Limonov was a uniquely talented, original poet, a gifted fiction writer, and a failed politician. His poems – those few I’m familiar with, mostly from his early years – are to me a pleasure and sometimes a delight. I can’t say the same of his prose. His politics never impressed me but the man himself did when I first saw him on TV in the early 1990s. He looked youthful, fit, and vigorous, in striking contrast to other male guests on the program. In hindsight, he probably made the other men look like fat old bores, neither interesting nor particularly bright.
This youthfulness – giovinezza – and a quest to keep it can probably go a long way towards explaining Limonov’s political evolution. My feeling is he was originally, and essentially, an anarchist but out of despair drifted towards an eclectic ideology that has been described as “fascistic.” As Mark Galeotti wrote in The Moscow Times:
Was Limonov a visionary or a poser, an artist or a politician, a leftist or a rightist? The answer to all of them is, of course, yes. In many ways he was a cliché, but he was not unaware of that: the point was that he chose his own cliché. He had will and agency. In 2006, he could join forces with Gary Kasparov in the Other Russia pro-democracy movement, and then become a frothing advocate of the undeclared war in the Donbass in 2014. He was, in short, his own master.
In one of his last interviews Limonov said the day of his death would be a day of national morning. But this nation cannot mourn – sometimes it seems as good as dead itself.
(By the way, Limonov’s father was Ukrainian and so was his real surname, Savenko. He grew up in Kharkiv/Kharkov, the second-largest city in Ukraine. However, he remained hostile to the Ukrainian national project.)