Monday, April 23, 2007

Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007)

Shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin ordered the house razed where Tsar Nicholas II, the tsarina and their children were massacred by the Bolsheviks because it had become a place of pilgrimage for Russians; and a few years later, in the democratic era, Yeltsin attended their reburial and canonization at the resurrected Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer, which had been razed by Stalin and its marble used to build the Moscow Subway. There, in a nutshell, is the career of Boris Yeltsin, and, indeed, the history of the Russian people since 1917.

Yeltsin, an indescript apparatchik for most of his life, became the father and savior of Russian democracy at its most crucial hour, when hardliners conspired, with Castro's connivance, to return Russia to Stalinist times. Yeltsin was a flawed man in many ways (his faults being particularly congenial to his people), but ultimately he was the necessary man to install democracy in Russia and end 75 years of Communist tyranny. He also had the wisdom to leave office when his work was done, a virtue which is not given to all political leaders and is almost always denied to ones reared under dictatorships.

Although it is my sincere hope that Cuba will bypass all the Gorbachevs, Yeltsins and Putins, and proceed from tyranny to democracy without an interregnum of "former Communists," still I am grateful that there was a Yeltsin to release Russia from Communism and Cuba from three decades of thralldom to the Soviet Union.

Rest in peace, great muzhik. History will judge you more kindly than it will your critics.


Agustin Farinas said...

I can always count on some commentary from you on your Blog to make my night. I watched with glee and amazement as Yeltsin told Gorbachev that his USSR was non existent during a session where they both were present.I venture to say it was during a session of the Duma but can' say for sure. He practically told him to be quiet and that he was the head of state of an entity that was no more. I could not believe my ears.
By the way, is nice to read commentaries by someone that actually knows what an apparatchik is but even more gratifying to read someone who knows the Russian word for peasant. Is not flattery but well deserved acknowledgement when I see your erudite commentaries. Good lecture.

Alex said...

He was a construction worker, hardly a mujik. But other than that, good valoration of the man and his role in history. I hope we hae a Yeltsin but avoid a Putin. Savor this rare case in which we agree.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Thanks, Alex. Actually we agree on a great many things, in fact, on most things, but being both contrarians we spent most of our time at SotP debating those few things on which we do disagree. I note with satisfaction that since my absence from your blog we are unanimous in our agreement. I have not even found anything to disagree with you about in your "Vamos a Cuba" posts. I must therefore conclude that I am a bad influence on you since without my chiding you are precisely that I would want you to be (that is, your best self), and that is the greatest compliment of which I can deliver myself.

A muzhik at heart, anyway, which I consider a compliment in the same way as calling someone a guajiro — open (llano), honest, hospitable and possessing a native wisdom that in practical terms surpasses the acquired wisdom of more learned men. This was always on display in his relationship with Gorbachev and accounts for the fact that Yeltsin was the one who prevailed in that contest.

It will be interesting to see what Gorbachev's reaction will be to Yeltsin's death. This is a great chance for Gorbachev to prove that he is a bigger man than his people give him credit for. Will he take it? No, I don't think so. In those things that touch them most deeply men rarely act out of character even in their own best interests.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Your support since the inception of this blog is greatly appreciated by me, as are your generous words about my erudition, which in this instance are entirely undeserved since my knowledge of the Russian language doesn't even come to me second-hand. What few (but useful) Russian words I know I learned from a list of such words that Martí himself compiled for his own use and is reproduced in the volumes of his Complete Works that collect his notebooks (very fascinating reading, by the way).

Steve ("Klotz" As In "Blood") said...

I remember a press conference where some poor flak was asked about Yelstin's alcholism (the premier had missed an appearance, and was reportedly drying out somewhere). The flak frowns, shrugs, then says, "I don't believe Mr. Yelstin consumes any more than any other person would in his position!"

On my blog, Miami Harold noted that Yelstin was "76 years old, and 86 proof" at his death.

Cheap laughs aside, it only takes a small dose of Putin to miss Yelstin terribly.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


As Abraham Lincoln said when informed of U.S. Grant's heavy drinking: "Tell me what brand of alcohol Grant drinks and I will send casks of it to all my other generals."

As I have said on many blogs before and will now say on mine: Miami Harold is the finest moniker in blogdom.

Agustin Farinas said...

Manuel, Steve,
Mr. Putin cannot act any other way since he has been a KGB operative and according to their own moto: "Once you are a member of the KGB you are a KGB man for life.You cannot leave us"
He has never been able to shake off his old teachings about how to operate. Just witness the latest incidents of assasinations of the newspaper woman in Russia and the former KGB operative in London. Who else but the KGB would have access to palladium in Russia? (I think that is the name of the dangerous poison that killed him) Is not like you can go to the nearest Walmart and buy the stuff. I can see the hand of Putin behind all of these crimes, but they know very well how to hide and point the finger somewhere else. They are masters at that, since they have been doing it for over 75 years. The Russian writer Gorky died and to this day very few people know that Stalin had the old man poisoned because he was becomng a nuisance and talking too much about leaving the USSR. Mr. Putin is only following the lessons and tactics that he was taught at Yanisevo and the Lubiyanka.
Gorbachev was so humiliated by Yeltsin I doubt very much if he would have any kind words for him. I will never forget the faces he made on camera when Yeltsin from the podium basically told him he was a non entity and that the Communist party was no more.

Steve ("Klotz" As In "Blood") said...

Augustin: W/r/t Putin, I have not felt such fear about a Russian leader since Nikita Khrushchev turned purple and slapped his shoe on the dais of the UN. And looking back, he was more bluster than bomber. The same cannot be said about Vlad the Poisoner.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

The following is the text of the statement Gorbachev released in reaction to Yeltsin's passing:

"I have already extended my condolences to Naina Yeltsin and the entire Yeltsin familiy. Fate brought us together at a time when our country was undergoing changes of paramount importance. Our approaches to matters of state were indeed different and this obviously impacted other events then transpiring in our country. But, right now, I am only thinking of the fact that we both wanted what was best for our country and our people."

Really, something like that leaves one speechless. And I even had to clean it up a bit, because the original English version read like this:

"I addressed to Naina Yeltsin and the whole family. I am truly sorry about their loss. The fate made us meet and we had to act during the time when the country was going through changes of paramount importance. Our approaches to state matters were different indeed, which obviously affected other events that were happening in the country at that moment. But right now I think about the fact that we both wanted to bring good for the country and its people."

Well, it's interesting to see, in any case, that Soviet-era bureaucratese still survives in its pristine vacuity among the discarded servants of the ancien regime.

How would I have written that statement?

As Gorbachev, I would first have reminded everybody that I brought Boris Yeltsin to Moscow and entrusted to him the administration of the capital. This, after all, is likely to be remembered as Gorbachev's greatest contribution to democracy in Russia.

Secondly, I would have admitted that Yeltsin was right and I was wrong, that he saw clearly while I still could not see.

Thirdly, I would have thanked Boris Yeltsin for all that he did to bring democracy to Russia.

Lastly, I would have extended my condolences not only to his widow and family but also to the entire Russian people.

But, alas, a classless society breeds classless people.