Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Boris Yeltsin, 1931-2007

About a decade and a half ago, as the Cold War appeared to be winding down, a group of communist hardliners in Moscow attempted to to overthrow their reformist government. The following morning Boris Yeltsin, then president of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, stood on top of a tank in central Moscow and, shouting through a megaphone, pounded nails into the coffin of Soviet Communism. The beast died obediently enough shortly thereafter, and by the time Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as head of the USSR a few months later it no longer existed.

As word of Yeltsin's death flooded out yesterday, it was interesting to see what he was first remembered for--certainly that speech, but just as much the very public alcoholism of his political dotage, the economic failure that followed disastrously mismanaged market liberalisation, and the horrors of the war he oversaw in Chechnya.

Despite all this, I for one hope that history will recall him first as someone who, on the occasion of the most important event of his political life, chose to push things as hard as he could in the right direction. Boris Yeltsin was a drunk, an erratic and often irresponsible leader, and an architect of economic disaster. He was also, when history most needed it, exactly the right man in the right place at the right time. Things might have been much worse without him.
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