Limonov's Columns Get eXile in Trouble

Federal officials visited the offices of The eXile on Thursday and asked about the newspaper's relationship with Eduard Limonov, a Kremlin critic who writes a column for the notorious English-language tabloid.

They also expressed concern that The eXile "mocks and humiliates" Russia and said they would check it for extremist content, editor Mark Ames said Thursday.

"The prognosis for The eXile is not very good," said Ames, a U.S. citizen who started the newspaper in 1997.

Four officials from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage came to The eXile's offices for a three-hour meeting, and Limonov was the first topic they raised, Ames said.

Limonov, the founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party and an organizer of anti-Kremlin street protests, writes a column for The eXile and appears on its masthead as a contributor.

Thursday's meeting offered the first hint of why authorities launched an "unscheduled inspection" of The eXile, which the newspaper's staff learned of in a letter from the service last week.

After asking about Limonov, the inspectors said they would check The eXile's compliance with Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media, Ames said. The article bans media outlets from promoting extremism, pornography or narcotics.

The inspectors said someone had complained that The eXile "mocks and humiliates Russian traditions and history" and took three issues of the newspaper for analysis, Ames said.

Yevgeny Strelchik, a spokesman for the service, confirmed Thursday that the inspection was under way but said it was too early to comment about it.

If inspectors uncover violations, they could issue The eXile a warning. A second warning within the next year could result in the paper's license being revoked, effectively shutting it down.

Besides incitement to extremism, warnings can be issued on technical grounds -- for instance, if a newspaper has an address different from the one listed in its license.

The inspectors raised that issue on Thursday, noting that The eXile had a different address from the one in their records, Ames said. He conceded that they were right because the newspaper had moved multiple times.

"It was clear that they did their homework," Ames said.

The eXile publishes Gonzo-style journalism on topics such as drugs, prostitution and Moscow nightlife along with political analysis, and frequently pushes -- if not crosses -- the limits of decency.

Limonov has worked with The eXile from the start, even writing the foreword to its 1999 book, "The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia."

Media outlets that give exposure to the controversial author have occasionally run into trouble. Last year, Moscow city prosecutors conducted a probe of Ekho Moskvy after the radio station aired an interview with Limonov.

Despite his pessimism about The eXile's future, Ames said he will not tone it down or stop publishing Limonov.

"Hell no," Ames said when asked whether the column would be canceled. "Limonov was one of the inspirations for this paper."