Zhirinovsky plans Auschwitz visit

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WARSAW - Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist Russian politician who has threatened to dismember Poland if he comes to power, is planning a visit to Poland from next Sunday that would take in a trip to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp, writes Tony Barber.

Some Polish politicians want to follow Germany's example and ban him from entering the country, but the left-wing government appears to believe that it would do more harm than good to exclude him.

The Polish organiser of Mr Zhirinovsky's trip is Janusz Bryczkowski, who describes himself as a commodities dealer. He is also the leader of the National Self-Defence Front, a small and obscure nationalist group. He said yesterday that Mr Zhirinovsky's purpose in visiting Poland was to promote harmony between Russia, Poland and Germany.

It is all too clear that a visit to Auschwitz would do just the opposite, though from Mr Zhirinovsky's point of view it would have the advantage of earning him a great deal of publicity. His presence at the largest extermination centre in history would be likely to generate worldwide outrage among Jews and non-Jews alike - something he might welcome as a way of enhancing his nationalist credentials at home.

In contrast to his planned trip to Germany last month, which was cancelled after the German government refused him entry, the Polish authorities say they lack legal grounds for keeping him out. But opposition politicians think it is dangerous to let in a man who three weeks ago said he would allow Germany to seize back territories in western and northern Poland that were awarded to Poland in 1945.

'There is no other politician in Europe with such a clearly anti-Polish stand. Zhirinovsky is boycotted in many countries and there is no reason why Poland should be an exception,' said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, of the opposition Centre Alliance.

On the other hand, Jan Litynski, a leader of the centre-right Democratic Union, which governed Poland until last September's elections, said: 'We should think about expelling him only if he starts talking nonsense.' But the Democratic Union's branch in Krakow, near Auschwitz, has asked the government to ban the visit.

Bulgaria expelled Mr Zhirinovsky last month after he insulted President Zhelyu Zhelev. Austria has also made it clear it will not let him in because of his contacts with far-right German and Austrian activists. His Polish friends said he had delayed his arrival for three days because he wanted to visit Serbia, where nationalist activists regard Russia as their potential saviour.

Mr Bryczkowski said yesterday that Mr Zhirinovsky had told him by telephone that he was concerned for his security while in Poland.