You know, reading all the remembrances of the newly deceased Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, I was most struck by this line by Robert Farley: “I’m not sure what else we could have expected.” Well, I personally think it’s quite clear what we should have expected, and it’s what we got in every other country in the Warsaw Pact: capitalism and liberal democracy. Poland got it. Czechoslovakia got it. Hungary got it. Even the Baltic states got it, and they weren’t even independent during the Cold War. But Boris Yeltsin wasn’t Lech Walesa, or Vaclav Havel. He was a corrupt, inept alcoholic, and should be remembered as the leader during Russia’s Weimar era, the all-too-brief interregnum between one tyranny and the next. And just as the Weimar Republic paved the way for Hitler, so Yeltsin paved the way for Putin. Indeed, he even proclaimed that he wished Putin to be his successor. Yeltsin at best allowed and at worst actively helped dictatorship take root in Russia. His legacy should be accordingly negative.

3 thoughts on “Yeltsin

  1. I have my doubts about Walesa. The real difference is between the nations themselves, for instance that Poland had had only 40 years of Communism while the Soviet Union had 70. Moreover, that in Poland Communism was an imperial fiat.
    Actually, I agree that good leadership can make a real difference in a country’s future. However, even that is not as simple as the one person at the top.

  2. I guess that’s kind of the point; Lech Walesa is not a great man, and even he was able to build a very stable democracy. Sure, the task was larger in Russia, but very similar in terms of restructuring government, building a working economy, creating a decent civil society, etc.

  3. No, there are some key differences. Poland was never fully immersed in the dystopia of Animal Farm and 1984. The Soviet Union had it for all of Stalin’s reign, which was 25 years. In Poland, the elder generation could remember life before Communism, whereas in the Soviet Union it lasted the full lifetime of almost all members of society.
    Moreover many Poles admire capitalism and the westernmost Western countries: the US, Britain, France. That’s partly because all of these countries have saved Poland from its tormentor neighbors. In Russia, capitalism is more method than salvation.
    Certainly on paper, there are some major similarities between Poland’s problems and Russia’s problems. But there are also fundamental cultural differences.

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