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Feeding a Sense of Loss


Washington -- Rumors have circulated that Vladimir Zhirinovsky was funded by the KGB, by Saddam Hussein, Muammar el Kadafi -- all of which may or may not have been true.

Mr. Zhirinovsky gave all three reason enough to bankroll his candidacy. His frankly authoritarian goals are manifestly attractive to the same KGB faction that has supported previous conspiracies against Russian democracy. His advocacy of closer relations with Iraq and Libya give these progressively more isolated regimes a rationale for supporting his election.

How concerned should we be? Very concerned. The election results destroy once and for all the illusion that Russia has left behind its 70 years of Soviet totalitarianism, and centuries of czarist autocracy. It had almost seemed as if this political tradition had left no traces, no habits or values in its wake. Now we know that is not the case. Such habits are not so easily changed, nor a political culture quickly transformed.

The Western world has had enough experience with building democracy to understand that ruptures in legitimacy, markets, status and power are destabilizing. Russians have no memory of alternative conceptions of politics, no memory and no experience with democratic leadership and government based on consent. So they are especially susceptible to demagoguery.

Mr. Zhirinovsky appeals to Russians' sense of loss; he promises BTC a restoration. He assures Russians facing a difficult time that they are victims and that he knows how to avenge their loss. His brand of paranoid politics is a heady brew that has addled the wits of more than one European people in this violent century. His showing in this election is a wake-up call for all the friends of Russian democracy.

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