Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Whatever they say about Boris Yeltsin, who died today, I loved him. He was great, when he stood upon that tank in front of the "White House," the Parliament of the Russian Federated Union of which he was the first elected President, in 1991 and defied the Communist coup plotters, he made history, he was my hero. And in 1993 he once again stopped the plotters, and didn't hesitate to fire on the White House where they were holed up. We are all in his debt. Whatever becomes of Russia, he was the man who saw clearly that Communism must be stopped, and he did it. As such he changed the world and achieved the impossible. Noone predicted that Communism would be overthrown in our lifetime.
I remember seeing him when he was Mayor of Moscow agreeing with shopholders that there was something terribly wrong when they didn't have enough food to feed the people in such a great and potentially rich country as Russia. His outspokeness got him into trouble with the Communist leaders, and he had a falling out with Gorbachev, that had unforseen consequences. Yeltsin was too much of a loose cannon for the dour Communist leadership. He was larger than life itself.
When Gorbachev came to the conclusion that Communism needed to be reformed, he intitated the process of perestroika, that lead to a previously unheard of openess, that gradually changed the political climate in the Soviet Union. But, while Gorbachev was a reformer, he was not a revolutionary, he wanted to be a Communist with a heart. When the hard-line Communists tried to overthrow him while he was vacationing in Georgia, and they put him under house arrest, it was Yeltsin who stepped in and prevented that. Without himself as the focus of the opposition the Soviet Union might still exist. Yeltsin went all the way, not only did he face down the coup plotters, and showed them up for the incompetents they were, but he then took over Gorbachev and forced him to sign away the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was the catalyst, but Yeltsin was the activist.
Of course, he was embarrassing with his drunkeness, his acting up, his inability to control that huge country in a process of transition. Putin, who he selected as his successor, is the exact opposite, serious, dour, capable and strong. Much of what Putin is doing these days, such as taking over the oil industry from the oligarchs and putting it back under state control, is a reaction to the excesses of Yeltsin's tenure. But, whatever comes next, Yeltsin's place in Russian history is assured. He was the one who the Communists had feared all along, the counter-revolutionary, who undid the control of the Party over the State and the people. He deserved to live a happy and carefree life, we will never see his like again.


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