BORIS YELTSIN DIES
Russian vodka producers face imminent bankruptcy
Melbourne University academic states that Yeltsin "demonstrated the Russian belief that vodka is an essential ingredient in foreign policy".
Seriously now, RIP Boris. In some ways, it's strange that such a prominent figure is gone; in other ways, it's surprising he managed to hang on this long. I certainly recall some people thought he'd die in office or not long after he handed the reins over to Vladimir Putin. His legacy is most certainly a mixed one, and I think he will remain a paradoxical figure. The image that comes to mind first for me is Yeltsin riding the tank in Moscow, overthrowing the Soviet Union, but then I can't help but think of how the wheels really fell off Russia in the mid-nineties under his watch and the wars he instigated in Chechnya-Ingushetia.
The quote in my news report above is quite seriously reproduced verbatim from one of my lectures in March, though the lecturer was not referring to Yeltsin specifically, but to policies he authorised and the actions of the Russian military in Kosovo. It will be interesting to see how he reflects on Yeltsin in a couple of the coming lectures. I find it very hard to side one way or the other with regards to whether Yeltsin's legacy is positive or negative. He was most certainly the right man in the right place at the right time when the Soviet Union collapsed; despite my leanings to the left, I find the USSR became rather indefensible by then (hell, it was indefensible since the rise of Stalin) and someone needed to do something fast to avoid a complete political and economic catastrophe. However, I do not believe that Yeltsin, once the USSR had fallen, sufficiently siezed the opportunity to rebuild Russia. His dynamism came in fits and spurts, and this energy was not always focused in the right direction; the military response to the Chechen situation is a prime example.
He did, at least, believe in democracy and freedom of the press more than any other Russian head of state in the twentieth century, if not ever. Even in this case, he was by no means perfect, but given the context, he was moving in the right direction. It's a shame Putin has well and truly chosen a different, more repressive track. I worry for the future of Russia. Putin seems to be setting himself up for the long haul, and it seems the Yeltsin period may have just been a buffer, a brief footnote in history, between communism-gone-wrong and faux-democratic authoritarianism.