The Russian people have become the most humiliated nation on the planet. I will raise Russia from her knees.
-- Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 1995
Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky (Владимир Вольфович Жириновский, born in 1946, a lawyer by profession), is presently vice speaker of the Russian parliament (Duma). He is a an avowed antisemite (in spite of a Jewish grandfather), a sympathizer of Adolf Hitler and his ideology, and an ardent advocate of forcibly restoring the old Russian/Soviet Empire (with Alaska, Finland, and the Baltic States among the territories to be retaken by military force).
A darling of Russian voters
Zhirinovsky is dismissed by many as a clown, particularly in the West. However, this hardly seems to be the opinion of a sizeable number of Russian voters -- Zhirinovsky’s “Liberal Democratic Party of Russia” (LDPR, Liberalno-Demokraticheskaja Partija Rossii) won the 3rd largest number of votes in Russia’s parliamentary (2nd house of the Duma) elections on December 7, 2003, after president Vladimir Putin’s Unity Party and the Communist Party. In the June 1991 presidential elections he gained 6 million votes, finishing third behind Boris Yeltsin and Nikolai Ryzhkov.
Symptomatic of Russian politics
Zhirinovsky himself may be just a loudmouth and not pose any real threat to the inhabitants of Anchorage, Helsinki and Tallinn. But his very existence tells us something about the political situation of Russia today.
Contemporary Russian politics is in an unbelievably primitive state. It can not be categorized as anything that we are familiar with in the West. Elections of varying degrees of fairness are held in present-day Russia, but the resulting form of government can hardly be termed a representative democracy. The existing parties don’t represent anybody beside their leaders and financiers. Nor do they stand for ideologies in the Western sense, just for the interests of this or that businessman (“oligarch”) or of some official who, by some quirk of fate, has gained a position of power, e.g. Vladimir Putin.
Half a millennium of Russian despotism
How this is possible in a modern, scientifically advanced society, is best explained by Russian political history. Even if it covers half a millennium, the account of the political history of Russia can be kept quite short: since Czar Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century and up to 1991, Russia only knew one political system -- brutal despotism. Despotism creates a politically passive citizenry. Citizens are unable to express their social goals by political means, because politics is the prerogative of the despot. The judicial system is politically corrupt -- sentences are passed to suit the despot, not in accordance with law. This leads to a widespread subculture of personal contacts and favoritism.
In 1991 despotism was replaced by chaotic pseudo-democracy. Citizens could vote, but their vote didn’t make much difference. People who happened to be strategically placed at the right moment, e.g. directors of state enterprises, could make fortunes, a process that gave rise to the “oligarchs”. The judiciary, used to being politically corrupt, quickly became financially corrupt. The average citizen was as powerless as before. The only difference was that he or she didn’t get arrested for airing his or her views. With president Putin, even this is no longer true -- airing your views on radio, TV or in print gets you sacked, possibly worse.
Zhirinovsky’s boastful advocacy of Russian Imperialism appeals to the many Russians who are dissatisfied with the present situation and are longing for the “old law and order” of a mighty Empire. To people outside Russia, Zhirinovsky’s existence serves as a solemn warning -- the post-Soviet Russian danger is far from over.