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National Agenda : Russian Firebrand's First Week in Parliament Delights Rivals : * Vladimir Zhirinovsky bloodied his face and his reputation with his shenanigans. Some lukewarm supporters are backing away.

January 18, 1994|CAREY GOLDBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — He has bloodied his face in a lunchroom scuffle, threatened to throw fellow lawmakers in prison when he comes to power and pounded his fist on the podium, barking at the august assembly: "Shut up!"

*

All in all, ultranationalist firebrand Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky has had quite a first week in the new Russian Parliament.

It has been, in fact, exactly the kind of week that his opponents would have wished on him: full of senseless scandals that helped chip away at the credibility that allowed nearly one-quarter of Russian voters to support his party in last month's parliamentary elections.

For those who hope he will self-destruct, it has been a very good week.

"I'm very delighted with Zhirinovsky's latest steps," reformist lawmaker Gleb P. Yakunin said. "All his speeches and actions in the Parliament prove he is totally out of his mind.

"His clown-like image is already beginning to irritate people. I think that if television and the newspapers cover all he does for the next two months, public opinion will sway away from him," Yakunin continued. "In a couple of months he will no longer be a real threat to the democratic forces."

Zhirinovsky, a 47-year-old lawyer who has called for a one-party dictatorship and a Russian march toward the Indian Ocean, has declared that he plans to use his coming two years in Parliament to lay the groundwork for a run for president in 1996, when incumbent Boris N. Yeltsin's term ends.

His opponents, none of whose parties came close to Zhirinovsky's in Dec. 12 elections, center their hopes on the likelihood that the erratic, motor-mouthed extremist will simply do himself in with his antics.

The Russian media, guilty of failing to predict Zhirinovsky's election success and doing little to head it off, now appear to be making maximal efforts to help him destroy himself.

The daily Kuranty printed verbatim Zhirinovsky's remarks from the podium of the Duma, the lower house of Parliament in which his misleadingly named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has 63 members out of 444.

"Don't bother me! Shut up!" he shouted to quiet noise in the hall. Then: "I'm speaking, and you're going to stay seated!" When some reformist deputies immediately began to get up and leave in protest, he shouted at them, "Get out of the hall! Get out of the hall! All of you get out of the hall! The Communists didn't keep enough of you in prison!"

*

When First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly B. Chubais pointed at his watch to show him that time was up, Zhirinovsky snapped, "Mr. Chubais, you'll be looking at your watch in your cell in Lefortovo (Prison) so that they'll serve you lunch."

The Rossiyskaya Gazeta said the speech "crossed the line into hysteria."

When Zhirinovsky exchanged blows in the Duma buffet with St. Petersburg businessman Mark Goryachev, it made front pages of most major newspapers. The Rossiyskaya Gazeta headlined the account "Register for Lefortovo with Vladimir Volfovich," because Zhirinovsky threatened Goryachev, too, with imprisonment.

The lunchroom scuffle also did Zhirinovsky's image no good: Newspapers said it developed because Zhirinovsky refused to wait his turn to be served--a despised approach in a country where people used to spend hours each day in lines. Zhirinovsky also reportedly struck the first blow, but it was his face that ended up with a bloody scratch.

*

The Novaya Gazeta, or New Newspaper, commented that Zhirinovsky appears to follow the slogan, "Not a day without a scandal."

And the weekly Itogi television program showed some of his more outrageous moments on Sunday night, including a few that made him look truly insane.

Zhirinovsky appeared to totally enter the world of fantasy by claiming that he was a good buddy of Yeltsin's who played checkers and went to the sauna with him once a month at his \o7 dacha. \f7 Also, he claimed, Yeltsin "reads my book every day," referring to "The Last Dash to the South," a cross between an autobiography and a call to arms.

He snapped at an Italian reporter that Italians were good only at making "pizza and spaghetti, pizza and spaghetti." And he was filmed telling a Western journalist where to meet him for an interview, "And grab a check for--how much can you pay? $40,000? Can you pay that? How much? How much? Twenty thousand. That's it. In cash."

Some newspapers are even going beyond the call of duty. The daily Komsomolskaya Pravda reprinted a graphic account from Bild--a sensationalist German tabloid-flavor newspaper--allegedly describing a stripper's frightening night with the would-be Russian president during his recent visit to Vienna.

"It was the biggest perversion I've ever experienced in my life," she told Bild.

Zhirinovsky's atrocious behavior in Parliament has already cost him dearly. Parties that had reserved judgment on him, saying they would wait to see how he acted as a lawmaker before deciding whether they could work with him, are already throwing up their hands in despair.

At the first meeting of the Duma's factions, reformists and moderates walked out because Zhirinovsky insisted so rudely on chairing the next Duma session. The factions returned only after the head of a centrist party assured them that if Zhirinovsky's behavior did not improve, all the other parties would isolate him.

Zhirinovsky had originally appeared intent on taking one more serious shot at legitimacy by assuming the chairmanship of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee. But in voting on Monday, deputies approved Vladimir P. Lukin, the outgoing ambassador to the United States, as the committee's chairman.

Zhirinovsky's "tenure as head of the committee would lead to nothing but scandals with other countries," Yakunin said.

Zhirinovsky himself may not have minded much. He has already begun to deride the Duma as a waste of time and has said he sets his sights higher: on becoming foreign minister.

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