Despite being the major destination for Central Asian migrant workers, Russia is famous for regular intolerance towards ‘non-Russians’ residing within its borders. Hate crimes based on race and ethnicity are not rare in the multinational federation, and migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus are the usual victims [ru] of racist sentiment. Aware of deepening anti-migrant feelings, many of Moscow's politicians look to boost their capital among voters by promoting right-wing policies. But there is always one politician that goes a step further than the rest.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Russia's Liberal Democratic Party, is a combustible MP famous for making statements that are neither liberal nor democratic. Long-accustomed to playing the fool in domestic politics, Zhirinovsky's April performances seemed designed to send the entire Central Asian region into non-comic uproar.
His assault on the peoples of the area began with a proposal in the Russian parliament to relieve [ru] the Kyrgyz Republic of the Issyk-Kul, a picturesque lake ringed by the awesome Tien Shan range, in order to pay off the large debt the former Soviet republic owes Moscow.The following week he was at it again, ranting [ru] at Central Asian migrants on a political talk show.
While Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs laughed off [ru] the suggested lake-for-debt deal, a number of Kyrgyz internet users failed to see the funny side of the suggestion.
Under a YouTube video of Zhirinovsky's parliamentary speech, bekturel commented [ru] :
Иссык – Куль он захотел. Ни одной кыргызской лужи не получите! Долг мы вернем, только не водой, и не землей, а бумажками.
So he wants Issyk-Kul. You will not get a single Kyrgyz puddle! We will pay off our debts, not with water or land, but with [paper money].
‘They are like slaves…’
Russia's parliament ignored the proposal of the ‘showman of Russian politics‘ and ratified a write-off of the $500 million Kyrgyz debt without confiscating any national treasures. But Zhirinovsky did not stop at that and, a few days later, made another colorful performance [ru] at a political talk show on Rossiya, a state-owned television channel. During the show, Zhirinovsky spoke of the need to introduce visa requirements for nationals from Central Asian states, who currently do not need visas to travel to Russia. He also indulged [ru] in expressive descriptions of Central Asian labor migrants:
Им не надо жилья, страховок. Oни как рабы крепостные, спят в подвалах, едят любую гадость.
They don't need accommodation or insurance. They are like slaves or serfs, sleeping in basements and eating any filth.
The majority of people commenting under the YouTube video of the debate agreed. A user under the nickname ‘nekto1rublik' wrote [ru]:
давно пора уже ввести самый жесткий режим для их въезда вы посмотрите на улицы наших городов скоро на нас уже будут смотреть как будто мы не у себя дома кругом одна чернота сколько можно то уже….а те которые уже приехали нужно в вагоны и желательно грузовые и в Таджикистан!!!!!!
It is high time to introduce the strictest regime for the entry [of migrants from Central Aisa]. Look at the streets in our cities. Soon we will be looked at as if we are not at home, there is blackness everywhere. How much more can we take?… Those who have already arrived should be put on trains, preferably on cargo carriages, and sent to Tajikistan!!!
The comment voted most popular came [ru] from a user ‘CSKA Ultra', whose name refers to the group of right-wing football hooligans supporting the football team CSKA Moscow:
ЗА визовый режим с чуркостанами.
I am for a visa regime with Churkostans ['Churki' is derogatory slang for Central Asians].
Later during the same debate, Zhirinovsky argued that the Taliban might “trample on Tajikistan” and ”hang [Tajik President Emomali Rahmon] in the center of Dushanbe”. This statement provoked mixed reactions, earning the politician some respite from Tajik internet users who oppose their country's regime. But it led the Tajik parliament to register a complaint [ru] with the Russian ambassador.
‘You all have 15 children…’
Zhirinovsky concluded [ru] one of his anti-Central Asia rants during the talk show with some damning stereotypes:
Все бывшие советские республики живут лучше нас. То есть Россия через 20 лет снова всех кормит. Они все откормленные, все одетые и едут сюда погулять, бандитизмом заниматься, понасиловать. Естественно там у них работы не хватает, но эта причина ваша, это ваша релишия, у вас по 15 детей. Если у вас как у русских будет один ребёнок, вы вообще не будете думать о России. Пускай все Таджикские семьи имеют два ребёнка в семье и проблемы никакой у вас не будет! Тоже самое узбекистан и весь исламский мир
All post-Soviet countries live better than us. Twenty years [after the break-up of the Soviet Union], Russia feeds everyone again. They are all well-fed and well-dressed, and they come here to have a good time, to do banditry, and to rape. Of course they don't have enough jobs at home; but that is your fault, [the fault of] your religion. You all have 15 children. If you had only one child, like Russians, you would not even think about Russia. Let all Tajik families have only two children and you will not have any problems! The same [concerns] Uzbekistan and the whole Islamic world!
During his long political career, Zhirinovsky has earned the reputation of an eccentric, populist, and nationalist politician. Born in Kazakhstan, the son of a Jewish lawyer, he still has some close friends in Central Asia and remains something of a contradiction in terms. Only 6 percent of Russia's electorate voted for him in the 2012 presidential vote that secured Vladimir Putin's re-election as head of state.
Given these discrepancies, it has often been suggested that Zhirinovsky is a kind of diversion for Putin's United Russia party: a way of soaking up nationalist votes without offering a credible alternative to the ruling elite. That refrain was echoed [ru] by MrFury1984 under a YouTube video of Zhirinovsky on another television show, where he was asked to change his profession:
Да жирик не хочет быть у руля ))) это много ответственности , он часть пирога имеет от бюджета.. и радуется )))
[Zhirinovsky] doesn't want to be in the driver's seat ))) That would be too much responsibility. He is happy getting his piece of the budget pie )))
That is good news for Central Asian migrants in Russia, but the plain fact that Zhirinovsky is supported by thousands of people is a reason to be concerned. YouTube user ‘Anonim Anonimov' writes [ru] underneath the video of the talk-show with Zhirinovsky:
А были ли фальсификации на недавних выборах если Жириновский из передачи в передачу побеждает адекватность с подобным перевесом? Может у нас и вправду с народом просто что-то не то?
Maybe there were no falsifications during the recent elections if Zhirinovsky goes from debate to debate winning with such massive margins? Maybe there is really something wrong with our people?