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East European Perspectives: May 24, 2000

24 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 10
RADICAL POLITICS IN EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE?????PART V: (Mis)placing in Boxes: Radicals Full Stop
D) ...And then, there is Zhirinovsky (Part II)

Russian Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as I have shown, fits into neither the radical continuity nor radical return categories. Rather, he belongs to that category of post-communist politicians which, for lack of better terminology, I describe as "radical full stop" (see "East European Perspectives," Vol. 2, nos. 7-9, 5 and 19 April, and 10 May 2000). This section continues the retrospection into Zhirinovsky's political outlook.

What is to happen to those "former Republics" that refuse to listen to Zhirinovsky's "voice of reason?" In the "Dash to the South" he offers a solution: squeeze them out economically, force them into "seeing the light." But Zhirinovsky has other "alternatives" to his "non-violent" persuasion as well. At times, he is willing to grant independence to Lithuania, because Lithuanians will discover that "nobody in Europe will buy Lithuanian cheese" ("Leningradskaya pravda," 25 June 1991, cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 14). But it will only be a Lithuania that is "a small independent state, an enclave" ("Die Welt," 21 January 1994, cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 15). Estonia will be forced back into the union by similar "economic means." "If they don't behave, we'll switch off their lights" ("La Stampa," 16 December 1993, cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 17). If that does not work out, however, more "radical" means can be considered. In a interview with the Lithuanian "National Affairs" in October 1991, he warned:

The Baltics are Russian land. I will destroy you. I will start burying nuclear waste in the border zone of Smolensk Oblast; the Semipalatinsk [nuclear testing grounds] will be transferred to your area. You Lithuanians will die of disease and radiation. I will remove the Russians and the Poles. I am God. I am a tyrant. There will be no Lithuanians, Latvians, or Estonians in the Baltics. I will act like Hitler in 1932 [sic!] (cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 19).

More generous, at other times Zhirinovsky would grant a separate Baltic independence, but one that is "reduced to the size of Liechtenstein" ("Frankfurter Allgemeine," 16 December 1993, cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 15). What this exactly meant was not stated, but a Zhirinovsky-autographed map published in "Le Monde " in January 1994 shows the Estonian capital, Tallinn, and Lithuania's former capital of Kaunas, being free city-states, with the rest of the Baltics incorporated in Russia (Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 37).

One wonders, of course, how much of this is serious. But that Zhirinovsky is serious about re-establishing Russia within its September 1917 borders, including Finland, there should be no doubt. When the three Baltic states declared their independence, Zhirinovsky "dashed North." Here he could find precisely that constituency of "near abroad" Russians to whom he could appeal. In August 1991 he went to Estonia, addressing Russians, whom he promised that, as president, he would transform the three Baltic states into one large Baltic "guberniia" and told them that Colonel Viktor Alksnis, a Latvian member of the conservative Soyuz in the Soviet parliament, has agreed to be governor of that "guberniia" (Solovyov and Klepikova, 1995, p. 85).

In his autobiographic manifesto, Zhirinovsky makes no reference to the fate of the former Central and East European "satellites." This is a region left, as it were, out of the plans for repartition. But from statements made on different occasions it is clear that the LDPR leader sees them as part of the Russian sphere. Perhaps also as one of personal sphere. He tried to build up relations with like-minded politicians, even to set up, or take over, formations that would be the local branches of the LDPR. He established a Russian Liberal Democratic Party in Estonia whose leader, Petr Rozhok, was charged on 4 February 1994 with instigating ethnic incitement (Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 19). A Bulgarian Liberal Democratic Party was also set up in 1989, under the leadership of Veselin Koshev. The formation was in fact controlled by Svetozar Stoilov, a former Zhirinovsky economic advisor--a position to which he ascended after being a magician's assistant and a bartender. On a visit to Bulgaria that ended with his expulsion in early January 1994, Zhirinovsky said that Stoilov must become Bulgaria's president, while Zhelyu Zhelev, its elected head of state, should step down and be sent to Siberia ("RFE/RL Daily Report" 29 December 1993; Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 42). Thrace and historical Macedonia, Zhirinovsky told his hosts, must be returned by the Greeks to Bulgaria (in what looks as a "mini-dash to the South"), to which he added, in an interview with "Die Welt" in January 1994, the Romanian northern part of Dobruja ("RFE/RL Daily Report," 29 December 1993; Engelbrekt, 1994, p. 77; Frazer and Lancelle 1994, p. 42; Bell, 1999, p. 249).

Zhirinovsky has also met with the founder of the radical return Slovenian National Party, Zmago Jelincic, in 1994 (Rizman 1999, p. 154), but it is Serbia's Vojslav Seselj who is his closest friend in the former Yugoslavia. He was Seselj's guest in Belgrade on several occasions in 1995, and signed with the SRS an agreement on a political alliance in October that year (Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 1996, p. 208; Pribicevic, 1999, p. 208). In March 2000, when Serbia was marking the "anniversary" of NATO's bombing campaign one year earlier, Zhirinovsky met again with Seselj and the SRS leadership in Belgrade. Milosevic, on the other hand, would not see him, although the visit was supposed to take place at his invitation. An obviously frustrated Zhirinovsky told journalists that he would return "if Milosevic wants to meet me" (ITAR-TASS, Tanjug and SRNA 23 March 2000). Indeed, he is closer to Seselj than to Milosevic who, Zhirinovsky once said, "must go" because he is a former communist (Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 61).

Reports that Zhirinovsky "volunteers" had joined the Serbian forces fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina and later in Kosova, however, could not be confirmed, even though Zhirinovsky made crystal-clear on whose sides he was. "We are supporting the Serbs and our standpoint is that the Serb lands--the Serbian Republic [in Bosnia] and the Republic of Serbian Krajina [in Croatia]--should be within the Republic of Serbia," he stated during his first visit to Belgrade in late January 1994. To this he added that he would personally be "happy if Russia and Serbia had a common border" (cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 53). How such a border could come about he had already explained one month earlier, in Bulgaria. Visiting the troops of the Russian contingent in Bosnia in 1994, he had his picture taken holding an automatic rifle and met with Karadzic, whom he assured of Slavic and Orthodox solidarity. "I want to warn the governments of the Western countries," he said, "that the bombing of any cities in Bosnia will mean a declaration of war on Russia...Let them never forget that Russian troops are still in Europe, and they can remain there for a long time" (cited in Solovyov and Klepikova, 1995, p. 195). In Belgrade in March 2000, he told journalists that a union between Russia, Belarus, and Yugoslavia must be urgently set up, but even more urgent was the formation of a block to oppose NATO. The block would "consist of the military forces of Russia, Belarus, and the Republic of Yugoslavia. All Orthodox people should unite, since the Western civilization has united against them," as have "the Muslims from the east and south." And one day later, addressing a rally in Moscow on the eve of the presidential contest, he added to the lists of candidates to the "union" Ukraine and Bulgaria (ITAR-TASS, 23 and 24 March 2000; SRNA, 23 March 2000).

Do these ties and postures reflect pan-Slavism? On his January 1994 trip to Serbia, Zhirinovsky spoke of "the creation of a joint Slav state from Vladivostok to Knin." Russia's "great historic mission," he said, was that of "preventing Slav peoples from being converted to Catholicism and Islam" and that these were also the enemies that Russia and the Serbs must jointly face: "We are one nation; we have one religion. If they have formed a European Union in the West, we will form an East European community. Territorially, it will be ten times larger than the European Union. We are spiritually stronger than the West. We have the greatest economic potential." In an interview with the Serb Independent Television on 28 January, Zhirinovsky was even more explicit. We could, he said, form now "a Slav alliance of Slav states. The Balkans, [the] Czech [Republic], Slovakia, Poland, Russia--these would make a very good foundation because we share a common language and culture. The Serbs, the Ukrainians, and the Russians are all Orthodox...It would all be one expanse of territory...a huge territory...[And there are also the] Bulgarians. Only the Hungarians and the Romanians are in the way" (cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, pp. 54-55, 58). In 1994 Zhirinovsky was elected chairman of the World Congress of Slavic, Orthodox, and Christian Peoples (Solovyov and Klepikova, 1995, p. 200).

But Zhirinovsky's pan-Slavism is of a most peculiar kind. On closer examination, it turns out to be as much of a genuine pan-Slavism as his admiration for Hitler is genuine Nazism. In other words, it changes as the needs of the hour change. It is to pan-Slavism that Thomas Szayna attributes his attendance of a Polish National Front (NFP) congress in Poland in March 1994 (Szayna, 1987, p. 122). NFP leader Janusz Bryczkowski told his followers that his party was "ideologically associated" with Zhirinovsky and that only a "strong Russia," not NATO, was "the guarantor of our borders." In his response, Zhirinovsky said that Russia had no territorial claims on Poland and that its armies would "never march West." He was, furthermore, ready to set up with Poland "a common army with equal rights," unlike the situation that would emerge upon Warsaw's joining of NATO, where Poles would be "shining the boots of German officers." The same applies to the Polish quest to join the EU. "I want Poles to be rich and drive in Mercedes and Lincolns, instead of cleaning their windows," Zhirinovsky said (cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, pp. 39-40). But the above-mentioned "Le Monde" map shows Poland divided between Germany and Russia. Confronted with a question when visiting Poland only two months later, Zhirinovsky was indignant: "I would not like anyone to think, even theoretically, that the Polish borders should be changed, ever; we are for a strong Poland, so that Russia and Poland can be good neighbors" (cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 39). Other visits, however, called for other statements. Visiting German far-right leader Dr. Gerhard Frey in August 1992, he said that he advocates "a common German-Russian border"--which is nothing but a call for Poland's fifth partitioning; and, if need be, the LDPR leader can be fully generous: "Let Germany move eastward. We need a common border with the Germans...Let Germany take Poland, and Russia will extend its influence southward" (cited in Solovyov and Klepikova, 1995, p. 120). Furthermore, two years earlier, in an interview with the "Long Island Newsday," Zhirinovsky said that Russia must be "restored to its historical borders, including the Baltics, Poland, Finland, and Alaska" (cited in Solovyov and Klepikova, 1995, p. 117).

At the same 1994 Warsaw NFP Congress, Zhirinovsky also met with a representative of the Czech Republican Party, which, indeed, embraces pan-Slavic themes in its propaganda (Szayna, 1997, p. 126). But the Republicans' main thrust is directed against Germany. And when needed, Zhirinovsky can play the anti-German tune to the best of his abilities. When President Vaclav Havel criticized Republican leader Miroslav Sladek's decision to invite Zhirinovsky to Prague, the LDPR leader told Czech television:

If Vaclav Havel feels unhappy about my visit, then I am also unhappy about the fact that playwrights can become presidents of certain countries. This is not right. I am not going to write theater plays, I am not going to write "The Cherry Orchard," if I am not Chekhov. Why, then, is a playwright president? Your country is dying. I can assure you that in 10 years' time there will be no Moravia, no Sudeten...Vaclav Havel will die, and in 10 years' time young Czechs will curse him. They will be forced to speak German; they will be forced to forgo their mother tongue; they will be forced to attend Holy Mass in German churches and to clean the boots of German officers. This will be the Czechs' fate in a few years' time. We do not want this. We intend to call a congress of Slavonic nations on 2 and 3 April. We are 300 million. We will live in our East European community and will not serve Western Europe (cited in Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 39).

Jan Slota, the former leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS), has, for whatever obscure reasons, refused to meet Zhirinovsky. But SNS deputy chairman Juraj Molnar attended the March 1994 congress of the LDPR "as an observer" and Zhirinovsky, in his Bulgarian-like generosity, has even promised to make Bratislava the capital of a planned Slavic East European Union. Yet the same Zhirinovsky, in January 1994, predicted that the Czech Republic "will one day belong to Germany," whereas "Slovakia will belong to Russia" (Szayna, 1995, p. 133; Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 41; Cibulka, 1999, p. 119).

Romania, on the other hand, always fared very badly with Zhirinovsky. The reasons are clear, as the LDPR chairman had spoken of "only Hungary and Romania" standing in the way of a territorially-linked Slavic community. It was, in fact, his statement on Romania made in late December 1993 in Sofia that offered the Bulgarian leadership the opportunity to expel him on the grounds of jeopardizing relations with neighbors. Romania, he said, was "an artificial state" inhabited by "Italian Gypsies." He said it should be dismembered, with Transylvania being returned to Hungary and Bessarabia along with the Transdniester to Russia--which, of course, would also wipe off the map independent Moldova (Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 30). On another occasion, in February 1996, Zhirinovsky told journalists after having just married his lawful wife in a religious ceremony, that if East European countries would join NATO, he and French National Front leader Le Pen will not "cross swords" and provoke a third world war. Rather, he said, he will send Chechens and Le Pen will send France's black population "to confront each other on Romanian territory" ("RFE/RL Daily Report," 30 December 1993; "OMRI Daily Digest," 13 February 1996).

Le Pen attended that ceremony, after which Zhirinovsky warned Poland to stay off its NATO joining plans. "If Poland would like to be free," he said, "let it be free from both Russia and NATO." But "if it behaves like a whore, running from one client to the other, that will end very badly. The next client will strangle the whore" ("OMRI Daily Digest," 13 February 1996). But Poland is not the only state to be paid that compliment. His anti-Romanian generosity with Transylvania notwithstanding, when Zhirinovsky nearly missed a plane connection in Budapest on his way from Serbia in February 1994, he burst out against "the whorehouse country" whose "imbecile" national airline employees were refusing to check in his overweight luggage (Frazer and Lancelle, 1994, p. 42). He had arrived in Serbia from Slovenia, where he and his accompanying party, taking a brief vacation, misbehaved to such an extent as to offer the Slovenian government the opportunity to invite him to leave the country and to ban a second visit (Solovyov and Klepikova, 1995, pp. 195-96; Rizman, 1999, p. 152).

Jester? No doubt. Opportunist? Undeniably so. Zhirinovsky is all these and more. He is, however, neither radical continuity nor radical return. He is, well, Zhirinovsky, and therefore "radical full stop." His own and his party's electoral performances demonstrate that he knew exactly how to exploit the situation created by the special circumstances of Russia's "transition," as mentioned above. Coming "out of nowhere" in the presidential elections of June 1991, Zhirinovsky received 8 percent of the vote, placing third after Boris Yeltsin and former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov. Over six million had cast their ballot for him. By the time parliamentary elections were conducted in December 1993, the LDPR was scoring its greatest victory so far, coming in first with nearly 23 percent of the vote. It was only because Yeltsin's Russia's Choice candidates won more constituency seats than LDPR candidates did, that Zhirinovsky's party was second-strongest in the State Duma (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 197). Zhirinovsky "had successfully exploited fears about poverty, growing unemployment, and declining living standards." He "found supporters among the military, the KGB and former communists." And, above all, his party scored particularly well "in new Russian border regions and districts as well as in areas of national conflict and war" (Hanson and Williams, 1999, pp. 274-75).

The LDPR did considerably less well in the elections to the State Duma held in December 1995. Support was more than halved to 11.1 percent and the number of seats in the Duma dropped from 64 to 51 (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 305). One reason for this drop was that, unlike in 1993, the LDPR faced competition from other nationalist-minded formations (Belin, 1995a). Its drop notwithstanding, the LDPR was still the second-largest faction in the Duma after the communists. But post-electoral analyses comparing the vote in 1993 and 1995 clearly show that it was not to the declared nationalists that the LDPR owed its losses, but to Zyuganov's successful merger of Russian traditionalist national communitarianism and etatism with communist doctrine. In other words, the Stalinist legacy of National Bolshevism, hitherto masked, was being codified by Zyuganov into an overt program embraced by his party in 1995. Openly advocating the "Russian idea," whose roots can be traced back to Dostoyevskii (Scanlan, 1996), the KPRF was now denouncing the individualist values of capitalism, said to be alien to the traditional Russian values of "obshchinost'" (communality), " sobornost'" (collectivism), "dukhovsnost'" (spirituality) and "spravedlivost" (social justice); and, above all, it was seeking a solution to Russia's post-communist plight in a revival of "narodnost'" (nationhood) and "gosudartvenost" (statehood) (see Hashim, 1999, p. 84-5). There is a very close affinity, as A. James Gregor (1988) shows, between these values and those of fascism--to distinguish from Nazism.

Under these new cicumstances, what could the LDPR still offer? No less than 15 percent of LDPR voters in 1993 voted KPRF in 1995--more than for any other party (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 306). Under Zyuganov's leadership (commenced in February 1993), the KPRF managed to increase its vote from 12.4 percent in 1993 to 22.7 percent in 1997. If there were still doubts as to the viability of placing the KPRF under Zyuganov in the radical continuity category, they should vanish in face of this demonstration (see also Mudde, 2000a).

The same is apparently valid for the presidential elections of June 1996, where Zhirinovsky finished a weak fifth--though still managing to garner 4.3 million votes and 5.70 percent. Some of his support in 1991 is likely to have strayed to Lebed's "law and order" and nationalist campaign. Most of it, however, is likely to have gone to Zyuganov, who received 32.03 percent in the June round and 40.31 in the July runoff (Henderson and Robinson, 1997, p. 313).

If in the 1995 elections Zhirinovsky was outbid in his appeal to Russian nationalism by the KPRF, in 1999, as well as in the April 2000 presidential elections, both were outbid by that of Unity and Vladimir Putin being identified with the waging of the war in Chechnya. The LDPR scored 5.98 percent on party lists (17 mandates) and failed to elect even one deputy in single-mandate constituencies. One LDPR member running as an independed did, however, win a single-mandate constitutency, bringing the total Zhirinovsky representation in the Duma to 18 deputies. But that representation was severely reduced, being barely one-third of the 1995 representation--18 seats instead of 51 (Belin, 2000c). Several other factors also contributed to this poor performance. First, Zhirinovsky was less able than in the past to attract the protest vote, his image having suffered a metamorphosis. His LDPR had transformed itself in the eyes of many into a "pro-establishment party," its votes having been cast in crucial moments on the side of the government; indeed, those votes had saved Yeltsin from impeachment in May 1999. The LDPR thus began to be perceived as a formation ready to "sell out to the highest bidder."

This image was also strengthened by the party's and Zhirinovsky's own alleged links with the mafia. What credibility could a formation that had excelled in denouncing corruption among government officials have when it was enlisting its support for the establishment, and was cultivating its own links to illicit business circles, of which, moreover, Zhirinovsky had publicly boasted?

Furthermore, and this was an additional factor in the lack of success of 1999, the LDPR was unable to run under its own name and had to run instead as "Zhirinovsky's Bloc." The Central Electoral Commission on 11 October declined to register the LDPR because two of the party's three top candidates had inaccurately submitted property declarations, as required by the letter of the law. One of the three was Anatolii Bykov, who ended the year as a fugitive in Hungary, wanted in Russia on suspicion of, among other things, complicity to murder. He was extradited in April 2000. Other dubious figures on the LDPR lists were Sergei Mikhailov (also known as "Mikhas" in criminal circles)--who ended up running on the lists of the Conservative Movement of Russia after the LDPR's failure to be registered--and Dimitrii Yakubovsky, a lawyer of scandalous reputation. The law stipulates that if one of the three top party lists names are disqualified, the list is disqualified as a whole. The Zhirinovsky Bloc was then hastily formed on the wake of the Central Electoral Commission's decision, which was, however, appealed. It also included the palingenetic Spiritual Revival Party and the Russian Union of Free Youth. The LDPR appeal was first upheld by the Supreme Court, then ruled invalid by that court's presidium. In the interim period, the central Electoral Commission had registered the LDPR, but without Zhirinovsky himself who, as it turned out, had also inaccurately filled out his income and property declaration.

But the maverick leader had problems with the bloc's lists as well, as the Central Electoral Commission objected to some of the names originally included in the LDPR lists, which were eventually omitted from those of the bloc. Among these were those of Zhirinovsky's wife, brother, and son--Lyubov, Aleksandr, and Igor--as well as a few more distant relatives, and the bloc ended by submitting only 84 names on its lists. Although the incidents made it possible for Zhirinovsky to depict himself as an establishment-victim, the note failed to elicit the expected response--the more so as the pro-government state-run media gave him wide coverage, practically transforming him into a Unity electoral ally. Neither did the typical Zhirinovsky recipe of making shocking statements--such as his "proposal" on Russian state television on 15 December to hit the "Chechen bandits" with tactical nuclear weapons--elicit the response they used to in the past, since the "Chechen card" was practically monopolized by Unity and the government's policies supported by all but Yabloko ("RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 14, and 19 October 1999; 3 and 15 November 1999; 6, 8 and 9 December 1999; McFaul et al., 1999, p. 95, 102; Belin, 1999b, 1999d, 1999e).

The parliamentary election incidents were nearly carbon-copied when Zhirinovsky attempted to register for the April 2000 presidential elections: on 17 February, the Central Electoral Commission denied registration, on grounds that Zhirinovsky had withheld "significant" information in his income and property declaration. He had failed to disclose that his son Igor owns a Moscow apartment. Zhirinovsky appealed, claiming this had been an "oversight," but on 25 February, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal. On 6 March, however, that decision was overturned by the court's appeals chamber and the Prosecutor General's Office failed to abide by the commission's request to challege the ruling ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 28 February, and 8 March 2000; Belin, 2000b).

His campaign lacked any credibility, though not some humoresque sides. As if confirming that he has become the favorite "opposition" politician of the establishment, Zhirinovsky avoided targeting Putin, whose Chechnya war he was the most vociferous supporter of from among all Putin challengers. Instead, the LDPR leader whose reputation for corruption was by now widespread, was attacking Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and alleging that Yavlinskii had been bought by wealthy supporters. Shocking statements, such as one made to the French daily "Le Parisien" on 7 March that he was prepared to "play the role of Haider," might by now have impressed French, but not Russian, audiences. These were very much "blase" by his gimmicks, and not even his reiteration (while all other candidates were courting the female electorate on 8 March) that women should stay out of politics--because, unlike men, they first think of children and only then of country--was surprising. It was Putin, rather than Zhirinovsky, who manged to provide the racist "quote of the day." After a Romany fortune teller on 15 March "predicted" that Russia's next president's initials will be V.V. (which applied to both Putin and Zhirinovsky), the acting president commented that all opposition leaders should "pay a joint visit to the Gypsies"--as Zhirinovsky had done, while ensuring wide televised coverage (Belin, 2000a, 2000d, 2000e; "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 22 March 2000). The electoral score--2.7 percent and fifth among the eleven presidential contenders--was the worst in the LDPR leader's three presidential bids ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 April 2000).

Exit the jester? Not quite. Zhirinovsky's party and, above all, Zhirinovsky himself are still present in the Duma, and past experience shows that "dashing" at one's opponents with a glass of water and pouring its contents on their heads are likely to elicit more media attention than "Dashing to the South" does on the shelves of a bookstore. Should the jester one day really make his political exit, he might, moreover, be missed by precisely those who raise the alarm when faced with his presence. For as we now turn our attention to the proper radical continuity and radical return formations, there is precious little we may find humoresque there.

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