Zhirinovsky, Vladimir


Zhirinovsky, Vladimir
▪ 1995

      When Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party won 22.8% of the vote in the Russian parliamentary elections in December 1993, the West gasped. It had previously not taken much notice of the man known for his boorish, bullying behaviour or for his promise to create a dictatorship when elected president, and they had not listened very closely to his threats to expand the borders of Russia to include Alaska and Finland, use large fans to blow radioactive waste into the Baltic states, and reduce crime by instituting summary executions. People did not know if they should take his high-decibel nationalistic comments seriously.

      Much of Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky's personal history was vague, unknown, or disputed. It was known that he was born on April 26, 1946, in Alma-Ata (now Almaty), Kazakhstan. He left at age 18 to attend Moscow State University, where he studied Turkish and other languages. After graduating about 1969, he went to work as a translator in Turkey, whence he was expelled in murky circumstances eight months later. He went on to earn a law degree, working first in a state-run law firm (where he was asked to resign) and then at the Mir publishing company. When the local council held elections in 1987, Zhirinovsky sought to run as the firm's candidate and as an independent, but he was disallowed by the Communist Party and Mir, which cited a letter from his previous employer that questioned his ethics. Zhirinovsky was not deterred. In the spring of 1990 he was asked to become the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party, but by October his views had provoked his expulsion. In the spring of 1991 Zhirinovsky created his own party—and took his previous party's name. In June 1991 he ran for the presidency and won some six million votes, which placed him third.

      A figure as colourful as Zhirinovsky was bound to be the object of rumour and speculation. It was widely reported that his career could only have been possible under the auspices of the KGB. Documents surfaced that showed that the surname of his father, who was killed the year he was born, had originally been Eidelshtein, that Zhirinovsky had changed his name at age 18, and that he had been a member of a state-sponsored Jewish group in the late 1980s. Given his rabid Russian nationalism and broad anti-Semitic asides and the support they drew from large segments of the population, the charge that he was Jewish was significant. Zhirinovsky, however, heatedly denied that he was Jewish or that he had been affiliated with the KGB.

      The facts did not always seem to matter. Zhirinovsky's campaign proclamations that he was "the last hope of a cheated and humiliated people" and "the very same as you" and his promise to "bring Russia up off its knees" resonated more keenly among many voters than did those of more conventional politicians. "If there were a healthy economy and security for the people, I would lose all the votes I have," he said.

      (CHERYL L. COLLINS)

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Universalium. 2010.

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