Boris Yeltsin 1931-2007

By now you are probably aware that Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet president, passed away today. His legacy is complicated to say the least, and while at the moment I don’t have anything of great value to add to this crowded debate, here is a round up of obituaries and reflections that various newspaper editors had stored in their top drawers. yeltsin.jpg BBC: Russian ex-president Yeltsin dies

Mr Gorbachev paid a mixed tribute to his successor, saying Mr Yeltsin was responsible for “many great deeds for the good of the country and serious mistakes”, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

Telegraph: Former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin dies

Mr Yeltsin was a contradictory figure, rising to popularity in the Communist era on pledges to fight corruption – but proving unable, or unwilling, to prevent the looting of state industry as it moved into private hands during his nine years as Russia’s first freely-elected president.

Times of London: Boris Yeltsin dies, aged 76

Yeltsin made a stunning debut as president. He introduced many basics of democracy, guaranteeing the rights to free speech, private property and multiparty elections, and opening the borders to trade and travel.

But he was at best an inconsistent reformer who never took much interest in the mundane tasks of day-to-day administration – preferring instead to sack his government and appoint a new one when things went wrong. In 1998-99, as the economy fell into a deep recession, he fired his entire government four times.

Chicago Tribune: Passing of a ‘complex and enigmatic’ democrat

Like Russia, Yeltsin was complex and enigmatic. Also like Russia, he professed democratic ideals but struggled to live up to them. He often chose conflict over compromise, and in his efforts to thwart his enemies and enhance his power he trampled over the rule of law and the will of his people.

AP: Flawed but fearless defender of democracy TIME: Boris Yeltsin: The Man Atop the Tank

In the end, Yeltsin will be better remembered for that dramatic moment when he jumped on the tank to stop others from taking power through a coup rather than for what he achieved once in power himself.

Economist: Bye-bye Boris

All the same, Mr Yeltsin stood for three fundamental principles. He believed in freedom of speech, including freedom of the press, no matter what. He wanted Russia to be friends with the west. And he despised the Communist party and everything it stood for—particularly the KGB. It was a tragedy that he did not dissolve it fully in 1991, when he had the chance. It was an irony that the candidate his family chose as a safe successor, the cautious, little-known ex-KGB man, Mr Putin, should have done so much to reverse his legacy, blaming so many of Russia’s ills on what he calls the “chaos” of the 1990s.

Reuters: Russia’s Yeltsin known for gaffes, off-colour jokes

In 1989, Mr. Yeltsin had to account to the Supreme Soviet how he had ended up at a police post outside Moscow dripping wet and wearing only his underwear. He said he had been attacked, his head covered in a sack and dumped off a bridge into a river. Top communists said he had been drunk while on his way to a tryst with a lover. Once in office, with the Soviet Union replaced by 15 states, Mr. Yeltsin’s antics attracted world-wide television attention. In 1992, he played the spoons, a popular musical instrument in Russia, on the head of Askar Akayev, the president of ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. In 1994, Mr. Yeltsin shocked officials during a picnic on a boat steaming down the Volga by suddenly ordering his border guards to toss his spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov into the cold river. Officials marking the departure of the last Russian troops from Germany the same year looked on aghast as he stumbled after a champagne lunch, seized the baton from the leader of a military band and insisted on doing the conducting himself. Later the same day, he grabbed a microphone at a reception and sang tunelessly. In perhaps the most celebrated incident, Mr. Yeltsin failed to emerge from his plane for talks with Ireland’s prime minister during a stopover at Shannon airport in 1994, leaving his hosts stunned on the tarmac.

New York Times: Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s First Post-Soviet Leader, Is Dead

Mr. Yeltsin was a moody man, subject to occasional glooms and lassitudes, and wrote in his autobiography of being plagued with worry, of bending under the burdens he carried: “The debilitating bouts of depression, the grave second thoughts, the insomnia and headaches in the middle of the night, the tears and despair, the sadness at the appearance of Moscow and other Russian cities, the flood of criticism from the newspapers and television every day, the harassment campaign at the Congress sessions, the entire burden of the decisions made, the hurt from people close to me who did not support me at the last minute, who didn’t hold up, who deceived me – I have had to bear all of this.”

Washington Post: Former Russian Leader Boris Yeltsin, 76, Dies

“He created a new kind of power,” said Vladislav Starkov, editor of the weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty. “He created a new economic situation. A new psychological situation. A new international policy. A new Russian mentality. Of course, there were many mistakes, stupidities. But today we live with and take for granted absolutely new political ideas and institutions . . . This is Yeltsin’s legacy.”

Guardian: How Yeltsin helped thaw the big freeze with Britain

Later the same day, Mr Yeltsin made a symbolic visit to the heart of capitalism, London’s stock exchange. The next day, he enjoyed the rare honour of being invited to address a joint session of both houses of parliament. Lunching with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, he invited her to visit Russia. And in October 1994, the thaw in the relationship between Britain and Russia was completed when the Queen finally accepted the invitation. The visit to Moscow put an end to more than seven decades of estrangement between the Kremlin and Europe’s royalty over the murder in 1918 of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife and children, who were relatives of the British royal family. Becoming the first British monarch to set foot in Russia since 1908, the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, received the warmest of welcomes from her host. Mr Yeltsin pulled out all the stops, treating his visitors to a glittering reception at the Kremlin and a visit to the Bolshoi ballet.