The news is out: Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky has died at the age of 75, from complications related to COVID-19. As perhaps the term “ultranationalist” implies, Zhirinovsky’s orientation towards politics and the basic rules of human conduct skewed extreme. That outlook included a lot of neo-facist fare — during Russia’s first direct presidential elections, he openly proclaimed that, should he come to power, “there will be a dictatorship;” he littered his speeches with open racism, ethno-nationalism, and anti-Semitism (despite his own father being Jewish); and viewed women, categorically speaking, as “impressionable and compliant,” “easier to persuade,” and responsible for “all the crimes committed in the world.”
That’s a familiar act; familiar enough, in fact, that in the 1990s, then-Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Poltoranin claimed Zhirinovsky had “mastered the campaign experience of Adolf Hitler.” But the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (which is overtly right-wing nationalist) went about his fascism with a certain flair. You can see one reflection of said flair in his obituaries, which uniformly call him something to the effect of a “dark showman,” a “clown,” a “clownish provocateur” a “court jester,” or a “court jester-type figure.” In honor of his passing, consider some of Vlad’s greatest hits.
CHEAP UNDERWEAR AND VODKA FOR ALL
During the Parliamentary elections of 1993, so-called “Vlad the Mad” was walking through Moscow’s largest department store, when he ran up to a lingerie counter, grabbed a bra, and yelled to everyone in earshot that, if he were elected, all Russians would have cheaper and superior underwear. This promise was perhaps aimed for the persuadable women among his voter base, but he had fodder for the guys as well. That same year, he claimed he would ensure cheap vodka, a promise he attempted to fulfill by partnering with a distillery to produce 70,000 bottles a month featuring a giant label of his face. According to Bloomberg at the time, he was asking for $4 a bottle — which, it turns out, ran about three times what the average vodka handle cost.
HE COULD SEE ALASKA FROM HIS HOUSE
That same election cycle, in which the LDPR would win some 22.8 percent of the vote, Zhirinovsky also suggested that Russia should wrench Alaska back from the libertine grip of the United States, and return it to Russian territory for the first time since 1867 as a place to relocate Ukrainians. This was just one of Zhirinovsky’s plans to conquer other territories; he also mulled over turning Kazakhstan into "Russia's backyard."
HE TROPICANA’D NEMTSOV
In 1995, Zhirik, as his friends called him, went on a Russian talk show called One-on-One, alongside Boris Nemtsov, then the regional governor of Nizhny Novgorod. Zhirik had recently given an interview in Playboy, and bragged about sleeping with over 200 women. When Nemtsov pulled out a copy of the issue and suggested Zhirinovsky might have syphilis from all the sex and that Nemtsov could “cure” him with “two simple injections,” the right-wing leader jumped up, called the governor a “bastard” and “scumbag,” screamed that he would “spit in [Nemtsov’s] face,” and then poured a glass of orange juice over him. Nemtsov responded in kind, by dumping his own fruit juice on Zhirinovsky. “The two men stood dripping in the studio,” the New Zealand Herald wrote at the time, “before Zhirinovsky threw his empty glass at his adversary.” The footage cut to black, but the two reportedly carried on by “hurling make-up kits at each other.”
This was a semi-regular occurrence for Zhirik. He got into a fist fight with author Mikhail Delyagin after a debate broadcast in 2003; two years later, he started one in parliament itself by spitting at opposing legislator Andrei Saveliyev. In 2008, he threatened to smash an opponent’s head on live TV, then told his bodyguard to "shoot that bastard over there in the corridor.” He was sued for the latter and paid damages, but made the pistol whipping vibe part of his campaign. That year, he released a campaign ad in which he wore camo to a gun range and shot at cardboard cutouts of his rivals.
A-TO-ZHIRIK’S GUIDE TO SEX
Zhirinovsky was a fairly sex positive guy, to put it kindly; Canadian writer Jennifer Gould, who conducted the Playboy interview mentioned above, was a little more direct in her characterization. Until meeting Zhirinovsky, she wrote, Gould “had never been subjected to such blatant sexual harassment” — and that was in the ’90s. Among other things, Zhirinovsky asked her to “undress right now” so they could have sex while his two bodyguards “caress[ed]” them, and praised orgies, which he claimed could “do a lot for world peace.”
As Gould noted, Zhirik had a history of sex-related performances — including having, at various times, “kissed a naked man on the mouth in a Slovenian sauna, posed nude in a shower, and held court in a Helsinki strip club.” On another occasion, he greeted an Italian interviewer “in the style of a Roman emperor: He was in bed, naked under a blanket, with his hands beneath his head and bare feet sticking out, a young bodyguard standing beside him.”
So few will be shocked to learn that Zhirik considered himself a sex expert. In 1998, he wrote a guide called the “A-to-Z Guide to Sex,” which argued, as the Associated Press put it, that “bad sex, not bad management, [was] the cause of Russia's economic and political problems.” This was the cover:
And here’s footage from the launch:
KILL ALL BIRDS
Vlad’s plan for fixing bird flu in 2006 involved doling out guns to the general populace, and calling on the Russian troops to shoot “all the birds” on their return from southern migration. This is how he said it:
This little song of theirs has to be broken…No more migration to the north. They can stay in the south. We must shoot all the birds. We have to send all of our troops, from Sochi to the Crimea, and force migratory birds to stay where they are. This is not a joke!
It is from 2012, and initially ran under the title, “Zhirinovsky beats donkey!” In the video, he’s in a tiny sled, whipping a black donkey. He claims Russia has become a “crappy, little donkey,” and promises to remove the donkey as a symbol of Russia and replace it with a troika — a Russian term for three horses pulling a sled. That year, by the way, he was running under the slogan: “Vote Zhirinovsky, or things will get worse.”
HE BASHED THE ROYAL BABY
Much like my boss, Zhirinovsky once insulted a baby. When Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their new son in 2013, Zhirinovsky told a crowd of reporters that he didn’t “care about the heir,” and received the news with “no joy.” The U.K. was an enemy of the Kremlin, he explained: “That is why the birth of another British monarch, who will suck our blood somewhere in the mid-21st century, cannot bring us any kind of happiness.”