I don’t know too much about the man, but being the first President of Russia, he’ll surely have a controversial legacy. On the one hand, Communism was A Bad Thing, and Yeltsin played a big role in ending it in Russia. On the other hand, he didn’t seem to be a particularly effective president, and Russia’s prestige seems like it dropped steeply during his tenure. On the other hand (and I’m aware that this is my third hand), it seems that he was far more committed to democracy than the Russian people were/are, as evidenced by the rise of Putin.
What do other Dopers think Mr. Yeltsin’s legacy will be?
A bad one. He basically handed the assets of the state-owned economy to well-connected people (instead of selling them off in an honest, transparent process), and shelling parliament (in the 1993 constitutional crisis) is a pretty original way of demonstrating one’s commitment to democracy.
There’s a vodka brand in Germany called Wodka Jelzin, and that’s mostly what we Germans will remember him by. (Gorbachev is still a hero in Germany BTW)
You have to make allowances for his time, place and circumstances. He had set himself the daunting (and in hindsight impossible) task of liberalizing the Soviet Union without destroying it. On balance, he was a better democrat than Yeltsin.
OTOH, he presided over the breakup of the Soviet Union. That may not have been good for Russia, but it was good for the rest of us, who really don’t ever again have to worry about the Russian army invading Europe.
Had Gorbachev simply announced one Monday morning, “Okay, to hell with Communism; it’s democracy, free markets and free press starting now, oh and fuck this whole USSR thing too,” he would have been out of office so fast the mark on his head would have slipped off in the jetstream. He then would have been replaced with a reactionary. Which, in fact, almost happened anyway.
Criticizing Gorbachev for not being a toal democrat is like criticizing Sir Isaac Newton for not figuring out general relativity. You’ve got to do things in a certain order, and what’s important is that Gorbachev moved things in the right direction as far as he could under the circumstances.
I remember back in the the late 80’s Gorbachev was scheduled to go to Cuba and we were all very, very anxious about it. Fidel had categorically rejected glasnost and perestroika and we all expected Gorbachev’s trip to include a smack down of Fidel about it. Who knows what might have happened or not, but that’s what we anticipated from the trip. And then an earthquake in the USSR forced the trip to be cancelled, which was followed within a year or two with the fall of Germany, so Gorbachev never made it to Cuba.
I’m not sure if you’re asking me to expand, and this is certainly a hijack, but here it goes. I was in school at the time, and we had heard all about perestroika and glasnost, how could we not? Cuba and USSR were intellectual partners. But we had also heard, through the grapevine nothing official, that although Raul, who is very much the ideologue-follow-orders-from-the-mothership type, wanted to jump into glasnost and perestroika with both feet, but Fidel had put a stop to that. We’d also heard that the USSR was not happy with Fidel’s choice, it would not do for a satellite to refuse orders from the mothership.
There was an actual buzz about Gorbachev’s trip, almost every conversation had to do with the anticipated changes, basically the ability to criticize the government. When the trip was cancelled it was a dissapointment, but not a huge one because the trip would take place a a later time, we were sure.
Once the eastern block nations started falling we knew Cuba would never see either glasnost or perestroika, at least not while Fidel was alive. I can imagine Fidel smacking Raul on the head and telling him “See!! I told you so!!!”
Boris Yeltsin was not a good President – but he accomplished what nobody else in history had been able to: to turn Russia into a functional democracy. Many of his economic moves were disastrous, as tschild noted. I suspect Russia will always be a “strong-leader” sort of country, and Yeltsin was emphatically not a populist. But after Gorbachev (a pragmatic realist) had opened the floodgates, Yeltsin produced a stable if somewhat corrupt structure. Putin has built on that to focus his own power, to a very great extent.
I do know that many Russians appear to look back on the 1990s as something of a golden time – the point at which Russians found a new birth of freedom from Soviet autocracy. In the last analysis, that is Yeltsin’s legacy.