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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Four Writers Of Yeltsin's Speeches Find Voices




When he watches President Boris Yeltsin's performance on television these days, Konstantin Nikiforov tries to view the spectacle with a professional's eye.


"From a speechwriter's perspective, there are so many sound bites, it's really difficult to analyze," Nikoforov, who helped pen Yeltsin's speeches for eight years, said in an interview last week. "In the majority of cases, it's just improvisation."


His colleague Alexander Ilyin agreed with a sigh.


"And all these improvisations are not very successful," Ilyin added.


Nikiforov and Ilyin, together with Lyudmila Pikhoya and Vladimir Kadatsky, stuck it out through the best and the worst with Yeltsin f from his moments of glory to the darkest days of his presidency, in sickness and in health.


Even when Russian jets were bombing the breakaway southern republic of Chechnya in 1994-96, or when tanks were bombarding the rebellious parliament in 1993, Yeltsin's public speeches were infused with a liberal spirit.


Now the four have given up, and written a book, a post-mortem on their work in the Kremlin as the authors of Yeltsin's public image, his spichraitery.


Their book, "The Echo of the Word: From the Professional Experience of the Speechwriters of the First President of Russia," was released last Wednesday at a reception attended by stars, fallen and otherwise, of the country's political elite.


It contains a smattering of operative advice acquired "on the march" on how to prepare the toasts for the leader to pronounce at official banquets and how to fend off malicious questions from journalists. Some suggestions are disingenuous in their simplicity: "brainstorming sessions may be held in the speechwriters' office or in an informal setting." Throughout are scattered excerpts from the speeches, presented as examples, and short reminiscences that rarely give details or insights into Kremlin life.


The book was published by Nikkolo M, a high-flying consultancy that worked with Yeltsin on his re-election campaign.


The speechwriters have joined Nikkolo M's stable of specialists, hired guns for political hopefuls cranking up their campaigns for the State Duma and the presidency. Elections are set for December 1999 and June 2000 respectively.


They were the last holdouts from a team of liberal intellectuals who had joined Yeltsin in the Kremlin in 1992 with little political experience but high hopes for what they remember as a dynamic, energetic president.


"We didn't come to the president as ready-made speechwriters," Pikhoya said. "But we all had rich life experience and professional experience."


They have been officially replaced in the Kremlin by Andrei Shtorkh, described by Russian media as the first professional journalist to write Yeltsin's speeches. Yeltsin's official "image adviser" since mid-1996 has been his daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko.


The work of the current image team does not impress the veteran speechwriters.


"They've stopped preparing the sound bites altogether," Ilyin speculated.


For now, they are reserving judgment until they hear the president's yearly address to parliament, a document they were once charged with writing. This year's address has been put off indefinitely due to Yeltsin's hospitalization.


The four still attempt to promote an image of Yeltsin as he was when they joined him. They say that despite nearly constant sickness since his re-election (he currently is in the hospital for treatment of a bleeding ulcer), his inner circle is sicker still f and has been since just after Yeltsin's 1996 re-election.


"The illness itself isn't the greatest evil," Nikiforov said. "The president is not only the head of state, not just a person. The president is a state institution. The president himself isn't so much sick as the Kremlin institution. The team of the president is sick."


"At earlier stages [in Yeltsin's presidency], there was always hope that we could have a positive influence," he said. "In this last period, we buried our hopes."