Russian extremist leader denies being fascist or ultra-nationalist

December 15, 1993|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the new man of consequence in Russian politics, introduced himself to the world yesterday trying to look less frightening.

The leader of the extremist Liberal Democratic Party swept onto the stage of a stylish Western hotel at 2 p.m. wearing a tuxedo, his newly minted shadow Cabinet in tow. A man with a luxuriously curled white mustache -- a "military volunteer" in old Cossack uniform -- lent moral support from the wings.

A young, attractive woman -- shadow minister for family issues -- bore a large armful of bright red carnations. Mr. Zhirinovsky, was already keeping one of his campaign promises: that life would become so good for Russians that men would present women with daily offerings of flowers.

Mr. Zhirinovsky, who shocked middle-of-the-road Russians when his party came in first in Sunday's parliamentary election, was trying very hard yesterday to tell the world to stop biting its fingernails.

He looked the paragon of probity, if a somewhat overdressed one with his gray-and-black-swirled cummerbund and matching bow tie.

He disavowed both fascism and ultra-nationalism, despite such descriptions attached to him by most Russian political commentators.

"Communism has collapsed, and we hope fascism has collapsed in Europe," Mr. Zhirinovsky said. "These two diseases should no longer hurt humanity. Nationalism still exists, but in the next century we'll kill that, too."

He repeatedly denied that he is anti-Semitic, while saying that of course he agreed with many of his voters who wanted to see fewer ethnic faces on television because Russians were 90 percent of the population and should be fairly represented. In this country, Jews are considered a separate nationality. They are not Russians.

Before the election, he gave an interview in which he made threatening remarks about Germany, according to transcripts distributed in Germany yesterday.

"If a German looks at Russia the wrong way when I'm in the Kremlin, you Germans will pay for all that we Russians have built up in Germany," Mr. Zhirinovsky, was quoted as saying.

Yesterday, he was all friendship: "We would like to cooperate with Germany so we can forget the terrible wars between us."

But politics in post-Communist Russia is nothing if not contradictory. Russia and the rest of the world have been so preoccupied by Mr. Zhirinovsky strong showing that relatively little attention has been paid to the passage of a new constitution Sunday.

The constitution, which before the election was being routinely lambasted as setting up a dictatorship of the presidency, now is being viewed as a guarantor of democracy.

Otto Latsis, a political analyst for the respected newspaper Izvestia, wrote yesterday that the constitution, though only two days old, was already offering remarkable safeguards. It was clear, he said, that in this volatile transitional period from communism to democracy, parliamentary powers must be limited.

"Those very qualities of the new constitution which many argued against from the positions of democracy have been useful from the very start, helping to strengthen democracy's position," he wrote.

Under the new constitution, President Boris N. Yeltsin has the authority to appoint a prime minister (with legislative approval), along with every major official in the administration and judiciary.

Yeltsin's hand

While this first parliament was elected to a two-year term, Mr. Yeltsin has a five-year term that expires in 1996. And if he finds parliament too obstructive, he can dissolve it.

Though Mr. Zhirinovsky spoke blithely yesterday about how he would stop many reforms -- such as conversion of the defense industry -- it was not at all clear he would be able to do so.

Not only does the constitution give Mr. Yeltsin a strong hand, but no other politicians appeared eager yesterday to join him in a coalition.

Mr. Zhirinovsky, with two-thirds of the votes counted, had 24.5 percent of the vote for the lower house of the new State Duma. It was still unclear yesterday how many seats Mr. Zhirinovsky party would win in the new Duma. Of the 450 seats, half will be awarded to candidates who win in individual races. The other 225 will be distributed according to percentage of votes each party has won. If Mr. Zhirinovsky gets 25 percent of the seats awarded on the basis of party votes, he could still do badly on those awarded to individual candidates.

Much will depend on coalitions. The Communists, for example, appeared less than eager to embrace Mr. Zhirinovsky.

"After we hold consultations with all blocs we will try to form a left-center coalition," Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party, said at a news conference yesterday. "We will think about a candidate [for speaker of parliament] who will not be characterized by extreme ties, but will consolidate and enable the Duma to think and work normally."

Democrats blamed

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