Zhirinovsky, Vladimir Volfovich

(1946– )
   Politician. Born Vladimir Volfovich Eidelshtein in Alma-Ata (now Almaty), Kazakhstan, on 25 April 1946 into what he has called a “multinational family” (his father was a Jew of Polish origin), he left for Moscow to study at the Department of Turkish Studies at the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Moscow State University, graduating in 1969. He worked as a translator in Turkey for the Soviet Foreign Economic Relations Committee in 1969–1970, before being deported for spreading “Communist propaganda.” He then did his military service in Tbilisi, Georgia. Zhirinovsky later received a law degree and joined the Mir publishing house. In the later 1980s, he briefly participated in the activities of the Kremlin-sanctioned Jewish cultural organization Shalom.
   In 1990, he formed the first officially registered opposition political party in the Soviet Union, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), which had the backing of both the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) and the KGB. A year later, Zhirinovsky, running on his party’s ticket, placed third in Russia’s presidential elections; while he commanded only 7.8 percent of the vote, his populism, eccentric humor, and promise to reduce the price of vodka garnered him a sizable following among many disaffected Russians. A darling of the Russian press for his outgoing nature and contentious remarks, Zhirinovsky expanded his political base in the early years of the Yeltsin administration. He courted support from the business community and youth, while attracting Russian nationalists with his grandiose foreign policy statements. He put forth his geopolitical vision in The Final Push to the South (1993); in the text, he argued not only for a restoration of all lost Soviet territory to Russia, but also Alaska and lands south of Russia to the Indian Ocean. Among other outrageous remarks, he famously threatened to turn Germany into Chernobyl, invade the Baltic States, and to blockade Japan into starvation. Rather than espousing the ethnic Russian nationalism that characterized Pamyat, Zhirinovsky promotes a radical form of civic nationalism, considering all residents of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) to be Russians. His bombastic style and jingoistic rhetoric resulted in his party winning 22.8 percent of the vote in the 1993 elections to the State Duma, placing first in 64 out of 87 regions (the high level of support was viewed as a protest vote against the other candidate). In 1995, Zhirinovsky’s party enjoyed substantially less positive media coverage and won only 11.5 percent of the vote.
   In the 1996 presidential election, he competed against incumbent Boris Yeltsin and the leader of the KPRF, Gennady Zyuganov, finishing sixth with a disappointing 5.8 percent of the vote despite commanding second place (ahead of Yeltsin) in early opinion polls. Running again in 2000 against Vladimir Putin, he earned a paltry 2.7 percent of the vote. He declined to run for president in 2004 (putting forth Oleg Malyshkin in his stead for the LDPR). In the 2008 election, he won nearly 10 percent of the vote; however, both he and his party have seen their popularity sapped by an increasingly anti-Western and nationalistic political establishment. Zhirinovsky was elected deputy chairman of the Duma in January 2000 and was reelected in 2004. Over his career, Zhirinovsky has been barred, expelled, or declared persona non grata by a number of countries, including Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Germany, and Bulgaria. He remains the chairman of the LDPR, a position he has held since 1990.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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