Author Testifies as The Other Russia Trial Dwindles
Published: September 19, 2012 (Issue # 1727)
SERGEY CHERNOV / SPT
Award-winning author Zakhar Prilepin, a former OMON officer and NBP member, pictured outside the court last week.
Cases against three more activists from The Other Russia party were dropped Tuesday, thus downsizing the number of defendants on trial for allegedly continuing the activities of the banned National Bolshevik Party (NBP) from the initial 12 to eight.
Judge Sergei Yakovlev closed the cases after defendants Vladislav Ivakhnik, Vadim Mamedov and Alexei Zentsov motioned Friday for the cases against them to be closed on the grounds that two years (the expiration term for petty crimes) had passed since they were last arrested during the protest rallies.
Last week, the case against Oleg Petrov was dropped on the same grounds, and the Nizhny Novgorod-based author and The Other Russia activist Zakhar Prilepin testified in the case as a defense witness.
The author, 37, who won the National Bestseller literary prize as Russia’s best writer of the past decade in 2011, belonged to the NBP until it was banned and is now a member of The Other Russia.
Prilepin, who was an OMON special task police officer before he became a journalist and author, said he had known The Other Russia leader Eduard Limonov, who co-founded the NBP in 1993, since 1996 and had got acquainted with some of the defendants, including Andrei Dmitriyev, Andrei Pesotsky and Igor Boikov, in 2001. He said he first met the other activists after 2007.
According to Prilepin, all the activists started to act within The Other Russia coalition and then The Other Russia party after the NBP was banned in 2007.
He dismissed the prosecution’s allegations that the fact that some of the defendants occasionally referred to their group as the Natsbols (the acronym for the National Bolsheviks) during their secretly recorded meetings, saying it did not mean that they identified themselves as members of the banned party.
Prilepin said that there are National Bolsheviks who have never belonged to the NBP.
“The ideology of National Bolshevism is not banned,” he said, pointing out that there are National Bolshevik organizations that exist or existed openly after the ban was imposed on the NBP, such as the National Bolshevik Front led by Kremlin supporter Alexander Dugin and an anti-Limonov group called the NBP Without Limonov.
Speaking outside the court after the Sept. 11 hearing that closed the case against Petrov, Prilepin said that the session had changed his expectations of how the trial would progress.
“Until now, I was under the impression that the court was biased and wanted to take repressive decisions against some of my comrades,” he said.
“Of course, it’s too early to get too hopeful, but what happened today shows that they are starting to realize that the situation is a dead-end. It is becoming clear at least that people who turned up years after the NBP had been banned [in 2007] and who have never shared its ideology or written articles for Limonka [the NBP newspaper] have nothing to do with the NBP.
“There is a different organization called The Other Russia. I think that step by step, all these people will have the cases against them dropped. But it’s still too early to suggest what will happen next.”
Prilepin alleged that the criminal case against the activists had been authorized by higher authorities in Moscow and was planned to become a show trial to intimidate the opposition.
“The decision could have been taken here, but as a case that could potentially develop national resonance, it would definitely have required a sanction from the federal authorities and such sanction was received,” he said, adding that The Other Russia had been targeted as the “most active opposition organization.”
“It’s an organization that is impossible to compromise with, that stands by its position stubbornly and consistently. The St. Petersburg branch, as the country’s most active one, was chosen for this public beating . If they had done this in Moscow, they would have had to put Limonov on trial, which would have attracted global publicity.”
Prilepin said the indictment contained many absurdities and should have fallen apart as soon as the case emerged.
“But they have carried on dragging it out until today, and only the lack of attention from the national media allows it to continue,” he said. “If people had paid attention to it, it would have been something to laugh about from the start.”
Two more defense witnesses, Solidarity liberal movement’s local co-chair Vladimir Volokhonsky and Legislative Assembly Yabloko deputy Vyacheslav Notyag testified on Friday and Tuesday, respectively. Both said that they had participated in joint civic protests, including Strategy 31 rallies, with the defendants and had never seen them using banned NBP flags or heard them promoting the NBP.
On Tuesday, Judge Yakovlev said that prosecution experts from the Moscow-based Institute of Culture Studies — who wrote a debatable conclusion claiming that the secretly recorded weekly gatherings of the activists were in fact the meetings of the banned NBP — were only able to come and testify on Oct. 2, and declared a two-week hiatus in the hearing until that date.