A Calming Glass of Cider
August 29, 2014
Vladimir Volfovich Zhirinovsky, aka “Mad Vlad,” has for 25 years been the scandal-loving enfant terrible of Russian politics. If put together, the controversial pronouncements of the 68-year-old leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and a deputy speaker of the State Duma (the Russian parliament) could easily make for a full-length comedy show. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis Zhirinovsky has significantly sharpened his rhetoric. Of course, he is not doing that on his own—the best proof is that the leader of the LDPR, which is formally an opposition party, has been invited to all possible current-affairs programs on pro-government Russian television channels, which have recently been turned into a major propaganda machine that does not even pretend to be objective.
“That World War III will break out is a foregone conclusion; the decision will be made by only one man—the president of Russia,” Mad Vlad—as he was called by Western journalists at the beginning of his political career—said recently. In a statement aired on the main news service of channel one of Russian public television, Zhirinovsky added that as a result of the war three Baltic states and Poland “will be annihilated, wiped off the face of the earth.”
Not surprisingly, Zhirinovsky’s words sparked outrage in Warsaw. But the more cool-headed politicians and commentators noted that the Russian politician had said nothing particularly new. After all, Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, a Polish Army officer who defected to the West and was the most famous American spy in the Warsaw Pact, pointed to a similar scenario involving a potential nuclear conflict between the East and West back in the days when the world was still divided by the Iron Curtain. It’s just that back then Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were still part of the Soviet Union, so a nuclear strike by Moscow would not have been aimed at them. Poland, on the other hand, would have been a frontline country and the target of the first attack by the Americans. Today it’s possible to imagine that Poland could become a frontline country and the target of the first strike by the Russians. In the 1970s and ‘80s Soviet Army bases in Poland would have been a direct target for NATO missiles; today a Russian strike would be aimed at NATO installations in this country—unfortunately, with a similar outcome.
Though Zhirinovsky’s words caused shock, it is the economic implications of Poland’s support for Ukraine that may soon become far more clearly felt than a nuclear threat. The Russian embargo on Polish food imports, including fruit and vegetables, which are especially popular among Russian consumers, will without a doubt deal a heavy blow to Polish producers.
When in 1983 I spent five months in Moscow as a student, on several occasions I witnessed the delivery of imported food to local stores. I still remember yells of “Polish apples have arrived! Let’s go!” after which a crowd of Muscovites would rush toward the stands trampling everything in their path. Today, such scenes would no longer be possible. Polish apples are being referred to by the Russian media as “fascist” and Poland itself is being described as a “barking mongrel on an American leash” and a traitor to the Slavic community.
What should Poland do with all these apples that cannot be sold in Russia? It appears that in the coming months Poland will become Europe’s leading producer of cider. Lawmakers are preparing legislation under which it would be legal to advertise this low-alcohol beverage, much as in the case of beer (at the moment beer is the only alcohol that can be advertised on the Polish market under law). So a glass of cider may be what Poles will have to settle for—to comfort and calm themselves in the face of an escalating conflict with Russia.