Deputy State Duma speaker and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)
Vladimir Zhirinovsky was born on 25 April 1946 in Alma-Ata. Throughout the 1990s, he denied persistent rumours that he has Jewish roots, on one occasion famously answering a question about his origins: "My mother is a Russian, and my father is a lawyer." In 2001, however, Zhirinovsky revealed that his father, Volf Isaakovich Eidelshtein, was a Polish Jew who fled to Kazakhstan to escape the Nazis.
Zhirinovsky studied Turkish at Moscow State University's Oriental Languages Institute from 1964 to 1970. Concurrently, he studied international relations at the University of Marxism-Leninism. He worked as a translator in Turkey for the Soviet Foreign Economic Relations Committee in 1969-70, before being deported for spreading "communist propaganda."
After serving in the army in Tbilisi, Zhirinovsky worked in the Western Europe section of the Soviet Peace Committee's International Department. He earned a law degree from Moscow State University in 1977 and later worked as a legal consultant for the Mir Publishing House.
When Zhirinovsky entered politics in the late 1980s, the future Russian ultranationalist was loosely linked to various glasnost-era democratic groups, including the Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party. According to a biography by Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama Research Center, Zhirinovsky was elected to the board of a group called the Society of Jewish Culture in late 1988. In December 1989, he co-founded the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), which the following year became the Liberal Democratic Party of the Soviet Union (LDPSS).
The LDPSS billed itself as "the first opposition party in the USSR," and its creation was widely covered in the official Soviet media. But while the party claimed Yury Afanasev and Father Gleb Yakunin among its members, Pribylovsky reports that these leading democratic activists denied knowing Zhirinovsky.
Zhirinovsky ran in the RSFSR presidential election in June 1991, placing third after Boris Yeltsin and Nikolay Ryzhkov with 7.81 percent of the vote (more than 6 million votes). His campaign promises included cutting vodka prices and stopping the Soviet Union's disintegration. He openly backed the August 1991 hard-line coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev.
The LDPR was officially registered as a political party in December 1992, and shocked Russia and the world a year later by coming in first in the State Duma elections, winning 22.9 percent of the vote. The party had promised, among other things, to restore the Russian Empire within the borders of the former Soviet Union.
Zhirinovsky's mercurial politics and the LDPR's murky antecedents led to wide speculation about possible KGB connections. In 1995, investigative journalist Alexander Zhylin, citing an ex-KGB staff official, Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Valentinov, reported that the LDPR had grown out of a Gorbachev-era KGB plan to "implant a convincing and persistent illusion in the public's mind that no alternative to the country's chief political leader existed."
According to Valentinov, only a few people within Russia's special services had access to information on the LDPR's finances. Some ultranationalists shared these suspicions. In January 1994, Dmitry Vasiliev - leader of the nationalist group Pamyat, which itself has been accused of having financial and other ties with the security organs - denounced the LDPR as "a wind-up toy of the government."
In the ensuing years, Zhirinovsky and the LDPR established a pattern of outrageous behaviour and extremist rhetoric combined with a reliably pro-Kremlin voting pattern in the Duma. In April 1994, he threw clumps of dirt and spat at Jewish protesters who called him a fascist outside the Council of Europe building in Strasbourg. In June 1995, he threw orange juice in then-Nizhny Novgorod Region Governor Boris Nemtsov's face during a televised debate.
In April 2001, Zhirinovsky urged fellow Duma deputies not to stand in honour of Holocaust victims. Several months later, however, he wrote Berl Lazar, chief rabbi of the United Jewish Communities of Russia, claiming that he "identifies with the victims of the Holocaust" and "repudiates all those expressions that were misunderstood by the press." In January 2003, Zhirinovsky, who once called former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "a man who cherishes most of all the well-being of his country," visited Israel.
Some State Duma deputies, including several former LDPR members, have alleged that Zhirinovsky has sold spots on the LDPR party list to criminals. Prior to the 1995 parliamentary elections, Zhirinovsky dropped 11 LDPR candidates after they were included on a Central Election Commission list of candidates with criminal records. Earlier that year, LDPR Duma Deputy Sergey Skorochkin died in an apparent contract murder shortly before he himself was to be charged with committing a double murder.
The LDPR was unable to run under its own name in the 1999 Duma elections because two of its top three candidates submitted inaccurate property declarations. One of those candidates was Anatoly Bykov, the controversial Krasnoyarsk metals magnate who was arrested on Hungary in November 1999 on an international warrant charging him with murder, money-laundering, and gun running. The other was Sergey Mikhailov, reportedly known in criminal circles as "Mikhas."
Nonetheless, politics has apparently been very good to Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Autoban.ru reported in March 2002 that he owns 150 apartments and 317 automobiles - including, as Zhirinovsky told the website, "many" Mercedes. His party, however, has seen diminishing fortunes at the polls. The LDPR won 11.18 percent of the vote in the December 1995 election, while the Zhirinovsky Bloc received just under 6 percent in 1999.
Zhirinovsky was elected a deputy Duma speaker in January 2000.