Ford and Zhirinovsky: separated at birth?
Russia's ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky poses with a disenchanted dancer as he sings at his CD release party at a Moscow strip bar in 1999. Photo: AP/Mikhail Metzel.
A big, bellowing, out-of-control politician charging at a female colleague and knocking her to the ground.
Racist, sexist homophobic remarks that can’t be repeated without d—shes.
Furious populist diatribes smearing opponents as commies.
Fist-swinging brawls in the public forum.
No, no, nyet.
It’s not Rob Ford. It’s his slimmer Russian twin, tagged the “Clown Prince” for his crazed, belligerent, sometimes drunken behaviour, reported associations with prostitutes and suspected criminals, and physical and verbal violence.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Russia’s leading ultra-nationalist, like Ford, sucks all the oxygen out of the media room with his bizarre antics.
They've been a fact of Russian political life since the mid 1990s, when he lost a bid to replace Boris Yeltsin as president.. But on the campaign trail he was unbeatable for sheer media celebrity – of a kind most politicians would rather take a bath in molten lava than bask in. Sound familiar?
Although Bad Vlad and Rompin’ Rob might be joined at the hip, the score is still 3-1 for Russia.
Take the 1994 State Duma brawl in which Zhirinovsky attacked politician Yevgenia Tishkovskaya, after she tried to defend an Orthodox priest whose cross had been ripped off by an extremist MP.
“I suddenly felt that somebody was trying to strangle me,” the diminutive deputy told Tass. “Then I was painfully seized by the hair. I saw that it was Zhirinovsky.” Another female lawmaker was thrown to the ground and suffered an apparent concussion in the melee.
The sober Vesti current affairs program deemed the scene “too disgraceful for us to repeat on air.” But hours later it was gleefully blasted across Russia on other TV stations, fuelling the flames of Vlad’s fame.
It neatly cornered the Male Chauvinist Pig market – even more sizeable than Toronto’s Ford Nation.
The problems of the world, Zhirinovsky declaimed, could all be blamed on women. Years later, he took out his ire on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a series of obscene taunts, saying that her problem was being a “single woman without children,” who needed to be “taken to the barracks where she would be satisfied.”
Ford’s racism, too, is mild by Zhirinovsky standards.
America, he warned, must be careful about turning the country over to blacks. Russia should take back Alaska, as a “great place to keep the Ukrainians.” The Chinese and Japanese, meanwhile, should be deported from Russia, and the Baltics reoccupied and used for dumping nuclear waste. As for the Turks, “nothing would happen to the world should the whole Turkish nation perish.” And so forth.
When Britain tried to extradite former spy Andrei Lugovoi on suspicion of sending Alexander Litvinenko to a gruesome death by radioactive polonium in London, Zhirinovsky bought him immunity by including him in his oddly-named Liberal Democratic party's election list.
While many in Russia take Zhirinovsky as a joke, he has had remarkable staying power. After 20 years of brawls, boorishness and much, much worse, he’s still the head of the LDP, which garnered more than 12 per cent of the vote in the last parliamentary election.
But like Ford, he has yet to reach his goal of leading his country. A morsel of relief – and warning -- for everyone from Toronto to Tomsk.
Olivia Ward covered the former Soviet Union as a bureau chief and correspondent from 1992-2002. Her hair has never been pulled by Zhirinovsky.