Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The first-ever popularly elected leader of Russia
April 23, 2007 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Yeltsin said: "I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes." Boris Yeltsin is dead. [AP story]
posted by nickyskye (58 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Don't really know a whole lot about him, but he came off as a sort of lovable (if somewhat bumbling) soul who you'd probably enjoy knocking back some vodkas with. Infinitely preferable to the weaselly, evil-incarnate Putin.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:59 AM on April 23, 2007


BREAKING NEWS: YELTSIN STILL ALIVE. UNTIL RECENTLY.
posted by DU at 8:00 AM on April 23, 2007


wow - couldn't wait for a link, eh?
posted by davehat at 8:02 AM on April 23, 2007


That the man was alive this long is a miracle.

And, at long last, don't we know that being a nice fellow to knock a few back with is not the right yard stick to be measuring a world leader.

R.I.P., Boris.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:03 AM on April 23, 2007


I remember watching his resignation in 1999 and quietly freaking out that some sort of perfect storm of Y2K and Russian hardliner coup was going to destroy the world in a fury of nuclear flame. But then I had a whole lot of champagne and finally lost my virginity and lo, the world survived and we greeted the next day not with a wasteland of radioactive ash but with slight hangovers and vague promises to call each other and, like, do something sometime.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:09 AM on April 23, 2007 [12 favorites]


davehat, actually, I looked at a number of links and they all seemed inadequate because Yeltsin was such an unpredictable leader and the time he ruled Russia an intensely complex one. The Wikipedia link, imo, contained the most inclusive information.

A little about Yeltsin's depression, illness and alcoholism.
posted by nickyskye at 8:09 AM on April 23, 2007


And, at long last, don't we know that being a nice fellow to knock a few back with is not the right yard stick to be measuring a world leader.

Aha! You found the right thread! Well done! Here's my answer again:

Sir, it is unquestionably the only valid yardstick to use. I would've thought this patently obvious to any thinking person.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:10 AM on April 23, 2007


Come on, a wiki? Here's a link to (quasi)reputable news outlet from the bottom of your wiki.

w
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:12 AM on April 23, 2007


wow - couldn't wait for a link, eh?

I found this post much more pleasing to the senses than all-important wire link to an obit prepared five years ago. It had a thoughtful quote, goddamn it.
posted by trinarian at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2007


Sometimes it feels like MeFi is just becoming a virtual cemetery for famous people.

.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:26 AM on April 23, 2007


It had a thoughtful quote, goddamn it.

Yeah, that quote is what pulled me in. I'm rooting for comrade nickyskye!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:27 AM on April 23, 2007


Terminal Verbosity, thanks for the fresh CNN link, it wasn't there a few minutes ago when I made this post and I like that article. The only link at the bottom of the wikipedia info from CNN is this link under the heading External Links Cold War - Profile: Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin and I didn't think it did the topic justice.

No doubt there will be well written articles on Yeltsin as the day progresses, hope they're included in this thread.
posted by nickyskye at 8:27 AM on April 23, 2007


"I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true."

I guess Yeltsin wasn't talking to Boris Berezovsky.

Yeltsin agreed to what amounted to a giveaway of some of the state's prime assets. Berezovsky received a 49 per cent stake in Russia's main state television network.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:31 AM on April 23, 2007


Poor Boris. Never got moose and squirrel.
posted by davelog at 8:34 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


In Soviet Union double... disappears.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:35 AM on April 23, 2007


Don't really know a whole lot about him, but he came off as a sort of lovable (if somewhat bumbling) soul who you'd probably enjoy knocking back some vodkas with. Infinitely preferable to the weaselly, evil-incarnate Putin.

Personality-wise Yeltsin was a lovable character, but he allowed the privatization of the Russian economy which was a giant catastrophe and probably lead to the need for Putin's tyrannical leadership to control the price of goods.
posted by destro at 8:36 AM on April 23, 2007


Ah, but Someone still loves him...
posted by myopicman at 8:42 AM on April 23, 2007


I foresee a spike in album sales for Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.
posted by Saellys at 8:42 AM on April 23, 2007


I was encouraged by the humanness of a world leader who had the courage to stop and piss on a few shrubs. We could sure use one now.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:43 AM on April 23, 2007


Don't really know a whole lot about him, but he came off as a sort of lovable (if somewhat bumbling) soul who you'd probably enjoy knocking back some vodkas with.

Yeltsin might best be remembered for defying the attempted coup d'etat by hard-line communists in August 1991. His resistance from the Russian White House (standing on a tank with a megaphone) and the support he gave to Gorbachev was vital in crushing the coup.
posted by three blind mice at 8:45 AM on April 23, 2007


I always loved how BBC's Moscow correspondent Martin Sexsmith said Yeltsin's name.

"YelTSiiin"
posted by parmanparman at 8:49 AM on April 23, 2007


Wow. A double post inside a double post.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:51 AM on April 23, 2007


Trust me to post in the other one, and get outdone by flapjax at midnite.

Flapjax: I blame not previewing...

My favourite Yeltsin moment was when he left an Irish welcome party standing on the runway waiting for him to come and say Hello. They were there for about two hours, then the Russians left without any sign of Yeltsin.

Apparently he was tired... but as in that AskMe thread of recent times, speculation reigned.
posted by knapah at 8:51 AM on April 23, 2007


On Saturday I was wondering whether he was still alive, and whether I'd only imagined his death announcement some vague couple years ago.

Since I was busy at the time shoving tree into a chipper-shreddder, there was no way to check. So two days later reading this announcement feels deja-vu-ish.
posted by ardgedee at 9:04 AM on April 23, 2007


Obituary from The Guardian.

How many times was Yeltsin hospitalysed for exhaustion?
posted by Rumple at 9:06 AM on April 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


GMTA, myopicman.
posted by Saellys at 9:11 AM on April 23, 2007


My favorite Yeltsin moment was the press conference he and Clinton gave in 1995 when they were both completely hammered: red-faced, laughing uproariously, gripping the podium.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:37 AM on April 23, 2007


My favorite Yeltsin moment was the press conference he and Clinton gave in 1995 when they were both completely hammered: red-faced, laughing uproariously, gripping the podium.

That'd be this one?
posted by Martin E. at 9:56 AM on April 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Was Clinton also drunk? What had happened was that the US Press had been pretty down on the whole Yelstin visit thing and Yelstin said something to the effect of: "I read what you [press corps] write. You said it'll be a disaster. Now I get to say… YOU'RE A DISASTER!"
posted by Firas at 10:22 AM on April 23, 2007


He always seemed like a fun guy to hang out with. Pity he didn't do so good running the country (not that it was solely his fault). Like Jimmy Carter, but with borscht.

I heard that detox killed him. They got too much blood in his alcohol stream.
posted by Eideteker at 10:28 AM on April 23, 2007


Better clip.
posted by Firas at 10:28 AM on April 23, 2007


Man, just yesterday I was asking myself, "Whatever the hell is up with Boris Yeltsin these days?" Seriously. And then...


.
posted by chillmost at 10:29 AM on April 23, 2007


If you weren't old enough then ... it's hard to communicate what it was like during the coup. Tanks in the street, then a junta on TV looking like they were more frightened than anyone. The world held its breath, gasped a little, then held it some more. And into this vacuum stepped Yeltsin. Only a few Sovietophiles had ever heard of him before, but he had attracted some attention when he was elected as President of the Russian Federation a few months earlier. That certainly wasn't preparation for this.

It was Yeltsin, to some extent, but it wasn't that people backed him so much as nobody wanted the apparent alternative. He saved Gorbachev's life, probably, but also proved his irrelevancy. The day he put the red-white-and-blue Russian flag on top of the Kremlin was beyond most Cold War kids' imagination.

Anyway, to judge by history, what Russia is today, it's hard to consider that the alternative was the abyss, civil war with nuclear weapons. You have to pay him that respect. And the fact that he hand-picked Putin almost makes you want to give the latter a bit more leeway. Nevertheless, when he turned his own tanks on the same White House that he had defended, he lost quite a number of his cheerleaders.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Marzipan!
posted by malaprohibita at 10:38 AM on April 23, 2007


Really interesting comment dhartung, thanks.

Yeltsin dancing drunk to Peanut Butter and Jelly Time.

Yeltsin seemed like a drunk sociopath to me and his reign was truly a scary one but as robocop is bleeding so aptly said, Yeltsin's sudden resignation and the possibility of hardliners taking over then on the eve of Y2K was hair-raising.

There have been some staggering messes in Russia in the last 20 years. Not least was the Chernobyl horror... and that Gorbachev waited 18 days before commenting on the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

You're right flapjax, Putin is scary in a whole other way. There was a kind of "accidental anarchy" under Yeltsin. But former KGB Putin seems empathy-impaired, the nuclear submarine fiasco 7 years ago is a good example of that and it looks like Russia is now under a new-old authoritarianism. I always wondered if Yeltsin puppeted Putin to come in or if Putin puppeted Yeltsin.

Any thoughts about the country's possible future?
posted by nickyskye at 10:44 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Anyway, to judge by history, what Russia is today, it's hard to consider that the alternative was the abyss, civil war with nuclear weapons. You have to pay him that respect. And the fact that he hand-picked Putin almost makes you want to give the latter a bit more leeway. Nevertheless, when he turned his own tanks on the same White House that he had defended, he lost quite a number of his cheerleaders.

Wait, what?? What do you mean, "the alternative"? There were an infinite number of possible alternatives, as there always are; what you suggest seems to me one of the less likely ones. And the fact that he hand-picked Putin makes me despise him, and that goes double for the fact that he "turned his own tanks on the same White House that he had defended." Sorry, Boris, you had a moment of glory but were basically a worthless, drunken fuck.
posted by languagehat at 11:35 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]



posted by delmoi at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2007


Sorry, Boris, you had a moment of glory but were basically a worthless, drunken fuck.

Russian leaders can only appear in good light when judged in relation to other Russian leaders.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2007


Yeah, shelling the democratically elected parliament to drive out your political opponents so that you can grant yourself sweeping new powers and usher in a rampant, shameless kleptocracy will tend to lose you just a little sympathy.

His only defence is that, just perhaps, he was too pissed to know what he was doing. But I can't help but feel that he played up the bumbling boozehound persona to disguise the fact that he was actually a calculating, conniving so-and-so. Of course, eventually the character takes over from the actor.

Still, a . for the man. Just don't try cremating him, is all.
posted by flashboy at 12:02 PM on April 23, 2007


This post: Still alive!

Yeltsin: Not so much.

Best of the web: Worst of the three: deprecated beyond dead.

NewsFilter: Can't be killed.
posted by Eideteker at 12:07 PM on April 23, 2007


but he allowed the privatization of the Russian economy which was a giant catastrophe and probably lead to the need for Putin's tyrannical leadership to control the price of goods.

What in God's holy name are you blathering about? Can you propose a way in which Russia could have gotten rid of the Soviet Union without privatization?
posted by nasreddin at 12:59 PM on April 23, 2007


Yes, they didn't have to break apart every state run organization all at once. Massive inflation occured. The way they did it was epically bad.
posted by destro at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2007


I remember seeing news footage of Yeltsin drunkenly singing "Kalinka Malinka" and laughing my ass off. I was surprised not to find it on YouTube.

Farewell, old Boris. You were... drunk a lot.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:21 PM on April 23, 2007


I think early 90s Russia was such a complex puzzle that it's impossible figure out what would have been the 'good' way to go about things. All I know is that Jeffrey Sachs-style shock therapy (backed by major US aid) must have seemed like it was a good option. I might have gone for it. Keep in mind the Clinton (Prez since '92, so rather relevant!) was rather gung-ho about dragging Russia kicking and screaming into the European fold. I don't think anybody back then was thinking "oh, we're going to end up with a robber-baron class and then the old guard and heavy-handedness will be viewed nostalgically by the people."

Any thoughts about the country's possible future?

I don't think Russia is currently as unscrutable as say, China. It's pretty clear where Mr. Putin is a-headed. Authoritarianism ho! Expect major jockying for getting Eastern European states back in the fold. Expect major political bad blood in the process. Expect the masses and the crypto-commies to be in an unholy alliance for order and some semblance of economic certainty (I say this both for Russia and a few Eastern European states. Incidentally, you know, one major 'blind spot' for me is the Central Asian states. I've not really followed what's been going on down there. My guess would be that major Russian influence remains?)
posted by Firas at 1:30 PM on April 23, 2007


My point is, I don't think Russia is doomed. I think the nationalists and other 'hard-liners' will not just dominate but will also get what they want in terms of where they'd like to steer the ship of state. Not to say that that's a good thing.
posted by Firas at 1:36 PM on April 23, 2007


I've always thought Yeltsin was a demagogue who was at the right place at the right time to take a calculated risk to come out on top. He had that one moment of public bravery which propelled him ultimately to the leadership of the country, and once there, he was no match for the job.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 1:38 PM on April 23, 2007


Yes, they didn't have to break apart every state run organization all at once. Massive inflation occured. The way they did it was epically bad.

The Soviet economy had begun to disintegrate in 1985, and was almost completely destroyed by 1991. There weren't too many options that could have prevented that kind of collapse.

As for Putin, the sound and the fury are pretty misplaced. Russia, no matter what the social/political/economic system, has always operated in this way:

Peasants are poor.
Aristocrats, bureaucrats, oligarchs, mafia bosses, etc. oppress the peasants.
Peasants want a strong leader to check the power of the aristocrats.

Putin is delivering on this promise, which is why he's so popular. All the pissing and moaning about the death of freedom of speech and suppression of dissent is missing the point. The point is that there is no genuine opposition. Even if the Union of Right Forces/whatever the successor party is (the westernizing "good guys") had their own fucking TV channel, they wouldn't scratch up more than a few percent of the vote.

Likewise, the 1993 attacks on the White House (Russian Parliament) were a choice between Yeltsin, the authoritarian leader--or the aristocrats, a rabid horde of anti-Semitic nationalist/communist scum. He didn't have any options.
posted by nasreddin at 1:45 PM on April 23, 2007


.

(compared to current Russian and US leaders, he wasn't bad at all)
posted by amberglow at 2:27 PM on April 23, 2007


The Soviet economy had begun to disintegrate in 1985, and was almost completely destroyed by 1991. There weren't too many options that could have prevented that kind of collapse.

Not doing what they did and causing 1000% inflation would have been better. What they did was the one of the worst decisions possible.
posted by destro at 2:43 PM on April 23, 2007


languagehat, but tell me how you really feel. :)

maryh had an awful-funny quip: He walked life's tightrope without a nyet.

Some of the complexity that came into the Yeltsin story discussed in the NY times blog about his death.

Yearning for the nostalgia of a dictatorship after democracy is harder than expected seems to be what's happening now with the Putin era. It reminds me of what happened after former Yugoslavia's Tito died, the popular sense of the Patriarch-knows-best and we kids need to be ordered around or else we'll run amok.

The glorified mafia graves in Ekaterinburg are disturbing in their idealising thugs and there seems to be a political correlation going on in Russia with Putin now.

It's a pity that a raging alcoholic was the first-ever popularly elected leader of Russia...well in over 1000 years.
posted by nickyskye at 2:46 PM on April 23, 2007


Expect major jockying for getting Eastern European states back in the fold.

They are in the EU and NATO ...
posted by vertriebskonzept at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2007


Oof. I don't mean in terms of the political superstructure. I meant into the foreign policy leanings of the internal regimes. Doh?
posted by Firas at 3:08 PM on April 23, 2007


For a current example, see Ukraine.
posted by Firas at 3:13 PM on April 23, 2007


.
posted by c13 at 5:02 PM on April 23, 2007


“There were an infinite number of possible alternatives, as there always are; what you suggest seems to me one of the less likely ones.”

Lots of folks were very concerned the putschists would get their hands on the codes. These guys were the old elite and it was a military coup. That’s big time bad.
The armed forces were divided and disintigrating which put a lot of security policy emphasis on the nukes exclusively.
From the outside no one knew who had the soviet equivalent of the “nuclear football,” just that Gorby was under wraps somewhere, eight or so guys at the top of their power blocs (government, internal security, military, industry) were declaring a state of emergency and had set curfews, shut down the media and outlawed other politicial parties and protests - Defense Minister Yazov was talking about preserving the “moral purity” of the people, which, if you’re a student of history has been used before in very self-destructive type of situations (in fact Akhromeyev killed himself after the coup), Yanayev says he’s taking over, troops laying seige, etc. etc.

And I’d grant any sort of thing could have happened, but that was exactly what made it so terrifying a situation.
Yeltsin and Muscovites resistance, basically, saved the world. That, the press, and the army telling everyone to go to hell. Had their planning been better organized though, the military might have followed suit and only Yeltsin’s resistance would have made the difference because the mass resistance was predicated upon it.
They had elected Yeltsin, it was their government, so they fought for it. And the army knew they were facing people fighting for an elected government vs. the putschists and hey, they’re citizens too, so they spent most of their time outside their tanks flirting with chicks.
But again - some units did follow orders (mostly because - wtf is going on?), and the entire situation was disjointed and chaotic - so what was going on with the nukes no one knew. My balls were in my stomach for a week. It was a very very tense situation on the U.S. side watching this thing.
If the media had been crushed, the spets (Alpha) taken the capitol and Yeltsin detained, demonstrators slaughtered, the coup might have worked.
The dangerous part is, that would probably have required a U.S. military response because in no way would that government have been stable. There is no way the people would have supported that system, Russia was by then a different country.
Embodied perhaps by Yeltin’s statement: “we live the life of animals, in poverty, and we don’t want our children to live the same way.”
Lithuania had already declared independence, more Soviet states were leaning that way, Gorby was talking about a union with states having more independance anyway.
There would have been a civil war and there is no telling what might have done to stay in power once they had committed to do anything to retain it. Hell, they still think they did the right thing. In retrospect the only thing they did right is not spill too much blood forcing themselves into a corner where they would have to do something truly appaling to escape eventual execution.

The vast majority of Soviet nuclear weapons were, at the time, in Russia, the command and control systems for all strategic and tactical useage was (and is still) in Moscow. Soviet nukes have locking mechanisms (permissive action links) that can only be released with codes (not to mention the C&C system procedures to transmit them).
The General Staff and the KGB shared joint custody of the codes at the General Staff war rooms in 1991. So, they could have either sent unlock and launched codes to the individual weapons commanders (who - remembering the state of the military - might not have known wtf was going on) who then perform launch procedures, or they could personally push the launch buttons in the Moscow war room, bypassing those commanders in the chain of command. Of course in the latter case that would only launch the nukes on ‘hair trigger’ launch ready alert. Yeah, only about 2,000 of those strategic nuclear warheads.

An unbelievable amount of political, military and diplomatic work (after ‘91 and the official demise of the Soviet Union in December) and money went into making sure only Russia had the nukes (you’re welcome). Yeltsin had a lot to do with that (Baker did too, but c’mon, he has to).
Some of the older tactical nukes don’t have permissive action links, and those’re the ones that kind of make folks’ hair stand on end when it comes to terrorism.

Yeltsin’s legacy is mixed. He didn’t really build a rule of law society and the Chechnya thing is going to be felt for many decades. But y’know, he saved the world. Or at the very least a great deal of needless destruction. The bad thing is, we’ll never really know. But the good thing is - we’ll never really know.

I think creeper nailed it, he wasn’t up for the long term grind once he got in power. To be fair, it’s really really tough to say no to the constant blowjobbery system surrounding the job. You’d have to be Ghandi to pull a whole new system out of the hat (even then - look at India post-Ghandi & the Brits).
Typical Russian leader really. Fantastic peaks, monstrous valleys, tremendously authoritarian, but also opening up free discourse, shown tremendous hatred and fear while inspiring great loyalty.

....Kinda like Dinsdale Piranha.

Tho’ I’d be curious what Condi Rice has to say. (I think she’s an asshole, but she’s damn sharp on Russian affairs).


“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” - Machiavelli

.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:24 PM on April 23, 2007


.
(Tragically flawed, sure, but heroic at key moments.)
posted by orthogonality at 5:28 PM on April 23, 2007


.
posted by jiroczech at 2:22 AM on April 24, 2007


Two stories about Boris Yeltsin:

1. Told to me by a lecturer, when Yeltsin was born his parents decided to have him baptized, a risky thing in those days. The Priest was drunk and dropped the baby Yeltsin in the font, he survived and the story goes he learned to be tough from this early age.

2. Told to me by the vice chancellor who used to work in an American university. On a state visit Yeltsin went to a banquet organised by the university, after the banquet Yeltsin disappeared; he was discovered in the morning asleep in one of the flowerbeds.

Two sides to a complex character, remember in the mid ninties there was a real risk Russia might have disintegrated with nuclear and other technologies in the hands of some quite weird micro states. Yeltsin prevented the worst outcomes but didn't acheive the best ones.
posted by TheCassiniDivision at 3:30 AM on April 24, 2007


« Older marzipan....  |  Apache. The greatest song for ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments