-Boshevik Co-Coordinator of the Coalition «The Other Russia» in St. Petersburg Never Be Pronounced. That’s what the abbreviation NBP (National-Bolshevik Party) now stands for in the Russian mass media. Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme court of the Russian Federation issued a decision on its final and definitive prohibition as an extremist organization.

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National-Bolshevik Andrei Dmitriev was one of the speakers at the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum, held in Helsinki in early July. (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

According to the legislation of the RF, participation in the activities of a prohibited organization is punishable by a term of up to 4 years of deprivation of liberty, leaders can get up to 12 years in jail. The NBP has become the first political organization in relation to which such a harsh law has been applied. And this is not surprising – during the time of the rule of Vladimir Putin, it had become the most irreconcilable opponent of his system of “managed democracy”. It is enough to mention that more than a hundred National-Bolsheviks have been in jail. At the same time, the European mass media and human rights organizations are effectively ignoring the repressions in relation to the “NatsBols”. Thus, Amnesty International has not declared a single one of them a political prisoner. And the prohibition on the party likewise has not become even remotely significant news. It is natural that western public opinion would have a hard time understanding the NBP phenomenon. The name of the party, its controversial and confrontational insignia, certain slogans look unconventional to many Europeans. However, we will try to make sense of the essential question: just who exactly are the National-Bolsheviks? The NBP was founded by Eduard Limonov in the year 1994 as an opposition patriotic-leftist organization. At first this was more a phenomenon of the youth subculture than of politics. Starting with the year 1998, the National-Bolsheviks regularly submitted documents for the registration of the party to the ministry of justice. However, six times the bureaucrats denied them. In such a manner was the right of citizens of Russia to create a political party, to influence the fate of their country, trampled on. The party acquired broad fame under Putin, when the National-Bolsheviks became the first to speak out against the dictatorial manner of the new power and ended up becoming its first victims. Eduard Limonov, thrown by the new power in jail, directed a letter to the Russian public and opposition, calling on all – right and left – irrespective of political differences, to “wake up and fight for political freedoms”. And it was just this struggle for freedoms that became the main substance of the party’s activities in the eight years of Putin’s rule. (And Limonov’s call was realized only in five years, when the coalition «The Other Russia» was founded, uniting the most disparate forces, close cooperation began between the National-Bolsheviks and Garry Kasparov’s United civic front, the Marches of the Discontented started being conducted through joint efforts). The NBP became famous for its “direct action campaigns.” This is street demonstrations, blocking of roads, sit-ins at the offices of bureaucrats, hanging up banners and the like. Something similar in the west is done by Greenpeace and the anti-globalists. Probably the most famous campaign of this type was the takeover of the office of minister of health and social development Mikhail Zurabov in August of the year 2004, from the window of which the NatsBol Maxim Gromov threw out a portrait of Putin. (The corresponding Associated Press photo found its way around the world). An analogous campaign took place in December of that same year in the reception office of the administration of the president. Thirty-nine National-Bolsheviks came there with books of the Russian Constitution, demanding the holding of free elections and the resignation of Putin. By analogy with the insurrection of the year 1825, they were called «Decembrists». It is important to note that all the NBP campaigns bore an extremely peaceful, non-violent character. Not a single drop of blood was spilled, not a single piece of glass was broken. Participants in this sort of thing in the countries of the European Union face either a fine or administrative arrest for several days. In Russia, everything is different. Such actions are equated with terrorism and attempts at a violent seizure of power. Maxim Gromov and the other participants in the campaign in Zurabov’s office were sentenced to three years of deprivation of liberty, the «Decembrists» got analogous terms. A large part of the time prisoner Gromov spent in the Karzer [best translates as “dungeon” in English—Trans.] – this is the revenge the Russian president exacted from him for the incident with the portrait. At a press conference after release from jail he told of the monstrous conditions that prevail in the Russian “zones”, about the tortures, abuses and humiliating and degrading treatment that are an everyday reality. The repressions in relation to the NatsBols bear a multiple-level character – this is legal prohibitions on participation in elections, beatings by the OMON in street actions, and visits by officers of the special services at studies or to the workplace and so on and so forth Many, many thousands of young men and women have gone through this. In the case of the National-Bolsheviks (just like in Chechnya), the Russian Constitution and legislation are non-operational. Lawlessness rules here. This is why those who criticize the NatsBols for an “incorrect” flag and name would do well to understand that Maxim Gromov and friends did far more for the cause of the struggle for the freedom of Russia than the functionaries of the old democratic parties like Grigory Yavlinsky or Boris Nemtsov. The National-Bolsheviks have proven their right to the slogan “Russia will be free” by their daily resistance to the regime. Today the country is entering the season of duma and presidential elections. The scramble for power has begun. What they fear most in the Kremlin is that events will unfold on the Ukrainian model, where the people, coming out on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square—Trans.], refused to allow the falsification of the results of the voting. In order not to allow a “Russian Maidan” to take place, they need to neutralize the most active part of the opposition – «The Other Russia» and the National-Bolsheviks. It is precisely for this reason that the decision on declaring the NBP an extremist organization was adopted with such haste.

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Andrei Dmitriev sharing a panel at the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum with the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the United Civic Front, Olga Kurnosova. In April of this year, Kurnosova was fined a thousand rubles by decision of the magistrate’s court of St. Petersburg for publishing an article by Dmitriev in the newspaper «Marsh nesoglasnykh» [March of the Dissenters]. (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

And so, what exactly in these conditions, in a period of decisive trials for Russia, would we, the National-Bolsheviks, like to convey to European society? First, we want an honest and objective approach to the processes taking place in Russia. Very often, one gets the impression that for European elites, questions of political freedoms are merely a bargaining chip in relations with Moscow. Their eyes blinded by cheap oil and gas, they ignore the processes taking place in Russia of the degeneration of the administrative system and the transformation of the country into a police state. One gets the impression that there is some sort of unspoken pact between the European elites and the Russian ruling establishment. This despite the fact that the Putinite raw-materials state (or, as they call it, “energy superpower”) is dependent on western governments and has no choice but to heed their opinion. In these conditions, only civil society can give an appropriate assessment to what is taking place and to influence the governments of their countries. Second, direct dialogue between the Russian opposition and the civil society of Europe is essential. It is known that the Kremlin is attempting to present the opposition and the National-Bolsheviks in particular as extremists and fascists. The logic is like this: “Yes,” say the Putinites, “We are far from ideal. We have our problems with democracy, with human rights, with poverty. But if not us, then these horrid extremists will come.” It’s not important that this is a lie from beginning to end. Like Dr. Goebbels used to say – the more outrageous the lie, the more readily people will believe in it. Which is exactly what we’re seeing on the example of the European Everyman, hypnotized by Putin’s propaganda. In general, we need to talk directly, and not look at one another through the foggy glass of Kremlin propaganda and layers of various myths. Third, facts of political repressions in Putin’s Russia, including in relation to the National-Bolsheviks, must be roundly condemned on the part of European structures. Extremely important in this regard is the examination of the case «NBP v. RF» in the European court of human rights. Several complaints against the actions of the Russian authorities from the National-Bolsheviks have already been combined into one proceeding in Strasbourg. The case has been assigned a priority character. The Kremlin too is attaching no small significance to this trial. Speaking to which is, for example, the hysterical article by the head of the committee of the Federation Council of the RF for International Affairs, Mikhail Margelov, with the characteristic title «We need to know how to defend European values», in which he attempts to besmirch the NBP in the eyes of European society. The senator’s apprehension is understandable – if the arguments of the National-Bolsheviks will be accepted by the court, this fact will break the entire system of managed democracy in Russia. So the decision of the ECHR will be historic in any event, no matter what it will be.

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