Nobody I know except for Limonov's lawyer expected him to be cleared of terrorism charges this past Tuesday. Everyone assumed that the trial had been decided before it even began. Russia's judicial system is notoriously corrupt, and there was no way that the FSB was going to let Limonov go free after spending all that money and manpower setting him up. Not after they sent some fifty elite counter-intelligence spetznazis to make the arrest in the far-off Altai region just over two years ago, and not after they involved Attorney General Ustinov and the Supreme Court in the whole messy lead-up to Limonov's trial in Saratov.
Most of the Russians I know, particularly the more successful lawyer types, were sure that Limonov would spend the rest of his life in jail. Many even thought that he'd somehow wanted it that way. It was a natural reaction against the threatening, radical aesthetics that Limonov has lived by.
The Western press has been grotesquely shameful in their coverage of what should be the most sensational story out of Russia: a Henry Miller author and political radical accused of attempting to form an army, invade Kazakhstan, and overthrow the state. You couldn't invent a juicier story. Yet the Western media, so pious in its defense of Russian dissidents who share their liberal values, ditched all pretense of "defending to the death" those with whom they disagree when faced with someone who was a dissident against them. Limonov's anti-Western, anti-liberal aesthetics and politics are anathema to Western liberals. So they suspended their liberalism in his case and kept a conspiracy of silence.
For at least a year after Limonov was thrown into Lefortovo Prison, I was the only English-language writer to take up his cause. I couldn't sell his story anywhere. I must have pitched it to at least a dozen American and English magazines and newspapers. My agent even tried. But no one was interested. One major magazine editor, who at least was kind enough to reply, answered, "It's too fringy and radical for us, sorry."
The Western media's self-censorship over Limonov only thawed after the trial ended in January. It's no secret that Western press attention is the best defense in a political trial in a country where the judicial system barely functions. Therefore by their silence, they were in effect participating in Limonov's prosecution. He was threatening and anti-Western; therefore, he had to be guilty of terrorism. I cannot think of a single other Russian dissident whom the Western media has so aggressively suspended its values for, not ever.
The great irony, the rude crow-pie-toss into the face of the Western press here, came Tuesday with the judge's amazingly precise, brave and independent ruling. Limonov wasn't exaggerating when he labeled the judge's dismissal of all terrorism charges a victory for all of Russia's citizens. (He was only found guilty for the lesser charge of conspiring to buy arms, for which he was given another two years in jail, or about 25 fewer years than originally threatened.)
"I have never seen such a precedent," Limonov told the packed courtroom. Indeed, neither had the Western media or all the others who hoped and expected to see him packed off and shut away forever.
The judge is a hero. The Western media should be ashamed. They were ready to sentence him without trial, something even the Russians, with all their institutional flaws, didn't do. The local correspondents better watch out. When he gets out of jail in two years, I guarantee he won't be broken.