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Yeltsin's dead

by the stormy present Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:16:02 AM EST

CNN and BBC are both flashing an urgent report from Interfax that Boris Yeltsin has died.

It has not to my knowledge been confirmed, but both channels are now playing Yeltsin obituaries with lots of archival footage.

UPDATE: It's been confirmed by the Kremlin.

Here's the BBC's fawning obit, which focuses almost entirely on the first year or two of his presidency and limits acknowledgement of Mr. Yeltsin's shortcomings as a leader to a single sentence, otherwise seemingly absolving him of any responsibility for all the bad stuff that happened while he was in charge....

UPDATE 2: This long AP obituary (via Yahoo) is much more thorough:

Former President Boris Yeltsin, who hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union by scrambling atop a tank to rally opposition against a hard-line coup and later pushed Russia to embrace democracy and a market economy, died Monday at age 76. Kremlin spokesman Alexander Smirnov confirmed Yeltsin's death, and Russian news agencies cited Sergei Mironov, head of the presidential administration's medical center, as saying the former president died Monday of heart failure at the Central Clinical Hospital.

The first freely elected leader of Russia, Yeltsin was initially admired abroad for his defiance of the monolithic Communist system. But many Russians will remember him mostly for presiding over the steep decline of their nation.


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I'm doing this as a diary rather than an entry in the Salon because I'm assuming ETers will have plenty to say about Yeltsin and his legacy.

For starters, here's a PBS take.

I happened to be in Moscow in 1999 when the Duma voted on five articles of impeachment against Yeltsin, none of which got enough votes to pass.

About a year later, after Yeltsin's resignation, The Nation said this:

As Stephen F. Cohen wrote in these pages, "so great has been Russia's economic and thus social catastrophe that we must now speak of another unprecedented development: the literal demodernization of a twentieth-century country." The middle class, the bedrock of a stable society, was wiped out by the "shock therapy" imposed by Yeltsin and his cabal of "young reformers." Some 70 percent of families now live below or barely above the official poverty line. Russia is undergoing a demographic and public health crisis unprecedented in peacetime. The power and authority of a nuclear state have substantially disintegrated, while corruption and asset-looting have run rampant. And while elements of democracy still exist, most left over from the Gorbachev years, Yeltsin undermined others, first by using tanks to shell an elected Parliament in 1993 and then by pushing through an authoritarian constitution, available to any would-be dictator. The Russian media were freer in the early nineties than they are today. As was apparent in the December parliamentary elections, national television is controlled by intertwined oligarchic and government interests, while the largest newspapers are the playthings of competing tycoons with enormous influence in the Kremlin. In short, Yeltsin's legacy to his anointed successor, acting President Vladimir Putin, is an embittered, polarized, impoverished nation.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:04:44 AM EST
That's quite a legacy...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:15:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You might have guessed that I'm not a Yeltsin fan...
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:24:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was an impressive example of what 'reform' can do to a country though.

Lest we forget...

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 11:00:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He was an economic illiterate and let his advisers get on with it, they (and the venal oligarchs) should take the blame for the economic collapse and the destruction of civil society which went with it.

Not that Yeltsin was anything approaching a 'good Tsar' betrayed by his advisers. His thing was power, not ideology, and he sold his soul to win his election.

I blame the Chicago School economic 'whizz-kids', the nineties neocons - fucking up a country in pursuit of a ridiculously naive ideology.

by lemonwilmot (lemonwilmot at gmail.com) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:25:59 AM EST
One of the fine Yeltsin's hours:

His will was decisive for the break-up of the Soviet Union.

But once a president, he was like demonstrating that the best tzar is the one who worries the least, about the state and people, that is.

As for economic illiteracy... he allowed to run a state wide genuine Ponzi scheme.

by das monde on Tue Apr 24th, 2007 at 12:13:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
According to Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, a Kremlin spokesperson named Alexander Smirnov confirmed to AP that Yeltsin died. Cause of death still unknown, but likely heart-related.

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:38:43 AM EST
Well, that's the last time I try to post a poll in Cyrillic.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:44:44 AM EST
Well, I kind of like the surrealistic poll!

Is it meant to illustrate the Russian democracy?

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 12:41:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The illusion of choice!

Hmmm.  The non-poll could in fact be a symbol of quite a few so-called democracies....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 01:02:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From the BBC obituary:
With the collapse of the old order came economic liberalisation. But this meant stock markets and rampant inflation, amazing wealth for a few, misery for many

Gee, who would've thunk it...

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde

by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:51:00 AM EST
This AP story includes this statement on Yeltsin's death by Mikhail Gorbachev:

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, summed up the complexity of Yeltsin's in a condolence statement minutes after the death was announced. He referred to Yeltsin as one "on whose shoulders are both great deeds for the country and serious errors," according to the news agency Interfax.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:56:37 AM EST
It was more than "economic liberalisation". Yeltsin introduced a new concept, "economy for my friends", and his friends duly proceeded to fleece Russia. The amount of damage he has inflicted upon Russia is even greater than what Bush is currently doing to the US.

He was the ultimate political thug, doing anything for his own political gain, without even the disguise of a thin ideological veil.

I can't judge myself, but Russians say he spoke "street Russian", while Gorbachev spoke "bureaucratic Russian" and Putin does speak a proper Russian.

Requiescat in hell. Though he'll probably elbow his way out.

by balbuz on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 12:15:52 PM EST
Economically, Russia of the 1990's must have been a perfect inspiration for the neo-liberal marketology of today. Nothing matters, but the power of your money. Initially, Russians attributed this philosophy to the perceived US "ideal", of course. But Russia's patrimonial instincts pushed voluntaristic enterprising standards to new levels. Bushes or Cheneys might have been personally impressed.

Politically, Yeltsin's Russia broke new grounds in implementation of essentially autocratic governing within the democratic system. It is almost as if there is no democratic ideals at all - you just cover them with a layer of financial dominance and media manipulation. Needless to say, the example is being elaborated and refined further in several ways.  

If you look this way, the effect of Yeltsin's governing is pretty evil. That is some taste of how evil evolves: with "best" and even "normal" intentions.

by das monde on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 10:59:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely agree with you. What Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin and Gaidar and Chubais and Nemtsov did with Russian people is just unbelievable. On advice of WMF and to control inflation they simply did not pay salaries - and people were starving literally. For that I don't think Russians will put any statues for them notwithstanding ovations from vested Western circles.
by FarEasterner on Tue Apr 24th, 2007 at 03:05:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The AP obit is actually quite comprehensive, as far as I can tell.  It doesn't lionize.  Much.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 12:21:56 PM EST
I think he deserves some of the credit for the peaceful transition away from Party rule and the fairly peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union. He then deserves plenty of the blame for the failure to build up a functioning real democracy and of course the toxic mix of doctrinaire neoliberalism and one of the worst kleptocracies on record.

Dave Noon over at LGM has a fun quip 'If anyone ever wants evidence of what the two worst economic models of the 20th century -- Soviet communism and Washington neoliberalism -- can do for a nation, go ask a Russian.' But this wasn't just neoliberalism plus the inherent difficulties of getting out of the structural mess left behind by the communist economic model with some corruption along the way - that gives you something like Poland. Russia was far, far worse - a no holds barred looting of the country with the collapse of any modicum of the rule of law in the economy.

by MarekNYC on Mon Apr 23rd, 2007 at 12:58:21 PM EST

Yeltsin and the Russian Economy: Which Way Is Up?

In its obituary for Boris Yeltsin, the NYT told readers that "Mr. Yeltsin's actions ensured that there would be no turning back to the centralized Soviet command economy, which had strangled growth and reduced a country of talented and cultured people and rich in natural resources to a beggar among nations."

According to the Penn World tables, Russia's per capita GDP was 22 percent lower when Yeltsin left office in 1999 than when he took office in 1991. The country also saw a sharp decline in life expectancy and other measures of well-being.

Since Yeltsin left office, the economy has grown rapidly, more than regaining the ground lost in the Yeltsin years. This growth was associated with a reversal of some key Yeltsin policies, most importantly Yeltsin's policy of maintaining a fixed exchange rate against the dollar.

--Dean Baker

by Laurent GUERBY on Wed Apr 25th, 2007 at 06:41:33 AM EST
Att Taibbi, who was editor of the eXile back in Yeltsin's days, has a devastating screw-you of an obituary, which is graphically accurate and very abusive. Excerpt:

Everything about the historical figure Boris Yeltsin reeked of death and decay; it was his primary characteristic as a human being. I remember clearly talking with former general and Secretary of the Security Council (who served under Yeltsin) Alexander Lebed at Lebed's dacha in Siberia -- here is what Lebed had to say about Yeltsin the man:
He's been on the verge of death so many times. ... His doctors themselves are in shock that he's still alive. Half the blood vessels in his brain are about to burst after his strokes, his intestines are spotted all over with holes, he has giant ulcers in his stomach, his heart is in absolutely disgusting condition, he is literally rotting ... He could die from any one of dozens of physical problems that he has, but contrary to all laws of nature -- he lives.

I still remember the way Lebed pronounced the word "rotting" -- gnilit -- scrunching up his smashed boxer's nose in moral disgust. He was shaken by the memory of just having been near Yeltsin. This from a hardened war veteran, a man who had coldly taken lives from Afghanistan to the Transdniestr. The stink of Boris Yeltsin was the first thing capable of giving Alexander Lebed shell-shock.

Taibbi provides an overview of the catastrophe that was Yeltsin's government, and a merciless look at the man himself.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Wed Apr 25th, 2007 at 07:42:42 AM EST
Even if I blamed Yeltsin for every bad thing that happened in 1990s and didn't notice any good one appeared at the same time, I would definitely change my mind after reading this stupid, xenophobic squib, directed not only against Yeltsin but against a huge social group of Russian - those with serfdom/peasant past whose ancestors lived, according to this twat, in mud, misery and starvation.  Nobody denies the very severe conditions such people used to live in Russia but seems Americans have forgotten they have a similar huge group of people with similar past full of mud, misery and starvation?

I wonder if it would be OK for, say, a Russian Internet journalist who is not agree with Dubya's actions and not a big fan of Condy Rice reminds her and American nation in general that she  "was descended from a long line of drunken" niggers "of years of non-trying..." and that's exactly why she's so unsuccesful - who's gonna listen to the black bitch, after all?

I still remember the way Lebed pronounced the word "rotting" -- gnilit - and, of course, the twat can't remember what he never heard, or most probably, has never met  Lebed or any Russian speaking person at all, wasting time in one of a few Moscow bars visited by the American/British/Western Europe ex-pats who, due to their striking stupudity and laziness never managed to study at least a couple of Russian words. There's no such a word gnilit in Russian language, alas!

by lana on Thu Apr 26th, 2007 at 08:12:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not at all obvious to me at least that there is any sort of real "racism" on Taibbi's part. In fact the main brunt of MT's argument against Yeltsin is not the fact that he was indeed brought up under squalid conditions but against the soviet system that brought him to power:

During that time the Yeltsin family lived in a workers' barracks where men, women, children and the elderly slept on top of each other like animals and fought, literally fought with fists and lead pipes, for crusts of bread, or a few feet of space upon which to sleep at night. The communist government found its leaders among the meanest and greediest of the children who survived and thrived in places like this. Boris Yeltsin was such a child.

Taibbi and the exile routinely made unflattering comparisons between Russians and Americans - and not in his countrymen's favor. The stuff they have at one time or other said about the cultural base of the Bush supporters f.e. is very much more pointed.

As for the interview: it was real indeed. In fact Taibbi was living in Russia for over a decade, and made fun of exactly the American/British/Western Europe ex-pats who hung around in bars without contact with real Russians. In fact Taibbi, Ames and co were a rare source of "non standard" stories in Russian reality (random example). As for the gnili quote - could it be an issue of proof reading in RS, an extra letter, maybe?

Anyway my main point is this: I've been reading Taibbi for nearly a decade now, and the one thing that I didn't get the impression of - is some sort of racism on his part against russians - apart from his more general occasionally equal-opportunity misanthropic rants that is. Apart from that I don't think that any of the incidents he mentions are inaccurate.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Thu Apr 26th, 2007 at 12:34:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I happen to agree in part with both of you. Taibbi is a Good Guy, and Yeltsin deserving of this crushing obituary, but I sensed a heavy dose of urbanite preconceptions about peasants. Especially these parts:

He was descended from a long line of drunken peasants who in hundreds of years of non-trying had failed to escape the stinky-ass backwater of the Talitsky region, a barren landscape of mud and weeds whose history is so undistinguished that even the most talented Russian historians struggle to find mention of it in imperial documents.

Hundred years of non-trying? It wasn't like serfs had that many opportunities of trying. And lack of mention in imperial documents doesn't mean lack of culture, just lack of knowledge.

They would "razkulachivat" (de-kulak) the kulaks by denouncing them to the secret police and having them sent to prison camps -- and once they were safely gone, the little bastards would appropriate the boss's shit for themselves and spend their days getting drunk in his haystacks, a peasant version of paradise on earth.

While I read this as more sharp tongue against Yeltsin than serious social criticism, this peasant version of paradise on Earth is again a defty urbanite negative stereotype.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Apr 26th, 2007 at 03:33:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was going to say that but you saved me the trouble :-)  yup, matt is modelling for us all the urbanite's tender squeamishness about mud (and equating mud with ordure, and ordure with filth and awfulness -- that biophobia that runs so deep in our "superior," industrialised, antibiotic culture).

I remain very torn on the de-Kulakification history:  petty landlords can in fact be vile oppressors, and landless peasants probably had some very good longstanding reasons for rising up and seeking vengeance on the regional bigmen;  OTOH the Stalinist "collectivisation" was an industrial-farming model, based in mindless technophilia and gigantism, just as dumb and destructive as the industrial ag model anywhere else and not cushioned by massive national wealth, even deliberately sabotaged by its own leadership (the engineered Ukraine Famine)...  what a disaster.

gawd, the pity and the waste of it all.  and these clownish thugs (or thuggish clowns) repeatedly rising to the top... it's enough to make one despair entirely.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Apr 26th, 2007 at 08:29:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the de-kulakification, for some perspective: the original socialistic idea on agriculture was to get the land of aristocrats who lived off the work of others, but hwat became of this in the Soviet union went as far as the disposession of better-off farmers who minded their own land. On the Ukraine famine, I read of a newer analysis that it wasn't fully engineered, but arose from draconic measures to ensure supply for the Red Army, e.g. it started with punitive measures against farmers who refused to hand in enough. E.g. we must feed the army even if the peasants starve, and if they refuse we'll teach them a lesson...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Apr 27th, 2007 at 05:55:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hwat became of this in the Soviet union went as far as the disposession of better-off farmers who minded their own land

"Forced collectivisations" were one of the most incongrous [and ultimately criminal] policies advocated by the Anarchists in the Aragonese countryside during the Spanish civil war.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Apr 27th, 2007 at 06:01:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
forced collectivisation seems like a really warped, ineffectual method of land reform.  I understand the logic of breaking up huge estancias (much of which may be lying idle or "preserved" for aristocratic hobbies like hunting) to distribute smallholdings to the landless poor;  this is nothing more or less than a version of the ancient notion of the Jubilee Year in which accumulated wealth is levelled a bit, debts forgiven, and the market game reset for the next round of play.  but trying to force collectivisation is like a shotgun wedding;  if people don't know and trust each other and want to work in a communal enterprise then no amount of force will make them become a viable community.  however, afaik, when smallholders are encouraged to pursue their agrarian ambitions individually they fairly soon discover the benefits of forming co-ops, and (without anyone holding a gun to their heads) start to institute limited collectivisation out of simple common sense.  (some friendly acquaintances of mine in the back of beyond in the Cariboo are doing just this -- not a self-professing Commie amongst them, but they are co-investing in a communally owned forge among other shared resources).

analyses that I've read emphasise the Stalinists' fear of the Ukraine (the breadbasket of Russia) as a place that had autonomous food security and hence could not be easily brought into line with the will of the centralised Party apparatus in Moskva.  the need to "break" the Ukraine by destroying its food supplies and agrarian autarky is believed by some to parallel the destruction of indigenous agriculture by the Conquistadores and in more modern times, Mugabe's attack on urban farmers.  people with food security can hold out longer against authoritarian force...  people dependent on government handouts of basic rations for survival are less likely to bite the hand that feeds their kids.  so stealing Ukraine's food supplies to feed the Red Army could well have been a "win/win" situation for the Stalinists, kind of like the destruction of Iraq is for Halliburton and friends.  (it gets them control of the oil spigot and generates yummy cost-plus contracts with near-zero oversight for "reconstruction" of the stuff they destroyed.)

I still want to know how these psychopaths keep oiling and oozing their way into positions of power.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Apr 27th, 2007 at 10:11:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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