A toast to former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, who passed on earlier today. Can’t count myself as an admirer, alas; ‘Chechnya‘ was the word I most associated with ‘Yeltsin’ for quite some time. (At least 35,000 civilians killed in the first war; another 500,000 displaced. Heck of a job, Borya.)
Others with far more clout (and personal experience with Yeltsin) than me have already begun to scrutinize his decidedly mixed legacy:
- Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev: We were able to do a lot, but we had serious differences – very big differences that the forces against perestroika and changes took advantage of.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin: He was a direct and brave national leader and in this, his positions were always open and honest to the very limit. … And all misfortunes and all sorrows, the difficulties and the problems of the people, he invariably took to heart.’
- Former President Bill Clinton: …I was struck by two things: his devotion to his country and its people, and his willingness to look at the facts and make a tough decision he thought was in Russia’s long term interest. Fate gave him a tough time in which to govern, but history will be kind to him because he was courageous and steadfast on the big issues – peace, freedom, and progress.
- President George W. Bush: President Yeltsin was a historic figure who served his country during a period of momentous change. He played a key role as the Soviet Union dissolved, helped lay the foundations of freedom in Russia and became the first democratically elected leader in that country’s history.
- Zargan Bugaeva, 36, of Grozny, Chechnya, whose husband and mother died in Russia’s war against Chechen separatists: You never should say anything bad about the dead, but Yeltsin left behind nothing good. … For me, Yeltsin was a criminal who was never punished for his crimes.
IMO, the most fitting (if not bitter) eulogies (apart from the mute despair of Zargan Bugaeva) come from Sergei Boguslavsky and Vladimir Melnikov, two Muscovites who each represent opposite poles of the social strata:
[Sergei:] …I don’t recall anything heroic about him, because there has never been any heroism. Not even when he climbed that tank in Moscow in August 1991 to thwart the hard-liners’ putsch. There has been an enormous and stunning political intuition and cunning. He always felt how things would turn out — and that was why he was always capable of turning the situation his way.
[Vladimir:] “There wasn’t anything heroic about him fighting Gorbachev either — in fact, he continued what Gorbachev started. Gorbachev ruined the Soviet Union. Yeltsin ruined Russia. He led to having this country robbed and pilfered. He hasn’t done anything good to us. All he has done has been negative. The new rich have benefited under him. But he has done nothing for the ordinary people.”