Eduard Limonov, Russian writer and politician with a penchant for provocation, dies at 77

The Russian writer and radical politician Eduard Limonov has died in Moscow yesterday. He was 77. Limonov, whose real name was Eduard Veniaminovich Savenko, gained celebrity as the author of provocative novels in the 1970s, after he emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1974. Born in Dzerzhinsk, an industrial town in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in 1943, he moved with his family to Kharkiv in Ukraine and grew up there and had a rebellious youth, becoming involved in theft and petty crimes, things that he would go on to describe in great detail in his novels.

In 1974 Limonov and his then wife arrived to the United States, in New York, where he tried, unsuccessfully, to establish himself as a writer. His first novel “It’s me, Eddie”, telling the story of Russian young immigrant to New York doing odd jobs, stood out for the obscenity of the language and the candidness with which it described homoerotic experiences. The book, published in 1977, did not receive a lot of attention until it became a sensation in France in 1980, where it had been translated as “The Russian Poet Prefers Big Blacks”.

Limonov showed the other side of the American Dream, the story of an immigrant who ended up staying in cheap hostels sharing his room and sometimes his bed with homeless people. Disillusioned by the capitalistic and bourgeois way of life, Limonov became increasingly critical of it and participated in the activity of the Socialist Workers Party, the marginal and only communist party in the United States. Once Limonov handcuffed himself to the building of the New York Times, calling for his articles to be published.

After having moved to Paris in 1980, Limonov joined the local literary scene and became close to the French Communist Party, for whose paper “Revolution” he wrote. In 1987 he obtained the French citizenship but four years later he returned to his native Russia, to get more directly involved in politics. In 1993 he founded his own party, which carried the idiosyncratic name of National Bolshevik Party (until it was banned in 2007), together with the philosopher and professor Alexandr Dugin and the poet and musician Igor Letov. A curious mélange of nationalism and communism, the party was a prominent presence in the Russian opposition in the 1990s and and the early 2000s and critical of the neoliberal course Russia had taken with the demise of the Soviet Union.
A radical in literature and political slogans, Limonov did not confine his provocations to the realm of words. In 2001 he was arrested on charges of terrorism and illegal purchase of weapons. The Russian government accused Limonov of planning to raise an army to invade Kazakhstan. The writer claimed that the charges were politically motivated, but was convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment for the arms purchasing. After two years he was released on good behavior.

Often hailed in the West and in liberal circles as Putin’s critic, in 2010 Limonov parted ways with the united opposition block and formed another political force called Other Russia. The nationalist in Limonov could not live with the Western-style liberals just for the sole purpose of having a common enemy, the Russian establishment. After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 Limonov even reconciled himself with the Russian President and encouraged Russian volunteers to fight in the Donbass. “He [Putin] is an authoritarian leader, but not an evil one. [He] tolerates […] a whole constellation of treacherous mass media, for example, which write and speak nasty things about Russia and our people, and about Vladimir Putin himself”, wrote Limonov in 2015. Now the eternal rebel he passed away to a better life. May he find peace of the soul there.

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