Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Boris Yeltsin, 1931-2007

In 1993 I was on the second of several trips I took to the former Soviet Union for an organization called the American Economic Foundation. Founded in the 1930s, the American Economic Foundation (no longer in existance) was designed to help teach people about the free enterprise system. In October of 1993 I was there as a Fellow of the Foundation doing seminars on how to convert the Communist market into a free market.

Just days before I left to go to Russia, the Communists took over the Russian "White House" (parliament building). I contacted the State Department and was assured that it should be safe, so my colleagues and I took off.

When I arrived I could tell things were different from my previous trip from a few months before. Armed soldiers were on every corner and tensions were very high. The State Department could give me every assurance that I was safe, but in the school classrooms I was lecturing about the virtues of the free market and condemning Communism. With them trying to throw over the government, I don't know if that was such a good idea at the time.

The Communists who had taken over the White House believed that friendly troops would come and back up their coup attempt and restore "order." Those troops never came. Between the time my flight left Moscow and landed in Germany, Boris Yeltsin ordered the Russian White House attacked (photo, left), the Communist surrendered and the coup was over. My trip went without incident.

With this back drop, I remember Boris Yeltsin rather fondly. The first popularly elected President in Russian history (and maybe the only one since he was followed by Vladimir Putin who has made it virtually impossible for challengers to the President to be competitive) was noted for his heavy drinking and continuous heart problems (whcih evenutally took his life); but he was also one of the first to challenge the government long before it was safe to do it. The one time Moscow Mayor was fired because of his efforts to force reformed and stood at the brink of ruin as he slowly worked his way back up the political ladder.

He often gave way to corruption in his government, he had few reforms of his own to look back upon, and his legacy is one of alchohol abuse and placing blame on others. Yet, he is also one of the most important reformers in Russian history. Arguably, he is every bit as important as Mikhail Gorbachev in the country's move from the old Soviet system.

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Anonymous Sasha said...

Boris Yeltsin was just another drunk Russian dictator.

1:24 PM  

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