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MOSCOW, April 24. /ITAR-TASS/. Many showbusiness stars have more than enough reasons to envy this Russian politician. It has been 23 years now that Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party who positions himself as an aggressive nationalist, is in the limelight of the Russian and often even global mass media. Not by virtue of his political merits and achievements, though. Throughout these years he repeatedly insulted Russian politicians and ordinary people - verbally and sometimes physically. Very often he dared utter insulting statements addressed to other countries and their leaders. Only to get away with it again and again. However, the latest scandal Zhirinovsky has provoked seems to have caused the cup of society’s patience to overflow.
On April 18, the LDPR leader approached a group of media reporters in the State Duma building to answer questions in front of TV cameras. In response to a routine question about Russian-Ukrainian relations he suddenly started yelling insults at a young journalist from a government-run news agency, and then at her colleagues who tried to protect her. At a certain point Zhirinovsky started urging his bodyguards to “brutally rape” the reporter and accompanied his profanities with blasphemous exclamations like “Christ is Arisen!” (the incident occurred on Good Friday, a day before Easter). When he was told that the woman reporter in front of him was pregnant, he said that pregnant women were all ill and should not appear at work at all. Incidentally, the insulted journalist was eventually taken to hospital.
In a three-minute video clip promptly posted on the Internet, Zhirinovsky managed to insult all journalists, all women, and all believers. Later, in a prime-time talk show on TV he presented formalistic apologies to all those who felt offended, saying he had been “a little bit rude.”
The Presidential Council for the Protection of Human Rights (HRC) asked the Prosecutor-General’s Office to indict Zhirinovsky on criminal charges - for posing obstructions to the legal professional activity of journalists committed by a person who took advantage of his official status and in combination with threats of violence, and for insulting the feelings of believers. Human rights activists also called for considering a request addressed to the State Duma for consent to opening a criminal case against Zhirinovsky, who is a deputy speaker of the lower house.
“Invariably loyal to the authorities, Zhirinovsky is in the habit of doing whatever he pleases in many other respects, of insulting any groups of the population or individuals. In this case the insult proved massive and contained threats of violence and blasphemy, which in the final count discredits not so much Zhirinovsky, as the whole of State Duma,” says HRC member Nikolai Svanidze.
In the meantime, the State Duma’s commission for ethics, which considered the incident, merely advised Zhirinovsky to present public apologies through the mass media. At the same time the commission did not even ask the State Duma to strip Zhirinovsky of the right to speak at full-scale sessions for a month - a disciplinary measure that lawmakers use quite often.
The legislators’ attitude triggered a surge of anger within the journalistic community.
The row over the insulting escapade against a pregnant journalist caused the cup of patience to overflow and also entailed a tide of rumors. "This time Zhirinovsky will certainly be forced to resign, everybody is pretty bored with him and a decision has been made to get rid of him',” columnist Kirill Beneditkov writes in the daily Izvestia. “But the State Duma’s commission for ethnics confined itself to asking the LDPR leader to apologize.”
“A disgusting criminal act has taken place inside Russia’s parliament with so many people watching it,” says Moskovsky Komsomolets columnist Alexander Minkin. He argues that the Prosecutor-General’s Office and the Investigative Committee are obliged to institute official legal proceedings.
Russian media are publishing long lists of scandals in which Zhirinovsky took center stage in the past, and his most outrageous statements over the past twenty years or more. There have been insults, threats, juice and water splashed into opponents’ faces, objects hurled at critics, spits and hair-pulling. In all instances either no cases were opened at all, or the LDPR leader got away with the payment of insignificant compensations.
“The Zhirinovsky phenomenon has several explanations,” the chairman of the Political Technologies Center, Boris Makarenko, told ITAR-TASS. “While being critical of the authorities in public, his faction will always vote for the most important bills. Generally speaking, he has invariably toed the line and never abused the rules of loyalty.” This is the reason why Zhirinovsky is still being tolerated, Makarenko said.
As far as the LDPR electorate are concerned, he remarks, in Russia a politician who has failed to act on one’s election pledges never gets punished by his voters. In his opinion Zhirinovsky is a very talented public and political figure.
“There have been quite a few talented politicians over the last years, but very few have succeeded, while getting older, to retain the support of young people. Zhirinovsky has managed to do so," makarenko concluded.
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