Zhirinovsky, Vladimir Volfovich (vlədyēˈmĭr vôlˈfəvyĭchˌ zhĭrˌĭnôfˈskē) [key], 1946–, Russian politician, b. Kazakh SSR (now Kazakhstan) as Vladimir Volfovich Eidelshtein. Born into a poor family, he had a mediocre record as a student in Moscow and as a lawyer. In 1989 he was a founder of the Liberal Democratic party, an extreme right-wing Russian nationalist group that has advocated restoring Russia to its previous imperial borders (including Finland and Alaska), and the following year he became its chairman. In 1991 he and his party finished a distant third behind Boris Yeltsin in the Russian Republic's presidential election.
Zhirinovsky later defended the failed 1991 August Coup against Mikhail Gorbachev and was an outspoken critic of Yeltsin, although he did not join the parliament's bid to oust the Russian leader in 1993. That year, his party won the largest share (about 23%) of the popular vote in the elections, and Zhirinovsky was elected to the new Russian State Duma. In 1995 his party was the runner-up to the Communists in the elections for the Duma. Denounced as a fascist and xenophobic extremist by his opponents, he was nonetheless popular with many Russians. In the late 1990s his popularity waned. In 1996 Zhirinovsky again ran for president but received only a small percentage of the vote. His party has not placed better than third in parliamentary elections since 1999, and he won less than 10% of the vote in the 2000, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.