Although according to its own statistics the NBP has 30,000 to 50,000 members and has branches in 24 key Russian regions as well as in the Baltic states and other former Soviet states, the party has no official status, as the authorities persistently refuse to register it. It has a network of regional and international websites and requests that its new members possess Internet skills.
The NBP's leader and its cult figure is Eduard Limonov, 62, a man with an unusual history and one of the few Russian politicians with no links to the Soviet and post-Soviet ruling elite. Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Limonov was a member of the Soviet literary underground in the 1960s. In 1974 he emigrated to the United States, where he became close to American Trotskyites and anarchists. It was there that he wrote his best-selling novel "It is me, Eddie," (Eto ya, Yedichka), which has been translated into 15 languages.
Limonov soon moved to Paris, where he became a member of the French avant-garde literary salons and joined forces with French and European leftist and neo-rightist political radicals, including French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. In the late 1980s he began to publish his articles in the national-patriotic press in the Soviet Union and in 1992 moved back to Russia. In 1994 Limonov launched the extremist ultranationalist newspaper "Limonka," which quickly began to attract various groups of young people frustrated by the hardships of reforms and embittered at the West.
"It was an effort, and, a quite successful one, to mobilize the most passionate and intellectually dissatisfied part of society."
Armed by his political experience in the West, Limonov proposed the creation of "revolutionary party of a new style" that could attract young people with a combination of extremist ultranationalist propaganda and "direct action" as practiced during the Maoist student protest in France and other European countries in 1968. Limonov suggested calling the new party the National Bolsheviks, as he believed that communism as a word has been compromised by the reactionary policy of the Communist Party, which he also blamed for "losing the USSR."
While Limonov became the leader of the NBP, its chief ideologue was Aleksandr Dugin (see http://www.rferl.org/specials/russianelection/bio/dugin.asp), the main standard bearer of the neo-imperialistic doctrine of Eurasianism. Dugin was also a proponent of the idea of a "conservative revolution" pitting Eurasia against the Atlantic powers of Great Britain and the United States. Dugin was also an editor of the party newspaper, "Limonka."
Looking back at the NBP's activities in the 1990s, the leader of the rival Communist Party-controlled Young Left Front, Ilya Ponamarev, told kreml.org on 4 April that "the organization never was or is a youth movement at all."
"It is a postmodernist aesthetic project of intellectual provocateurs (in the positive meaning of the word) in which many bright and nontrivial personalities like Eduard Limonov, Aleksandr Dugin, Sergei Kurikhin, and [analyst] Stanislav Belkovskii were involved," Ponamarev said. "It was an effort, and, a quite successful one, to mobilize the most passionate and intellectually dissatisfied part of society (in contrast to the Communist Party, which utilized the social and economic protests of the leftist electorate). For this mobilization, the NBP used a bizarre mixture of totalitarian and fascist symbols, geopolitical dogma, leftist ideas, and national-patriotic demagoguery."
In 1998, Dugin and his followers left the NBP. After Dugin's exit, the NBP quickly moved to the left wing of Russia's political spectrum, accusing Dugin and his group of being fascists.
Since then, the NBP began having big problems with the Federal Security Service (FSB), since the special services always favored Dugin's Eurasianist philosophy. Or, as 102-year-old KGB foreign intelligence veteran Boris Gudz claimed in the 2004 book "Geniuses of Intelligence," Eurasianism was invented in the 1920s by the OGPU, a predecessor of the KGB. Consequentially, the FSB regarded all opponents of Eurasianism, including the NBP, as enemies.
The conflict between the FSB and NBP was exacerbated by the tactics of "direct action," in which NBP activists publicly attacked people they considered symbols of the regime or domestic or foreign allies of the Kremlin. The NBP's favorite tactics were throwing mayonnaise or tomatoes at prominent public figures. Since 1998, such people as former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, and film director Nikita Mikhalkov were subjected to such attacks by the NBP, while former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Great Britain's Prince Charles were hit in face with bunches of flowers.
For these and other nonviolent actions, which the NBP calls "velvet terror," many of its activists have been arrested and sentenced to serious prison terms. According to the NBP website (http://nbp-info.ru) since the party's creation over 100 of its members have been in Russian prisons, while 47 are still serving their sentences or are awaiting trial.
In April 2001 Limonov himself and a group of his followers were arrested by the FSB in Altai under accusations of terrorism and preparing an armed rebellion in Kazakhstan.
Limonov awaited trial in jail until February 2003, when he was sentenced to four years in prison. Limonov pled not guilty at his trial and asked for political-prisoner status. "We do not deserve to be called extremists. In the West we would occupy a place between Greenpeace and Amnesty International, being a legal party and real political force, " he said, according to informacia.ru.
In prison, Limonov wrote the book "The Other Russia," in which he dropped many of the radical dogmas of national bolshevism and changed his mind about the past and future of Russia. For example, in the mid-1990s NBP activists shocked people by chanting in public places "Stalin, Beria, Gulag," but after personal experience with modern Russian prisons Limonov and his followers stopped romanticizing state-security organs and began calling President Vladimir Putin's Russia a "police state."
Under pressure from State Duma deputies, Limonov was released in June 2003 and continued his political evolution toward a coalition with democratic forces and the left-wing opposition against the Kremlin. The product of this evolution was the new NBP political program released in 2004 containing almost the same points as Yabloko's, for example.
According to the program posted at http://nbp-info.ru, the new goals of the party should be the development of civil society and restriction of state interference in public and personal life, facilitation of the registration and activity of political parties, development of independent media and allowing criticism of the president and government on state-controlled television, civilian control over law enforcement and the FSB, restoration of the social-security network, curtailing of bureaucracy, and the end of the war in Chechnya.
Since late 2004, the NBP has protested the cancellation of the direct election of governors and the botched monetization reform and enthusiastically supported the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. On 11 April the NBP together with the Communist Party, Motherland, Sergei Glazev's For a Decent Life party, and supported by Yabloko, organized an initiative group for a national referendum on social and political reforms "with a human face," Russian media reported.
If the political orientation of NBP in the last couple years changed visibly, the tactics of direct action remain unchanged and became even more provocative.
On 2 August 2004, a group of NBP activists broke into the office of Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov and occupied it for several hours, demanding Zurabov's resignation for his responsibility for the unpopular social-benefits reforms, the NBP's website announced. Using flash-mob tactics, the NBP called its followers to gather around the office to support the action. Eventually, FSB arrested most of the participants of the action and on 12 December seven NBP activist were each sentenced to five years in prison for the "seizure of a government office and mass disturbances."
On 14 December 2004 an even bigger group of NBP members occupied the presidential-administration visitors' room in much the same manner, to protest Putin's political reforms, nbp-info.ru reported. Thirty-nine members of NBP have been arrested and are still awaiting trial. They have been accused of "attempting to seize power and organize a mass disturbance." If convicted, they could face two to eight years in prison. They are scheduled to face trial in August.
Meanwhile, the NBP continues to defend the "right of the people to revolution." The weekly "Limonka," No. 271, declared on 16 April that Russia is on the eve of revolution. "The people awoke during perestroika, and fell asleep for a while, now they have awakened again to discover what kind of moral monsters are governing them. And they rebel against these monsters. Moral complaints against the authorities are the main engine of the colored revolution."
Some political analysts believe that the only kind of revolution that can happen in Russian is a leftist-socialist and/or nationalist-patriotic revolution. If that is indeed the case, NBP, with its 10 years of experience of confrontation with government, its own list of political prisoners, and tactics of direct action, will certainly be at the eye of the revolutionary storm.For more on the rise of political youth groups, see RFE/RL's special website "The Power of Youth."