Select language:

Remembering Yeltsin

 / Главная / Russkiy Mir Foundation / Publications / Remembering Yeltsin

Remembering Yeltsin

23.04.2008

The anniversary of Yeltsin’s death, perhaps, is one of those events that is simply impossible to avoid paying attention to. It might be possible in theory, and one might even want to, but it doesn’t happen. Why? Because fundamental changes in the life of the Russian world are connected with the Yeltsin name. To start with, we will refrain from defining these changes in any particular way.

The events surrounding the anniversary of the death of Russia’s first president are interesting in their own right. A monument to Yeltsin, completed by the sculptor Georgy Frangulyan, was unveiled at the Novodevichy cemetery with Russia’s newly elected president and current president attending. The monument, which resembles a Russian tricolor flag flapping in the wind, is built from marble, terrazzo and porphyry. The Ural State Technical University, as well as a street in Ekaterinburg, will now bear Yeltsin’s name.

Streets and universities receiving the names of deceased leaders is a tradition associated with the Soviet past, although there is nothing inherently Soviet about the practice. Such renaming takes place around the world. The Soviet period merely reminds us of the excesses that took place. And while the formalities of renaming were followed, no one in the city was really asked his or her opinion on the issue.  A street and university in Yeltsin’s hometown are hardly modest, and it is difficult to say whether people here agree with the name change. But, alas, the formal rules were followed.

The monument at the Novodevichy cemetery is interesting for another reason. It is difficult to imagine something clashing more with the style of a churchyard cemetery than a bright tricolor, even more so with a dark blue terrazzo. A year ago, after Yeltsin’s funeral, everyone began to remember a different leader, one who was buried in the same place as Nikita Khrushchev and, of course, the black and white monument by Ernst Neizvestny. The Yeltsin family, however, who approved of Frangulyan’s monument, decided not to draw attention to the inconsistencies and ambiguity surrounding Yeltsin himself.

Incidentally, it is possible that what is at issue here is the fact that the monument to Yeltsin does not fit into the general design of the Novodevichy cemetery – an idiosyncratic sculpture from Russian and Soviet history – which highlights the contradiction much more brightly.

Yeltsin resigned and virtually stayed in the shadows from public life for more than seven years. For a state leader, this is almost equivalent to death itself. In any event, he was talked about as a “thing of the past” whose era had ended and who would no longer return to that “life,” that we know from newspapers and television long before his departure. What exactly was said about Yeltsin is another issue. But in any event, hardly anyone was neutral when judging his actions.

These judgments could not be more different. Yeltsin either “ruined a great power” (which is what the majority of the Russian population believe) or he “saved the country from impending catastrophe.” Russia’s first president either plunged the country into darkness” or “prevented the breakup of Russia.” Either he “shot at parliament” or he “led the country along a path of democratic development;” either “drove the country into poverty” or “saved it from inevitable economic collapse.”

To say that “truth lies somewhere in the middle” is silly in this case. It is unclear what kind of “middle” can exist here. Most likely, we have long been doomed to tossing and turning between extreme social judgments – either one or the other will have the advantage. That is what has already been going on for a long time with Lenin, Peter the Great and, to some extent, Ivan the Terrible. In other words, with those who stood at the fountainhead of truly fundamental changes in the life of the country.
The emergence of a massive Russian-speaking diaspora in the newly independent states and the rise of official problems concerning Russian at the state level is part of the legacy of the Yeltsin era. So too is the formation of the state that we live in today and which is called Russia. Yeltsin’s name is connected with a rejection of the Communist and Soviet tradition, at least on an external level. This was also an ambiguous process, one whose affirmation has served first of all the mass phenomenon of nostalgia for the Soviet era and secondly the rise of a post-Yeltsin power system that many have regarded as Soviet in nature. Nevertheless, it was Yeltsin who made it possible to make use of pre-Communist Russian traditions in the new environment. Another question, though, is when and to what extent such use has proven appropriate and successful. 

The possibility of not losing one’s ties to the Motherland when moving abroad to work, the possibility of planning both a departure and a return – and together with this the appearance of qualitatively different Russian-speaking diasporas abroad are also connected with the Yeltsin era (we won’t begin to speak now about why many well-educated people from Russia sought work and continue to seek work abroad).

One could spend a long time listing all the new aspects of life that are in one way or another connected with Yeltsin. During his time we truly began to live in a different era, but striking a balance between the “profits” and “losses,” the good and the bad sides, is a useless exercise. Everyone who lived during his administration has been quick to judge. A much deeper evaluation, however, will be possible only after 30-50 years. Right now our task is simply to recognize that the main constants in the reality of today’s Russia were put in place during the Yeltsin era. And that is something we will have to live with.

Rubric:
Subject:
Tags:

New publications

The American Sean Quirk, who is one of musicians and the manager of the well-known in Russia and beyond Tuvinian Alash ensemble, speaks four languages. On foreign tours, he announces the songs of the ensemble in English and sings Tuvan folk songs to the public and for himself. He can please the audience with a ditty in Russian when he is asked to. Besides that, Quirk reads books in the language of his ancestors - Old Irish.
A round-the-world expedition of three Russian sailboats - the frigate Pallada and the barges Kruzenshtern and Sedov is going to start this autumn. All three sailing ships of Russian Federal Fisheries Agency have already been on the round-the-globe trips but an event of such a grand scale takes place for the first time.
How to motivate students to learn Russian language, especially if this is an extra one? Ireland teachers invented an unusual way to put together Russian classical literature and cuisine. As a result, kids don't only read Gogol and Pushkin, but also learn old recipes described in those books. They try to cook at home dishes described by great Russian writers. One of the authors of the Inspired by Food project Alexandra Puliaevskaya shares the “delicious reading” recipe.
Aloi Pilioko, a Russian Polynesian who was a longtime friend with Nicolai Michoutouchkine, a French artist of Russian origin, lives on the distant island of Vanuatu in Melanesia. Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay is still remembered in Papua New Guinea; and even Russian words are used there in speech. However there is even more surprising fact: the Papuans’ life is somewhat similar to life in remote Russian villages. We spoke to Andrey Tutorskiy, an ethnographer, associate professor of the Ethnology Department of the History Faculty in the Lomonosov Moscow State University, about this distant and exotic region and about its links to Russia.
In recent years mysteries of Tunguska meteorite have been again attracting scientists from various countries of the world to Siberia. This summer the latest International expedition has come to completion in the Tunguska Nature Reserve. Professionals from Russia, the USA, Italy and the Czech Republic took part in it. One hundred and eleven years after the meteorite’s fall into the Siberian taiga, scientists still endeavour to figure out its impact onto the ecosystem.
The Golden Ring of the Bosporan Kingdom tourist project, which brings together the most interesting monuments and artifacts of antiquity from ten cities in four regions of Russia, holds its first summer season. Hundreds of Russians and foreigners took part in it and discovered ancient Russia. Travel agencies participating in the project opened the bus and sea tours of the "Bosporan" cities lasting from three days to a week.
Municipal Educational Council in San Francisco has taken a decision to paint over the murals on the walls of the local George Washington High School. According to the Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS), it was recommended by the Reflection and Action Group designated by San Francisco municipal School District. What is so remarkable about these paintings and why is the situation so interesting for the Russkiy Mir? Actually, the thirteen panels of The Life of George Washington mural were painted in 1935-1936 by Viktor Arnautoff, a Russian émigré artist.
Touring schedule of the Alash ensemble from Tuva Republic during the International Indeginious People's Languages Year hasn't change. Seven months a year best throat singing ensemble is touring around Russia and abroad, during the rest of the year they are collecting folklore gems in Tuva and prepare new shows.After booked-out shows in os Angeles and Tokio, the musicians need to rest at home in taiga, alone with nature and herds of horses.