The Dinosaur

There is a trend among Russia watchers to ridicule the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and its eccentric leader, the dinosaur of Russian politics Vladimir Zhirinovsky.  Famous for his larger-than-life personality, skillful showmanship and occasional fistfights with fellow Duma deputies, Zhirinovsky is often caricatured as a “clown” (which, incidentally, doesn’t prevent him from coming out of public polls as one of the most popular Russian politicians).  Yet those who have taken the time to study Zhirinovsky’s positions on issues would be surprised to see that some important decisions of Vladimir Putin’s 2000-2008 presidencies may have had their origin in the LDPR program documents.

Recently, it was Putin himself who acknowledged Zhirinovsky’s “sensible ideas.”  During a public appearance, Putin recalled that following the 2000 decision to divide Russia into seven federal districts headed by plenipotentiary representatives, Zhirinovsky came to him to claim being the author of the arrangement.  Indeed, one of the LDPR’s stated strategic goals has always been to transform Russia from an “amorphous” federation into a strong unitary state.  LDPR asserted that the current national-territorial principle of state formation – with ethnic-based “national” republics and districts – threatens Russia’s integrity because of the danger of separatism.  To counter this threat, LDPR has long advocated coming back to the structure of pre-revolutionary Russia — with its division into 25-30 completely equal in their status territories (“guberniya”).  Composed of about 5 million residents each, these territories should be formed based strictly on geographic and economic considerations and have elected legislative assemblies, but no constitutions of their own.  The head of guberniya, governor, should be appointed by president.  It’s easy to see that by encompassing “traditional” regions – regardless of their status – and creating a supra-regional level of authority, Putin’s federal districts clearly followed the territorial principle of state formation.  Furthermore, in 2004, Putin scrapped popular elections of regional governors.

Putin called the similarities between his scheme and the LDPR’s proposals “coincidental.”  If so, it raises an interesting point: having become president, Putin apparently didn’t bother to take a look at the program documents of political parties represented in the Duma.

As a matter of fact, the list of “coincidences” is a bit longer.  In order to make the structure of federal authorities fit the territorial principle of state formation, LDPR called for a single-chamber Duma elected strictly by political party lists.  The upper chamber of the parliament, the Federation Council, was to be dissolved and replaced with the State Council.  In 2004, Putin eliminated single-mandate electoral districts and introduced the strictly proportional, party list, system of Duma elections.  Moreover, the creation, in 2000, of the “advisory” State Council — composed of president and regional governors — have certainly undermined the authority of the still existing Federation Council.

There is nothing “coincidental” in the way Putin and Zhirinovsky view Russia’s political structure.  Both are devout statists and consider strong federal authority as the major prerequisite for preserving the territorial integrity of the country.  At the same time, the similarity of their positions with regards to Russia’s state formation could serve as a response to those who routinely criticize Zhirinovsky for being too supportive of Putin.  Why would Zhirinovsky oppose him if Putin has implemented the most important positions of the LDPR party program?

Zhirinovsky is an experienced presidential candidate: he ran in 1991, 1996, 2000, and 2008.  This presidential election is his fifth and likely the last.  On Feb.1, the Izvestia daily published Zhirinovsky’s program article, “Where Russia should go.”  With all due respect to other candidates’ published manifestos, this piece is the only one you can read without risking to fall asleep.

Zhirinovsky begins with his pet idea to replace the “non-Russian” word “president” with something native: глава or правитель.  He then proceeds to another pet idea of his: to transform Russia into parliamentary republic with 5-7 political parties represented in the Duma.  The Duma should form government and choose the head of state, president, for a single 5-year term.

It’s almost a common place to call Zhirinovsky “ultra-nationalists;” yet his article reveals not much “nationalist” and definitely nothing “ultra.”  Zhirinovsky repeats his mantra of the “oppressed Russian people” and – referring to the fact that ethnic Russians constitute about 80% of the Russian population – calls for pronouncing Russians the “state-forming nation.”  He also reiterates his well-known opposition to illegal immigration.  This is hardly more “nationalistic” than Putin’s proposal to regulate internal migration from the North Caucasus region.  (In the United States, Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate, calls for the “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants and is still considered a “moderate Republican.”)

The rest of the piece is a classic pre-election populism: drug and alcohol abuse, declining standards of education, pitiful state of the armed forces, and – Zhirinovsky’s signature topic – hard life conditions for Russian women, “the best and most beautiful in the world.”

In contrast to his perennial rival, the head of the Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov, Zhirinovsky is cautiously supportive of the anti-Putin protests on Bolotnay Square and Sakharov Prospect, saying that the Russian society is tired of “being constantly lied” to by the authorities.

Zhirinovsky is almost 66 and he looks old and exhausted.  It seems that the only thing that has driven him in the past few years was his desire to “transfer” LDPR to his son, Igor Lebedev, the head of the LDPR faction in the Duma.  Lebedev, who’s 40, is a competent and experienced parliamentarian; yet he completely lacks his father’s charisma and showmanship.  With Zhirinovsky having been the face, soul and the mouth of LDPR for so long, it’ll be extremely difficult, if possible at all, for Lebedev to keep the party together.  Rather, with Zhirinovsky gone, his party’s ideas will be rapidly appropriated by other political forces.  And so will be the LDPR electorate.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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21 Responses to The Dinosaur

  1. A very interesting article, but where on Earth did you get the impression that Zhirinovsky is supportive of the protests?

    “Болотная — это болото.”

    • Eugene says:

      Anatoly,

      This is a quote from his Izvestia article:

      “Митинги на Болотной площади и проспекте Сахарова не случайны — да, туда вышли в основном сытые люди, обеспеченные, но и им опротивело жить во лжи. Проснулась наша новая интеллигенция, новый средний класс, клерки, чиновники — все они вышли на улицы.”

      I think this justifies my exact wording: “cautiously supportive”🙂

      Best,
      Eugene

  2. Agreed. Last week, the Belarus digest did a post on the opinion of the different presidential candidates with regard to Belarus. I think I agreed with Zhirinovsky the most: either become part of us or do it yourself completely. Хватит кормить Беларусь!

  3. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Eugene,

    Indeed a very interesting article. Who do you think will appropriate the LDPR electorate when Zhirinovsky is gone?

    • Eugene says:

      Dear Alexander,

      My first reaction was to write United Russia, but the party is in such a turmoil right now that I’m not sure it has any long-term perspectives.

      I therefore think that this electorate will gravitate to political figures such as Dmitry Rogozin and Natalia Narochnitskaya. Rogozin, as you know, leads the Committee of Russian Communities, which is currently affiliated with Putin’s All-People’s Front. Narochnitskaya is formerly non-affiliated, but, curiously enough, recently represented Putin in a debate with Zhirinovsky. They may well form their own “patriotic” parties. Or they may choose staying “close” to Putin — wherever Putin might be:)

      Best,
      Eugene

  4. Alex says:

    Hi, Eugene
    Akunin should read your blog and then choose Zhirinovsky as the single target of the organized voters’ attention..🙂

    After reading what Zhirinovsky said about Russian women (from your “program” link) , I remembered
    this his “performance”,
    Cheers

    • Eugene says:

      Thanks Alex,

      Don’t see any contradictions between what Zhirinovsky writes in “program documents” and what he says in “private conversations.”🙂

      As for Akunin: many Russian intellectual seems to be at ease with Putin, Zyuagov and Mironov because they feel smarter than Putin and Co. You can’t feel the same toward Zhirinovsky: he’s darn smart himself.

      Regardless, I’m not here to defend or promote Zhirik. All I want to say: don’t call him “ultra-nationalist” and try to understand why he often supports Putin.

      Best,
      Eugene

      • Alex says:

        Hi, Eugene

        The “Co” in “Putin & Co” at some point included Surkov . Only not very smart individual would unquestionably assume that he or she is smarter than him.

        In fact, Surkov actually would be a very good candidate – maybe not now, but some few years later – when he becomes older and realizes that a human society behaves more like a swarm and thus it should be “programed” not at the top, but down below – at the level of that simple code that results in the observed emerging behavior. Well, and perhaps, when he better understand that no matter how smart a human might be, he will never outsmart The God.

        Back to Zirik – I agree with you. And in terms of nationalism too – how was that ” My mother was Russian, and Dad – a bookeper” (or some such) ..🙂

        Cheers.

        • Eugene says:

          “Моя мама была русская, а папа – юрист.”

          A few years ago, I won a bet. There was an anti-Semitic letter being circulated in the Duma. Someone automatically assumed that the letter originated from LDPR. In contrast, I insisted — correctly — that no single LDPR deputy signed the letter. The letter was produced by guys from KPRF and Rodina.

          Alex, your first para reminded me the director of my institute back in Russia who liked to say: it’s not the point that we’re smarter than the Americans. The point is that we’re smart too.

          Surkov is smart, no question here. However, I think that the fact that he’s half-Chechen frees us from discussing his potential presidential run. Ramzan will never let this happen🙂

          Cheers,
          Eugene

    • Hatim says:

      Patrick,Sure, this will cause a political crsiis of epic proportions. But hardly the end of Russia, IMHO. Don’t you think that all these talks about lacking an alternative to Putin is just an attempt to mask the simple fact that there are enough capable guys and gals in today’s Russia.Kozak, Khloponin, Belych and yes, Valya Matvienko, why not? After all, in 1999, Yeltsin brought Putin from nowhere, and it took us only a few months to realize that there was no alternative to Putin for the next quarter of a century. Bizarre, isn’t it? Best,Eugene

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  12. That’s an expert answer to an interesting question

  13. It’s really great that people are sharing this information.

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