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Russia: National Bolsheviks Stage Yet Another Protest

National Bolsheviks head Eduard Limonov (epa) A handful of National Bolshevik Party (NBP) activists were arrested yesterday while attempting to present a petition to the upper house of parliament and the presidential administration. The document leveled a series of accusations against Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom activists blame for establishing an "authoritarian criminal regime."

Moscow, 9 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- National Bolshevik Party leaders say clashes erupted yesterday when special services officers allegedly tried to prevent the 40 or so activists from entering the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament.

Half the activists reportedly managed to force their way into the building and hand deputies their petition, which accuses President Vladimir Putin of committing 10 violations against Russians.

The petition accuses Putin, for instance, of rigging presidential and parliamentary elections and contributing to the mass killing of hostages in Beslan and at the Dubrovka theater. It also accuses him of acquiring a $50 million yacht and of establishing an "authoritarian criminal regime."

It also blames Putin for cracking down on independent media and slashing Soviet-era benefits.

At the same time, a smaller group of NBP activists tried to hand a second petition to representatives of the presidential administration's commissionfor the rehabilitation of victims of political repression.

Vladimir Abel, one of the NBP leaders, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that this second petition called for the liberation of the dozens of jailed NBP activists, which the movement refers to as "political prisoners."

"In their declarations, the accent was on the demand for the liberation of National Bolsheviks who are currently being held in prisons and camps in the Russian Federation," Abel said. "We have a total number of 49 political prisoners. They were also calling for the general liberation of political prisoners in Russia and for the end of the political repression in the country."


National Bolsheviks have gained fame by staging provocative protests and publicly challengingtheir foes. One of their favorite methods is throwing eggs, tomatoes, and mayonnaise at prominent public figures.

The NBP, whose emblem combines the Nazis' red-and-white flag with the Soviet hammer and sickle, started as a neo-fascist organization. Its leader and cult figure is the ultranationalist writer Eduard Limonov.

Today, National Bolsheviks -- also referred to in Russia as "limonovtsi" -- prefer describing themselves as an opposition group that supports democracy.

On 2 August 2004, the party staged it most high-profile protest: activists broke into the presidential administration building to protest Putin's political reforms. As a result, 39 young activists were arrested and charged with "attempting to seize power and organize a mass disturbance." Some of those activists are currently undergoing trial.

NBP leaders say yesterday's arrests came one day after one of their headquarters was raided by the special services, who allegedly confiscated original documents and party lists. Abel says the raid was a move to prevent the movement from officially registering as a political party, a decision only recently taken by the NBP leadership.

"I think this [raid] was a monstrous violation of the law. It was an attempt to hamper the party's registration. It seems to me that law-enforcement agencies have switched to the methods they practice in the North Caucasus -- where there is no legal framework, just special combat operations -- as though there is a war in Moscow," Abel said.

In Russia, political analysts are strongly divided on the NBP's objectives and political importance.

Yevgenii Volk, the director of the Heritage Foundation think tank in Moscow, is one of the many experts who dismiss the NBP as an immature movement with a shaky political ideology.

He considers the "limonovtsi's" warning that Russia is on the brink of a revolution as exaggerated. He does, however, say that growing popular discontent, particularly among youth, could well spiral into more violent unrest in the long term.

But Volk warns against comparing the NBP to other youth movements that played a role in the peaceful colored revolutions that toppled the governments in Georgia and Ukraine.

He says that a mass movement in Russia would likely have a very different character.

"If something like a mass movement, protest, really arises in Russia, I think it will not be a democratic wave such as the one in Georgia or in Ukraine. It is more likely to be a nationalist line that could draw much heavier political forces such as Rodina [Motherland] or movements such the Movement Against Illegal Migration," Volk said.

Volk points to the staunchly xenophobic rally organized by Rodina and the Movement Against Illegal Migration that marked Russia's first new People's Unity Day holiday on 4 November.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, holds a very different view.

The NBP, he says, brings a breath of fresh air to a political scene he describes as tightly controlled by the Kremlin.

"The NBP is a relatively small element of the political landscape, but it is not under Kremlin control. It doesn't need seats in the Duma and it can therefore act like they feel it necessary. It is one of the very few live twigs on Russia's nearly dried-out tree of political parties. And this is precisely why it is under constant pressure," Petrov said.

Petrov adds that as the NBP is not eyeing State Duma seats, the party does little to cajole the Russian electorate.

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