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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 14:41 GMT
Zhirinovsky: Russia's political eccentric
Zhirinovsky: Enjoys shocking liberals
Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the single greatest eccentric in Russian politics.

His fiery ultra-nationalist rhetoric, which caused huge international anxiety when his party came first in the 1993 parliamentary election, is now more widely seen as a form of political theatre.

Mr Zhirinovsky enjoys nothing more than shocking liberal opinion at home and abroad with outrageous threats and warnings.

Zhirinovsky's share of the vote
1991 - 7.8% (presidential)
1993 - 22.8% (parliamentary)
1995 - 11.2% (parliamentary)
1996 - 5.7% (presidential)
1999 - 6% (parliamentary)
His statements strike a chord, nonetheless, with millions of Russian voters, though his share of the vote has been declining.

General Alexander Lebed once described Mr Zhirinovsky as, "The Lord God's monkey".

Others have been less amused. The Russian prosecutor-general opened criminal proceedings against Mr Zhirinovsky in 1994 for disseminating "propaganda of war".

Mr Zhirinovsky is famous for acknowledging that he dreams of a day "when Russian soldiers can wash their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean".

He has also threatened to seize Alaska from the United States, to launch a nuclear strike on Japan, to flood Germany with radioactive waste, and to occupy the Baltic states.

"You are standing in our way to the sea ports," he told an Estonian interviewer.

Mr Zhirinovsky has been expelled from Bulgaria for insulting its president, and barred from entry to Germany.

Zhirinovsky: "God's monkey", according to Alexander Lebed
Iraq's Saddam Hussein figures high among his friends in the international community. Members of "Zhirinovsky's Falcons" - a uniformed group of LDPR supporters - went to Baghdad to show solidarity during the US-led assault on Iraq, Desert Storm.

His party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), has also allied itself with a radical Serbian party.

The LDPR was the first political party to be officially registered in the Soviet Union, after the Communist Party itself, leading many to ask whether it was, in fact, a creation of the Soviet authorities.

The year before, Mr Zhirinovsky is remembered as having been the director of a Jewish cultural organisation called Shalom, which was created by the Soviet government to rival another independent Jewish movement emerging under Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost.

Zhirinovsky's career
1990 founds Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
1991 supports hardline coup
1993 LDPR election victory
1995 promoted to Lt Col, army reserve
The suspicion that, at some deep level, Mr Zhirinovsky is loyal to the Russian authorities has been bolstered by his party's voting record in parliament - more often than not it supports government initiatives.

The party also has a record of parliamentary brawling. In 1995 Mr Zhirinovsky was seen on television pulling the hair and attempting to throttle a female deputy, Yevgenia Tishkovskaya, as she tried to prevent another nationalist deputy beating up a priest in the debating chamber.

Mr Zhirinovsky also threw juice in the face of a political rival, Boris Nemtsov, during a television debate in which Mr Nemtsov goaded him about his sex life.

Mr Zhirinovsky famously promised free vodka if voters supported him in the presidential election of 1991, in which he came third.

Latterly his political platform has been less clearly defined.

He has threatened to stage a military confrontation with the USA in the Persian Gulf, break international sanctions against Iraq, remove restrictions on arms sales to Iran, and sell the disputed Kurile islands to Japan for $50b.

He has promised voters a "stormy", but interesting life.

In an article published in the Moscow Times, Russian political image makers enthused over Mr Zhirinovsky's choice of clothes to express his political personality.

"His disgusting loosened tie and unbuttoned shirts are brilliant finds," said photographer Anton Lange.

"His facial expressions and gestures are organic details of his personality and policy."
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