After a five month trial, the Moscow courts finally made a ruling in the case of the 39 National Bolshevik activists who took over a government building on December 14, 2004. 31 activists received suspended sentences of 18 months to 3 ? years and were freed on Friday. Eight others are looking at 18 months to 3 ? prison sentences. Most of the eight are regional leaders. Nine of the 39 were under the age of 18 when arrested. One, aged 15 was released after spending two months in custody.
Prison forges revolutionaries as much as it does criminals. One need only look at the prison experience of many Russian revolutionaries in the 19th century. Many Bolsheviks looked back on their time in Tsarist prisons as a mark of distinction. Many went in ideologically committed many more came out willing to sacrifice their body. After all, short of death, the system showed them the worse it could do: imprison them under horrible conditions, interrogate them using various methods of torture, and subject them to torments of the prison’s purely criminal population.
All of this was not lost on many of the 39 Natsbols, or so demonstrates Nabi Abdullaev’s article in the Moscow Times. According to Natsbol member Alexei Kolunov, 22, his time in prison only made him more committed to the cause, “We are no longer afraid of anything — of prison, of beatings, of threats. If the authorities want to stop the National Bolsheviks, they will have to kill us.” For Kolunov prison showed him the important work he was doing for the Party. Such views were only reinforced by many of the activists’ parents’ support and maintenance that the authorities’ treatment of their children was overly harsh and unwarranted. When asked whether she would continue to allow her son to participate in the Natsbols, Irina Baganova replied, “Do you really think that it is possible to stop these young men? After all, he and his friends have not done anything bad. They haven’t laid a finger on anyone.” According to the Times, parents collected almost $5000 to pay for the property their sons and daughters destroyed during their raid.
So while Eduard Limonov refuses to call the verdict a victory because several of his minions remain in prison, the whole affair is far from a loss for his movement. First the incident catapulted the National Bolshevik Party onto not only the Russian political stage, but gained them international attention. His Natsbols were consistently portrayed as the victims to the state’s heavy-handedness. The Natsbols’ commitment to suffer in prison has transformed them from a band of political pranksters and hooligans to a force to be taken seriously. Second, the action made them even more appealing to working class youths who see the other available political options as having no punch. Through their non-violent direct action, the Natsbols have shown that they are serious about their fight against the Putin government. Third, their actions have undoubtedly influenced how other youth organizations operate in Russia. Coupled with the successes in Ukraine and elsewhere, the National Bolsheviks show that one can fight the Russian state and survive to see the light. More and more Russian youth groups, both pro and anti-Putin are starting to utilize direct action methods as a way to harness youth political energy. Lastly, Limonov now has, if Kolunov’s statements are any indication, a core of seasoned activists, tempered by prison and willing to sacrifice themselves for their cause. And such a victory makes their recent ban by the Russian Supreme Court potentially superfluous.