Vladimir Zhirinovsky is a Russian politician and a very strange man. He is the leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia (often abbreviated LDPR) that is neither liberal, nor democratic, nor a party. (Okay, that last statement isn’t true—it is a political party; just a very frightening one.)
Zhirinovsky is famous in Russia for making outrageous political statements. He hates Israel and Jews. He hates Turkic people and Caucasians. He hates Chinese and Japanese people as well. He pretty much hates everyone, so he has moved to hating things in addition to people.
The latest target of Zhirinovsky’s ire sounds rather innocuous: a Cyrillic letter in the Russian alphabet, ы. It’s usually represented in English as y, though sometimes I’ve seen i. This letter is the bane of many a Russian student’s existence. The sound it makes does not exist in English, and thus many people have difficulty pronouncing it. This site has the entire alphabet pronounced, and ы [y] is at the bottom of the page.
Anyway, Zhirinovsky hates this letter because—wait for it—it’s a “nasty, Asiatic” letter. Never mind that Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Polish also have this sound. Or that Zhirinovsky’s own name has it (an orthographical rule in Russian says that letter cannot be written after Ж [Zh], the first letter in Zhirinovsky’s name, but it’s still pronounced as ы [y]).
“Only animals make this sound, ‘ы- ы,'” he said, adding that the regular “и” (“i”) is enough for the Russian alphabet.
“Ы” doesn’t exist in any other European language, argued Zhirinovsky. “This primitive, Asiatic sound is the reason people don’t like us in Europe,” he told lawmakers.
What a strange individual. I suppose we ought to expect such rhetoric from a person who has made a career out of insulting people and sometimes even physically fighting his opponents. He single-handedly ignited a brawl in the parliament once by spitting on a fellow parliamentarian. And I haven’t even mentioned the terrible things he said about birds when the bird flu scare was going on.