Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time to Stop Zhirinovsky's Hate Politics

When Vladimir Zhirinovsky wanders around the former Yugoslavia claiming to possess a secret sonic weapon that will save Serbia from its enemies, the man is so much a cartoon that it is hard to take real offense.

But on Saturday, hours after 68 civilians had been killed in a mortar attack on a crowded Sarajevo market, Zhirinovsky got on his soapbox in Moscow. Did he condemn the atrocity? No, he ranted about an alleged international and Muslim conspiracy against the Slavic peoples and said the proposal to use air strikes against Serbian positions around Sarajevo was "Hitlerite."

Suddenly the cartoon ceased to be funny. Comic book ray guns are one thing; peddling race hate to foment the prejudices of your audience is another.

This is not a question of policy differences. Due to historical, ethnic and religious ties Russia inevitably will favor Serbia in this territorial war. One can disagree with that policy -- which the Russian government is now pursuing -- but it is a fact of life.

But Andrei Kozyrev quickly condemned Saturday's atrocity, making it clear that although Russia's foreign minister may differ with the West over how best to end the war in Bosnia, he understands that in war, too, there are distinctions between right and wrong. Such distinctions are beyond Zhirinovsky's comprehension.

Out of the tangles of Zhirinovsky's erratic ravings, it is becoming clear what exactly it is that he stands for. This is, again, not a question of what policies he advocates -- these change daily as the spirit, or the particular audience, moves him. Zhirinovsky does not stand for a policy, but for the politics of hate.

He is against the Muslims, the West, the Jews, the Japanese and the Chinese as it suits. He is exploiting a strand of xenophobia that runs through Russian history but which we still hope -- despite Zhirinovsky's 23 per cent vote last December -- plays only a subordinate role in this country's popular thought today.

It is crucial that the Russian press and government, the Russian electorate and decision makers abroad keep in mind this distinction. You cannot "do business" with a man whose aim is to exploit hate. If there is any temptation to rely on signs of moderation from Zhirinovsky's camp and to try deal with him, this should be kept in mind: Many of Hitler's economic policies seemed to make sense for Germany at the time, but they proved irrelevant. Hitler was not driven by policy -- he was driven by hate.

When 68 civilians died and 200 were wounded in an unprovoked mortar attack in Sarajevo, Vladimir Zhirinovsky cried out against the Muslims in a reflex that had nothing to do with a Bosnian policy, but everything to do with the exploitation of hate.