Monday, April 23, 2007

Holy Crap, Yeltsin died!

Look at him go! Um...have gone.

So this isn't a 'Those Who Left us this Year' both because the year has yet to pass, and because I am not entirely sure how I feel about Yeltsin. In his later years Yeltsin was certainly an embarrassment for many Russians because of his drinking problem and just clear inability to due his job. In terms of his legacy, I have to say I don't care about that. I mean, I certainly understand a people's frustration and embarrassment as a result of their most prominent political figure (Bush anyone?), but in terms of evaluating Yeltsin as a person I am less concerned with what he did (or let others do) later in his life when he was incapacitated, as what he did when when he was in his right mind. What comes to my mind first is his ordering the siege on the Russian parliament (to resolve a standoff between parliament and the president), his giving carte blanche to the leader's of Russia's regions, and his incredibly corrupt privatization of Russia's industries.

The main reason why you have the huge gap between rich and poor in Russia today is because of Yeltsin. He sold off Russia's industries, which were worth quite a bit, to friends for next to nothing provided they would be loyal to him and give him a piece of the pie. He both stole from the state and let others do so with little regard for the effect that would have on the both Russian economy as a whole and on Russians not fortunate enough to be so close to him

In terms of Russia's regions he let undemocratically elected leaders run Russia's regions like private fiefdoms. So many of them spent absolutely nothing on infrastructure, didn't give a damn about the people they were supposed to be serving, and simply used their power to amass their personal wealth. In the Yeltsin years all of that was ok, provided you supported Yeltsin on a national level. If you did that you could do whatever you wanted at home. This is yet another cause of the decay of Russia beyond the few Western islands of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and perhaps Yekaterinenburg.

Finally there was his decision to send in tanks to fire on the Russian parliament. Yeltsin had dissolved parliament and parliament had refused to obey his decree, however, Yeltsin had not had the legal right to dissolve parliament. Granted it was a complicated situation with Russia running under the constitution of the Russian SSR (which was never really meant to be used) and with a parliament left over from Soviet Union, however, at this time there was a real grass roots democratic movement in Russian fighting for a strong parliament and a government that respected their interests, and what did Yeltsin do? He sent tanks in after them. This was the West's democratic hero who fought communism, who was bankrolled by the US. Is is any wonder Russians are so cynical when it comes to democracy?

But as I said, Yeltsin's legacy is a mixed one. He fought for democracy in the the dieing days of the Soviet Union. He stood in front of tanks when Soviet generals staged a coup against Gorbachev. He was a symbol for Russia and fought for both a Russian identity and a break with the communist past, even if his actions often seemed to assume that all change was innately good. He will certainly not be forgotten, but at the same time he is much of the Russia that is so hard for the West to understand. He was charismatic, but erratic, a reformer, but not a liberal, an opportunistic supporter of democracy, but not a democracy. He was a passionate contradiction.


ruth said...

the only yeltsin anekdot that i find even vaugely amusing. i just don't get russian jokes.

Идет заседание Госдумы. Присутствует Ельцин. Вдруг он громко чихает.
На табло появляется надпись:
ЗА - 127
ПРОТИВ - 128

ruth said...

"любишь ли ты меня Москва?"

you MEAN любишь ли ты меня Питер? i know it doesn't flow the same, but who cares about moscow? it bites.

Barbarossa said...

Hey look! There were already two comments on this post and did't wirte either of them! I like the joke! (for those who don't know Russian it is about Yeltsin going into parliament and sneezing and then they take a motion about whether or not to say 'bless you' (in Russian 'be healthy!), the motion was defeated). How darkly appropriate.

Yes, well the answer from Moscow was 'no, not this year.'