Eddie's right-wing chapter shocks Russian readers: Helen Womack in Moscow meets a Soviet rebel author now free to fly his true colours
Sunday 24 January 1993
He claims to be inspired by the Serbs, for whom he has fought as a volunteer in Bosnia, and models himself on the early 20th-century Italian thinkers who inspired Mussolini. One former Limonov fan lamented: 'For me, this was a bigger shock than learning that Lewis Carroll was probably a paedophile.'
At the shabby headquarters of his newly founded National Radical Party last week, Mr Limonov, dressed in black from head to foot, said: 'I am not a fascist. I am a nationalist. There is a difference.'
Mr Limonov quit his post as security minister in the shadow cabinet of the rabidly nationalist politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who he felt was 'too passive'. He advocates Serbian-style ethnic cleansing to protect Russians in the independent, former Soviet republics. Otherwise, he retains his New York cool.
How could everyone have been so wrong about Little Eddie, the working-class lad from Ukraine's Russified city of Kharkov, who became a counter-culture poet in Moscow in the 1970s and so annoyed the Communist authorities that they expelled him in 1974?
In retrospect, his development is perhaps logical. He was always patriotic - he even wrote an 'Ode to the Soviet Army' - but used to complain about the lack of artistic and personal freedom in the Soviet Union. And he would criticise the leading dissidents of the time while rejecting the label of dissident for himself.
'I was saying then - you can look back in my writings and see this is true - that their experiments would be dangerous for the whole Russian population. I meant people like (the late Andrei) Sakharov. They were dangerous because they idealised the West and were pathologically hostile to their own country.'
Mr Limonov was angry that the Soviet Union expelled him and made him choose between life in 'the forests of Canada or the jungle of New York'. But he was equally displeased with America which, he said, 'proved hostile to me'. It took him four years to write I Am Little Eddie, his first book; then came His Butler's Story, an account of how he served an American millionaire, and The Teenager Savenko (Limonov's real name is Savenko), a memoir of his youth.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Mr Limonov, the son of a military officer, found himself drawn to Mr Zhirinovsky, the chairman of the misleadingly named Liberal Democratic Party. Actually an overtly racist organisation, it advocates the establishment of a Greater Russia within the boundaries of the old Tsarist empire, and threatens any likely to resist, such as the Baltic states, with having nuclear waste dumped on them or worse. 'I found we had ideas in common, so when Mr Zhirinovsky enlarged his shadow cabinet, I accepted a post,' Mr Limonov said.
But the writer, who would have become responsible for the equivalent of the KGB in any Zhirinovsky regime, said he became dissatisfied because the LDP leader talked too much and did nothing.
So last November, Mr Limonov formed the break-away National Radical Party. Its founding congress was attended by 'a few hundred people', and two weeks ago it was officially registered. It intends to put up a candidate against Mr Zhirinovsky in the election for Moscow's mayor next month.
The new party's policy is quite simple: 'to reunite Russians in one state', as Mr Limonov puts it. This means not that the Soviet Union will be revived but that areas of other republics where Russians live will be annexed. The writer said it was intolerable, for example, that Russians being driven out of Tajikistan were having to pay huge bribes to cross Uzbek territory to their Motherland; and that Russians in the Baltic states were facing what he called 'conditions worse than apartheid'. (The United Nations has given the Baltic states a clean bill of health over their treatment of the Russian minority.)
Mr Limonov says the West has far more to fear from the chaos in the former Soviet Union than from attempts by people such as him to restore order and prestige to Russia. But liberals think he is more dangerous than the ranting Mr Zhirinovsky because he is intelligent, sexy, popular for his writing, and has fought in two ethnic conflicts.
Mr Limonov sees no contradiction between being an artist and a soldier. Hemingway and Orwell both combined writing and fighting, he noted. A journalist as well as a poet and novelist, Mr Limonov first strayed from what most correspondents would consider proper activity when he helped the Cossacks in the war in Dnestr last June. Then in October he went to the former Yugoslavia as a guest of the Serb Socialist Party, met Slobodan Milosevic and joined a Chetnik regiment in Bosnia.
Did he kill anyone? 'It's hard to say,' Mr Limonov said. 'I was shooting with 9mm and 12mm machine-guns and Kalashnikovs.'
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