Aijo is a walking paradox - a black Latvian citizen who speaks fluent Russian and English; a Communist Bolshevik who follows the Old Believer faith, a firebrand who rages against the bourgeoisie but wants to return to the United Kingdom for a well-paid job.
LSM spent an hour in conversation with Beness Aijo in an effort to discover more about an individual whose name is frequently heard but about whom little really seems to be known.
LSM: It must have been hard growing up in Rezekne (eastern Latvia). Did you encounter much racism?
I was the only black person I knew growing up. But Soviet society was based on clear principles of human rights and there was no racial abuse or abuse towards people of other nationalities in my childhood because it was a Soviet society.
LSM: You believe there is a smear campaign against you in the UK?
I am a member of the Marxist Leninist Communist party of Great Britain and our aim is socialism in Britain and elsewhere. We stand for public ownership of the means of production, so this is MI6 [British secret service] starting a campaign against me as part of a wider campaign against the communist movement.
They say I am part of Putin's party and linked to his administration but that's total rubbish. I am a communist but modern Russia is a capitalist state where power and money is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie and corrupt oligarchs who are connected to the president. Social inequality is even bigger in Russia than bourgeois Europe! The regime should be changed. I want to re-establish the Soviet Union.
Social inequality is even bigger in Russia than bourgeois Europe! The regime should be changed. I want to re-establish the Soviet Union.
LSM: Where did you pick up your adherence to old-style Bolshevik communism?
From my childhood. I was very disappointed when the Soviet Union was broken. I was a member of the Pioneers and I remember watching news reports on TV and seeing a great country with developed agriculture and factories, free medicine, free education, a country that had freed much of Eastern Europe from fascism, that had sent Gagarin into space and it was collapsing.
LSM: Who are your political heroes?
My heroes are Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and among modern left politicians. Eduard Limonov [of Russia's banned National Bolshevik Party].
LSM: You talk about Russia but you are actually a Latvian citizen. What is your attitude to Latvia? Do you support the principle that it is an independent state?
Now power in Latvia is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie and far right political parties. They try to make conflicts between the different national groups. This is why we need to establish a strong left in Latvia. We should fight for the democratic liberation of Russian-speaking people in Latvia, to raise salaries, to leave NATO, and to unite Latvians and Russians in commmunist social justice.
LSM: In an independent Latvian state?
Yes, in a Latvian state. When Latvians see the Russians don't want a hegemony, they just want not to be discriminated against, then we will have a democratic socialist state here in Latvia. Maybe from Latvia, socialism could then spread to the rest of the world!
LSM: Yet you are currently being investigated by police over statements you allegedly made that undermine the independent Latvian state. Do you deny that you want to overthrow the state?
I am accused of incitement to the violent overthrow of the Latvian constitution, government and political structure. When I was in Donetsk and Donbass I criticised Latvia about poverty, discrimination, joining the EU and so on. This is why the Latvian government was angry, that a citizen of Latvia was speaking out.
When I was in Donetsk and Donbass I criticised Latvia about poverty, discrimination, joining the EU and so on. This is why the Latvian government was angry
LSM: What exactly were you doing in Ukraine? There are pictures of you in uniform. Were you there to fight?
The first time I went after the legally elected President Yanukovich was removed, I got calls from my comrades in Russia and Ukraine saying they were looking for volunteers for Crimea to help in any way they could – maybe to give out food or medicine. So I went. I was walking along the street and I saw some people with camouflage uniforms handing out leaflets. I asked if it was possible to join their military brigade and they told me to go to a certain building. I went there and said I was from Latvia.
They were surprised. They said “If something happens to you, will the Latvian government ask us to pay money?” I told them no. So they took my number and said they would call if they needed me. The next day they called. They gave me a uniform and a gun, they showed me how to use it and they put me on duty. I never used the gun. They sent me to guard a military base.
When Crimea voted to join Russia, the military commander told me “We don't actually need you now” so I decided to go to Donetsk because I was getting a lot of messages on Facebook from people there.
LSM: Do you think that is because you look and sound so different, as a black man who speaks Russian? Aren't you afraid that they were just using you as a novelty?
No, the feeling I got from people was very good. People were kissing me, thanking me for coming. The attitude towards me there was better than in Moscow or Riga or even in England. I participated in various meetings and demonstrations and I called for a referendum on independence. Then there was a press conference where the Kiev-appointed governor of Donetsk said I should be deported so after a couple of days I was arrested and taken to the airport at Boryspil to be deported to Latvia. But then they wouldn't let me on the plane because I refused to sign some papers from the Ukrainian security police saying I came to Ukraine for violent overthrow of the government.
“Go back to Latvia or Moscow or Zimbabwe or wherever you came from!” they said. I said “I was born in the Soviet Union so I am a Soviet citizen.” So they deported me to London instead where I took part in demonstrations for a couple of weeks before going back to Donetsk via Russia to join the rebel groups. But in Lugansk district they arrested us again at the border.
LSM: How were you treated?
It varied. They threw me on the floor, then kicked me with heavy boots and put a cord around my wrists and squeezed hard. It's very painful. They told me I had been captured and put me on the floor in a military car where they beat me on the road from Kharkiv to Kiev. They threatened to shoot me and did the same with a couple of other people too. These are their methods.
They threw me on the floor, then kicked me with heavy boots and put a cord around my wrists and squeezed hard. It's very painful.
When we arrived they laughed “Now you are in fascist Kiev!” and said I had asked Putin to send troops to Ukraine. But I didn't. I asked Putin to help the people but I didn't say anything about troops. “It's because of you this rebellion is happening!” they said. I said it wasn't. They beat me again but not so much. I was only beaten twice. They took me back to a military prison in Kharkiv for five or six days and told me to sign more papers which I refused. They took me to the airport and I was deported again via Kiev and was arrested by the Latvian authorities and put in prison for two months.
LSM: How did the Latvian prison compare?
That wasn't too bad. Prison is prison. It's certainly unpleasant but I wasn't beaten. But there were informers in with me who were trying to get information from me. Then I was bailed and now I have to sign at a police station twice a week.
LSM: What does the future hold for you?
There is no work here, so I hope to return to the UK. The law says if you are bailed in one EU country you can sign in another country. I want a job. I have friends there who could help me get a job and I am registered with employment agencies who know I am a good worker. I can't go back to Donbass. I could organise more demonstrations in England.
LSM: You talk in a very intense way. Does your activity affect your family life? Do you ever relax?
Yes, my mother says “You need to have a calm life...”. I pray. I go to church, maybe not as often as I should but I am a Christian, an Orthodox Old Believer...
LSM: Isn't that incompatible with being a Bolshevik?
No, after all Christ turned over the tables of the money lenders in the temple. That was a revolutionary act! There is a lot of communism in the Bible.
LSM: How would you describe yourself?
I am a revolutionary. But that doesn't mean the revolution has to be violent. I am a Russian man who lives in the UK and is a citizen of Latvia but who was born in the Soviet Union.