Zhirinovsky Captivates with Jokes, Threats and Promise of Strong Russia With
Dec. 11, 1993
Zhirinovsky Captivates with Jokes, Threats and Promise of Strong Russia With PM-Russia-Economy, Bjt
MOSCOW (AP) _ Vladimir Zhirinovsky marched up to the lingerie counter in Moscow's biggest department store, held high a bra and announced that if he were elected to parliament, underwear would be cheaper.
The sales clerks were shocked and the customers delighted. For the 47-year- old Zhirinovsky, it was just another antic in the generally leaden campaign for parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Zhirinovsky's buffoonery, provocative television appearances and message of a strong and rich Russia are winning him supporters and worrying his competitors.
In fact, Mikhail Poltoranin said his Federal Information Center believes Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party is in second place, behind the leading Russia's Choice reform bloc aligned with President Boris Yeltsin.
Americans shouldn't be fooled by the name, Liberal Democratic Party, as it's really a party of extreme right-wing nationalists bordering on fascism.
''He's the only one capable of getting Russia out of this mess. He's tough and he's clever and that's what this country needs,'' said Marina Yakovleva, a commercial bank employee who plans to vote for Zhirinovsky.
Part clown, part demagogue, it is hard to know when Zhirinovsky is bluffing and when he is dead serious.
An ultranationalist, Zhirinovsky appeals to the millions of Russians frightened by chaos, an explosion in crime, falling living standards and powerlessness and insecurity.
His election promises range from the frightening to the absurd, but by the time Zhirinovsky has finished his rapid-fire, almost hypnotic delivery, many in the audience, even some opponents, believe he can make them come true.
For Zhirinovsky, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a huge mistake that he would reverse immediately by forcing all the independent republics into a new Russian empire.
A special hatred is directed toward the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which spearheaded the drive for independence that caught fire in all the former Soviet republics.
This week, Zhirinovsky warned the Baltic states that if they discriminated against ethnic Russians, he would impose economic sanctions so tough they would collapse in two weeks.
But his most vicious invective is aimed at the millions of non-ethnic Russians living and working in Russia.
In one campaign clip, Zhirinovsky is seen haranguing a hapless vendor from the Caucasus Mountains, accusing him of spreading diphtheria among Russians with filthy fruit that costs too much. Zhirinovsky wins sympathy from many Russians who despise people from the region. He also advised Russia's 20 million Muslims to migrate south to central Asia.
''He's a very dangerous guy. It would be bad for all of us if he were in power,'' said Ivan Levko, a Ukrainian on a visit to the Russian capital.
At times, Zhirinovsky calls himself a national socialist, and he has often been compared to Hitler, by Economics Minister Yegor Gaidar and on Friday by Poltoranin.
''There is a chance a large group of Zhirinovsky's supporters will be elected. Should it happen, by the fall of 1994 Zhirinovsky will become president of Russia,'' said Poltoranin. ''He has mastered the campaign experience of Adolf Hitler.''
His ultranationalistic message has won him friends in the military and the security forces, who deeply resent the breakup of the Soviet empire and their own loss of prestige.
A lawyer by training, Zhirinovsky claims to have quick answers to Russia's complex economic problems that he has developed since forming the Liberal Democratic Party in 1990. He says Russia should stop helping all foreign countries, except Serbia, and cut off subsidies to the former Soviet republics. To earn cash, Russia should step up arms sales.
Zhirinovsky also says Russia should not have to pay international debts accumulated by the former Soviet Union and he promises subsidized prices for the poor.
Polling is forbidden in the 10 days before Sunday's election. Zhirinovsky appears likely to receive the 5 percent of the vote needed for his party, which is fronting 147 candidates, to enter parliament. Some polls have put his support at up to 20 percent, and Zhirinovsky claims he will get 46 percent.
To the horror of reformers, Zhirinovsky came away with six million votes in 1991 when he ran against Yeltsin for the Russian presidency.
''A lot of highly educated people voted for him in the presidential campaign. Now his electorate is closer to his ideology,'' said Grigory Pashkov of the Mnenie polling service.