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Ruskie Bites the Dust-kie

I'm not really dead! Just really, really hungover!Back in Plaid!  Let’s get back into it with a bit of bantering about Boris…Boris Yeltsin that is: a huge figure, literally and figuratively, of the 20th century that you should at least have a working knowledge of. He is the guy who oversaw the transformation of the USSR into what we call Russia today. And what a transition it was!  It’s nothing short of a miracle that this guy survived his time in office, much less all the vodka he drank while doing it! But I digress…

Yeltsin is laid to rest in Moscow

Lost on the Road to Yeltsin’s New Era

Memories of Yeltsin

Ah…..a man after my own heart! Revolutionary leader, statesman, reformer…and a total drunk to boot.  What a combo!  This rant won’t be long, but let me at least point out several things this guy did to make the history books.

First off, who was this dude?  Boris Yeltsin was originally a building engineer by training, but entered politics at an early age and never looked back.  Of course, if you are a politician in the USSR, then you are by default a communist party member too—after all it was the only political party to be in, and all the cool kids were commies since the Stalin era.  So Boris was a commie working his way up the ranks of leadership up until the late 1980’s…you know, when things really turn to shit for the USSR. The Cold War was winding down, while Ronald Reagan was ratcheting up the heat on the ‘Evil Empire’ by building more bombs than ever.  Ron Rocks!

So Yeltsin becomes somewhat of a visionary by figuring out that the soviet system was going to collapse, and he actually started speaking out for reform and accountability, which of course got him fired.  But his cult of personality had already started in Moscow, and people liked the dude, and they simultaneously hated the commies, so his popularity grew. He was elected to the Russian Congress, and in 1991 he was elected as the President of Russia. (Remember, at this time Russia is simply one of the Republics in the greater USSR political organization, a sub-state if you will.)

Gorbachev: Maybe Boris spilled wine on his head?

What happened next is out of a storybook. The leader of the entire USSR at the time was Mikhail Gorbachev—you know, guy with the wine stain on his forehead—was trying himself to reform the crap-ass soviet system, while desperately trying to hold the impending shit-storm of a strained socialism together.  In August of 1991, some hard-line commie hold-outs staged a coup to depose Gorbachev, and guess who comes to the rescue?  You know this! Our main booze-hound Boris!  He rallied the population, made a speech from atop a tank, re-captured the ‘White House’, and restored Gorbachev to power.  All while brown-bagging a handle of Smirnoff! Wow! That is a historical figure I can rally behind!

Gorbachev was back in power, but the back of the soviet system was now totally broke. Yeltsin was now the man! In a matter of months, the Russian government assumed all powers of the Soviet government (you follow me here?), and in November of 1991, Yeltsin outlawed the Commie Party outright.  In December, he set up the dissolution of the USSR into the independent states that you see on the map today.  On Christmas Eve, Boris assumed the USSR seat at the UN in Russia‘s name, and officially declared the end of the Soviet Union. Game over dude.  Cold War done.

And now I can more succinctly summarize what he did while in office as Russia‘s first President (ever!) from 1991-1999. Yeltsin can be credited/blamed for several things of particular note:

  1. Shift to market economy: He oversaw the transition from socialism to capitalism in what can only be called a ‘wild west show’ of privatization. During this orgy of capitalism, massive government rip-offs occurred which brought tremendous wealth to a small class of businessmen—now called the ‘oligarchs’, remember that from class?  This transition initially caused widespread turmoil and near economic collapse, but it seems to have leveled off after a decade. It just happened so damn fast! People were in shock, and in fact Boris called his plan “Shock Therapy”.
  2. When this shock took full force, the Russian “congress” basically revolted in 1993 and was going to toss old Boris out, but he sent in the army tanks to shell the senators back into place. Seriously!  He fired rounds at the damn building in order to maintain the fledgling democracy!  This guy was nuts!  The other use of military force that Yeltsin will be remembered for is the start of the war in Chechnya in 1994: a conflict which has mired Russia in death and destruction right on up to the present.  He did this on the grounds of maintaining the integrity of the Russian state…but at a terrible cost so far.
  3. Entrenched democracy: Oversaw first full ‘real’ elections in 1996, which he won, but by all accounts was pretty darn fairly run.  Also, his stepping down in 1999 is a momentous event in that it’s always the first real test of a true democracy when the first transition of power happens willingly, and peacefully.  And that’s exactly how Boris did it.  And who did he hand power to?  Why our main man in Russia, Vlad ‘The Man’ Putin of course! Party like Putin!

Boris paved the way for Putin!!!

Of course I need to finish this rant with the booze. Boris loved the booze man!  He was widely considered a drunk by his opponents, and a hard partier by his allies…hey, that’s kind of like me!  He was often tipsy at meetings, late for appointments, or just overslept his duties outright trying to beat down hangovers. One famous story concerned Yeltsin flying to Ireland for a meeting with the President, and being so drunk he could not even get off the plane! Ha! That’s usually how people leave Ireland, not arrive in it!

He was a loose cannon, a partier and possibly a drunk….and that’s why people were drawn to him. His easy-going friendly nature made him extremely popular in Russian eyes (they aren’t the friendliest folks, those Russians) and abroad.  His was a big figure who oversaw big changes in the biggest country in the world.  And through one of its most turbulent periods ever too! Perhaps it took a drunk like Boris to be able to survive thru such events and still maintain a sense of humor, and still get things done.  Either way, he was a unique individual who made a big mark in history.  And probably left a big unpaid tab at the local pub too.

It may take years for the Russian vodka industry to recover from the economic shock of his passing…

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