Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Boris Yelstin: A man for his time

Boris Yeltsin has died. The world first started paying attention to him in 1989 when as the Mayor of Moscow he visited a Houston supermarket, and he wept at what he saw. He cried from what communism had done to the Russian people. "When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons, and goods of every possible sort," he said, "for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it."

He showed promise. That promise was fulfilled. In 1990 he helped to destroy the Soviet Empire from within and brought down the communist grip on Eastern Europe, and in 1991 he faced down the tanks of a communist counter-revolution and confirmed the collapse of the Soviet Empire, and the coming of political freedom to Russia for the first time since ... well, ever. "

Seen on television cameras all around the world, Yeltsin condemned the counter-revolution as "an anti-constitutional act," an attempt to "remove from power the legally elected authorities of the Russian Republic." He called on "the citizens of Russia to give a fitting rebuff to the putschists ..." They did.

This was a great thing for Russia, and for everyone around the world watching.

Yeltsin brought a measure of political freedom, for a time, but economic freedom and fuller supermarkets proved somewhat more difficult, proving again the adage that a good revolutionary leader will very rarely have the qualities needed to be a good peacetime leader.

He was however the first leader of Russia who didn't die in office, who resigned before he either died of it or was assassinated. Handing over to KGB chief Putin was not his finest hour -- standing atop a tank in front of the Russian 'White House' to face down communist counter-revolution: that was Yeltsin's finest hour, and it was a defining moment in history for which he will be fondly remembered.

Farewell Boris.


  1. Yeltsin inspired others in the former Soviet Union to stand up to authoritarian rules and free themselves at last from repression & persecution from their own government. I think that he had been influential in accelerating the collapse of communism in the USSR & Eastern Europe.

  2. Yeltsin was a self serving thief who knew when it was time to pretend to believe in a new idealogy. You didn't need to go to a Houston supermarket to see what a failure the Soviet Union was.

    By the time Yeltsin decided to find a new idealogy the USSR was already the walking dead. He would have remained a happy Communist in different circumstances.

  3. Self serving thief? His family was hardly an oligarchy.

    He is, quite possibly, the best leader Russia has had in modern history. That is saying a lot about the rest of them!


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