Leading Article: Zhirinovsky, a danger at home and abroad

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LOGIC would suggest that bottling up Vladimir Zhirinovsky in Russia by banning him from democratic European countries will do more harm than good. After all, even his many admirers back home might think his calculated insulting of the Bulgarian president in Sofia - and of Romania for good measure - was demeaning and rash.

As for his proposed visit to Germany, now cancelled following the refusal of a visa: to Russians with long memories of the horrors of the Nazi invasion in the Second World War, the spectacle of Mr Zhirinovsky consorting with German neo-

Nazis would surely not inspire much enthusiasm. Why not give the Russian nationalist, who has also advocated the dismembering of Poland and the reincorporation of the Baltic states into Russia, enough rope to hang himself?

Unfortunately, logic is not the best guide when nationalist emotions are involved. The effect of a visit from this dangerous man in countries with an active fascist and nationalist minority cannot be calculated. Mr Zhirinovsky has, moreover, proved to be a shrewd manipulator of the media. He can be counted on not to emphasise to domestic audiences the neo-Nazi affiliation of his contacts abroad, just as he will certainly make the most of his expulsion from Bulgaria and exclusion from Germany.

Bonn's example is now likely to be followed, out of solidarity, by all Germany's partners within the European Union. Yet one of the potentially dangerous results of a policy of exclusion is that Mr Zhirinovsky will be able to concentrate his poison precisely where it is likely to do most damage: in those parts of the former Soviet Union where large ethnic Russian minorities claim to be oppressed.

The Baltic states are sufficiently masters in their own house to keep him, if not his message, out. But he could do much damage in, for

example, the Crimean region of Ukraine and the Dnestr area of Moldova, where large Russian communities hanker for autonomy or a separate state.

Boris Yeltsin faces the same dilemma as the West in an even more acute form: should he leave Mr Zhirinovsky free to overreach himself and hope that his potential rival will thus wreck his chances of being elected President? Or should he take the not much less risky decision to restrict his movements?

Comments