23 April 2007

Boris Yeltsin: 1931-2007

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin passed away today as the result of an undisclosed cause. He was 76.

Remember this?

...but there was also this:

A portrait cast in tragic contradictions, Boris Yeltsin was the first popularly elected president in Russia's history, garnering 57% of the vote in 1992. That followed a signatory confrontation in October 1991 when he led a populist revolt against the August 1991 coup led by an 8-man tribunal that sought to arrest Mikhail Gorbachev and assert the primacy of the Communist party in the wake of Gorbachev's attempts at reform. Standing on a tank positioned outside the Parliament building, Yeltsin called on Russians in general, and those in the military in particular, to defy the orders of the communist conspirators. The coup failed and the Communist party was later outlawed and the Soviet Empire dissolved.

However, in his drive to institute econimic reforms and privitization of industry within Russia, he caused economic chaos that led directly to the rise of kleptocratic oligarchs served by a resurgent Russian mob and spurred deep resentment within the Russian military as they saw themselves inceasingly marinalized at home and outstripped in capabilities abroad. Championed in the West as a "protector of democracy," he undertook military operations against Chechen separatists (before they became infiltrated by Islamists) and used the military under "Special Powers" adopted in 1993 to disband the Supreme Soviet and by October, literally blasted his opponents out of the parliamentary building.

History has yet to render a final verdict on Yeltsin and his role in moving Russia towards a more open, democratic society. Indeed, recent trends seem to indicate a retrenchment by the forces of central authority. How far the penduluum swings remains to be seen. Nevertheless, for all his flaws and failings, Yeltsin had a demonstrable, permanent effect on Russia and her people. The beneficial effects of that impact, remain to be determined.