A Great President Has Died
Boris Yeltsin, one of the greatest leaders of
This sense of freedom, joined with a massive personality, was common in Party bosses – Aleksandr Yakovlev, Eduard Shevardnadze – but completely lacking in the majors and lieutenant colonels of the KGB, who plied their trade in those days from embassy to embassy with red caviar, vodka and little denunciations. Exactly this sense of freedom led Yeltsin to his expulsion in the late 1980’s, and to the barricades in 1991, and never once allowed him to cancel elections, manipulate their results or close television stations.
Everything becomes known by comparison. Yeltsin was accused of corruption. But the most that history will produce against him are a few doubtful case-files of his daughter and son-in-law who headed Aeroflot. By whatever means men like Friedman, Khodorkovskiy and Potanin might have come to own half of
What a contrast with the
The press fiercely criticized Yeltsin for the Chechen War. The mass media ridiculed the dancing, drunken Yeltsin in
What a contrast with the
Yeltsin has been criticized for the breakup of the
What a contrast with the policies of President Putin: beginning with presidential wrath at the robbery of some Russian diplomats’ children in Poland, which resulted in the vicious beating of Polish diplomats in Moscow; and ending with a turn of phrase about citizens of “certain nationalities”, which lead to the mass deportation of Georgians. The result of these policies is that we now no longer have any friendly countries on our borders. Yeltsin brought the country into the “Group of Eight”, Putin – to the brink of becoming a pariah state.
Yeltsin made a lot of small mistakes: he inconsistently pursued reforms, stayed with Korzhakov too long, then Berezovskiy. Yeltsin also committed one fundamental mistake: he never reformed the intelligence and security services (siloviki). At first he did not think he needed to. Under Yeltsin, the role of the all-powerful silovik was played by Aleksandr Korzhakov, who opposed holding elections in 1996. This is an iconic story for the siloviki: they did not want the president to be dependent on the people for his power. They wanted the president to be dependent only on them.
So when the elections happened and Yeltsin entered his second term, Korzhakov did everything to spoil the elections – with boxes from under the copy machine. The President sent him into retirement, and a few days later suffered a severe heart attack. But Yeltsin nonetheless made his choice – between being dependent on Korzhakov and being dependent on the people. A few years later, following the arrest of Khodorkovskiy, President Putin would make exactly the opposite choice.
But only around 1998 did Yeltsin realize that while he had only poorly reformed the economy, he had not touched the siloviki at all, and this entire horde of employees of the Prosecutors Office, FSB, MVD, all converted into a corporation with many shareholders, subsidiaries and affiliates, all of these colonels and generals, who supplied the oligarchs with girls or factories, attacked Yeltsin under the slogan, “They stole the country”. A slogan which actually boiled down to: “They stole the country, and didn’t give us anything”.
Yeltsin tried to remedy his situation. At first he appointed as head of his Administration the silovik Bordyuzh, but he did nothing. Then the President appointed as head of the government the silovik Sergey Stepashin, but he decided to just get along with everyone. And then the President appointed as head of the government yet another silovik – Vladimir Putin.
Short indeed was the list of siloviki who might be considered in even small measure liberals.
President Yeltsin loved equally both power and freedom. He knew that newspapers were one thing, history another. He did not want to go down in history as the first dictator of
True, President Yeltsin did not create very much. He was not much for economics, caused a default, and did not reform the siloviki. But he was a free man, and he shared that freedom with all of us. Under Yeltsin, for the first time in the 20th century, a free society appeared in
Even President Putin will not be able to turn this free society into a unitary enterprise and place at its head an old buddy from the “Ozero” cooperative.