Former Russian Leader Boris Yeltsin Dead at 76The flamboyant Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), died today of heart failure at the age of 76. Russia's first freely elected president has been credited with engineering the final collapse of the Soviet Union and pushing the country into democracy and a market economy.
The Financial Times comments, “Boris Yeltsin had the physical and moral strength to bear on his shoulders the colossal burden of a country in a ferment of transition, its economy struggling with the twin tasks of discarding a tenacious old system and adjusting to an unfamiliarly fast-moving new one. At the beginning of his rule he was able to grasp, either instinctively or through a quick intelligence, much of what was required.”
His contemporaries may judge him a bit harsher remembering him for being out of touch and hesitant to act against crime and corruption. Yet on the international stage, many will remember when in August 1991, he climbed on top of a tank to successfully stare down a coup attempt against Gorbachev. His open defiance clearly marked the end of the USSR.
Yeltsin’s leadership by and large, did not rely on status and fear. Very much the strategic leader, he developed a populist style. He had an ability to connect with the Russian people. It is from here that he derived much of his power. His problem was that didn’t really didn’t know what to do with the power once he got it.
The Economist concludes, “The former construction engineer was not a great builder of institutions; the democracy was flawed. But he had the right instincts. For liberating Russians from the yoke of the one-party state and the planned economy, he deserves immense gratitude. Yet his nepotistic and capricious rule spawned colossal lawlessness and corruption, paving the way for his authoritarian successor, Vladimir Putin.”
World Reaction to His Death:
Former Soviet President Gorbachev: "I express the very deepest condolences to the family of the deceased on whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country and serious mistakes. A tragic fate."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "It is with sadness that I learned of the death of former president Yeltsin. He was a remarkable man who saw the need for democratic and economic reform and in defending it played a vital role at a crucial time in Russia's history."
Exiled Russian multi-millionaire and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Boris Berezovsky: "For me personally he was a teacher -- he made me a free person. If my mother taught me how to love then Yeltsin taught me not only how to understand what a free person is but also how to become free.
"Russia has a lost a brilliant reformer. No-one has done as much for Russia as Yeltsin did. He was a unique person and absolutely Russian in his soul, in his impulsiveness and in his intellect."
Vytautas Landsbergis, first president of Lithuania after it was declared independent from the Soviet Union: "Yeltsin was a decent man and he could not stand political intrigues. His rise to the post of Russia's president was a very good thing for the Baltic states. It was Yeltsin's Russia, which recognized Lithuania's independence by signing a bilateral treaty in the summer of 1991. He also stood to defend us when Gorbachev let the Soviet troops storm buildings in Vilnius."
President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso: "Mr. Yeltsin was a key reference in the post-Communist transition in Russia. As president he had enormous challenges and difficult mandates but he certainly brought East and West closer together and helped replace confrontation by co-operation.
"He is best remembered when standing up to the coup d'etat aimed at restoring a dictatorial regime in Russia. With great personal courage he had merit in defending freedom. The Commission sends its condolences to Mr Yeltsin's family, the Russian authorities and the people of Russia."
Boris Yeltsin in his own words:
"A man must live like a great brilliant flame and burn as brightly as he can. In the end he burns out. But this is far better than a mean little flame."
"It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical: At such moments every new word and fresh thought is more precious than gold. Indeed, people must not be deprived of the right to think their own thoughts."
"You can make a throne of bayonets, but you can't sit on it for long."
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