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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mistaken About Yeltsin

On the eve of the first round of presidential elections, I wrote in these pages: "Voting for the current leadership is difficult. Can such people effectively govern Russia and stand up for its honor and dignity?"


Several months later, I believe the answer is that they cannot.


I have actively supported President Boris Yeltsin over the past few years in the press and in public speeches during national elections. And perhaps this is why I find it particularly difficult to admit that I was mistaken. Yeltsin turned out to be not a leader who is able to intelligently run the country, but a tsar ruling over a court that has managed to take power into its own hands and use it for its own fabulous personal enrichment.


Yeltsin today is reminiscent of the former general secretary Leonid Brezhnev in his last years in power. Brezhnev, too, handed over the reins of power to those who were close to him and let them do as they wished. The results are well known. Russian society, however, is no longer likely, against common sense, to sing the praises of its leadership. The country is seething, and the people are expressing their dissatisfaction more and more openly.


Indeed, how can anyone be expected to tolerate the months-long non-payment of wages; the open bribery and insolent corruption of officials; the blatant neglect of the problems in Russia's northern territories, where many are simply struggling for their physical survival; the degradation and demoralization of the armed forces and the financial machinations of the army leadership; the decline of the agricultural sector as well as the collapse of industry, science, education and health care. Under the communists, there was no sense that such vital problems were so callously ignored.


The country is undergoing a siphoning-off of financial resources from industries and banks into the private hands of dishonest officials. And the Russian people are coming to the conclusion that the government does not have control over the situation.


Added to the political disorder is an outbreak of crime at every official level, especially in the provinces, and the dependence in certain regions of the prosecutor's office and courts on the local executive authorities.


All this attests to the fact that the country is getting out of control. And people are growing nostalgic for a strong hand. This state of lawlessness in turn is opening the way for dictatorship and the rejection of democratic values.


The gubernatorial elections in the regions seem to show that the notion of interdependence between the capital and the provinces is lost. In fact, how can federal authority be maintained when some local leaders in the regions have managed to squeeze privileges for their territories out of the Moscow establishment, while others have not. Why should Tatarstan be granted unwarranted privileges, for example, at the expense of the Perm or Kirov regions?


Russians are also concerned over the growing dependence of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States on Russia. Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin seem to be more concerned with supporting the national elite rather than satisfying the needs of their people in the regions. The CIS debt to Russia has already reached $9 billion by some estimates, and it continues to grow.


The situation of fellow Russians living beyond Russia's borders is also cause for concern for millions of Russian citizens who worry about the fate of the close friends and family from whom they have been separated. But the Kremlin seems to have no awareness or desire to even solve the problem.


There is one other circumstance that has debased the government in the people's eyes. Russian society feels betrayed by the revelation of the president's serious illness, which had been so thoroughly covered up. It feels betrayed because not long ago people went to the ballot box thinking they were voting for an able-bodied man. And then it was explained that Yeltsin was already very sick on the eve of the deciding vote.


Another deception by the leadership also became more evident. Shortly before the elections, many people who had not been given their wages were paid. At that time, people believed there had been some kind of accounting error and that now that the leadership had settled the problem, wages and pensions would be paid out as usual. But it turned out that the haste with which the wages were paid back was only a pre-election campaign trick designed to win over the people.


This deception was carried out by the current finance minister, Alexander Livshits, who was then a presidential aide. Livshits knew what he was doing and used these dishonest means to stay in power.


This diminishes the leadership's authority, who seem in the eyes of many people to be insincere and incapable of effectively governing and defending the state's national interests. But it is precisely such a leadership, such a president and government of a great power, that suits the leaders of other countries, especially those that are closest to Russia.


The many families that are left without the means for survival, given the failures of the current leadership, are stirring up passions in society. People are expressing their discontent more and more loudly and are ready to take extreme measures.


How are the authorities responding to these calls? What are they waiting for? An explosion? God save Russia from this.


Politicians, like self-respecting performers who hope to remembered well, should leave the stage when they are no longer fit to act. But it seems that Russia has still not reached the stage for an understanding of such principles of a democratic society.





Viktor Rodionov is a freelance journalist. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.