Boris Yeltsin

Soviet and Russian politician, 1st President of Russia (1931-2007)

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin [Бори́с Никола́евич Е́льцин] (1 February 193123 April 2007) was the first president of the Russian Federation.

A man must live like a great brilliant flame and burn as brightly as he can. In the end he burns out. But this is far better than a mean little flame.

QuotesEdit

 
Storm clouds of terror and dictatorship are gathering over the whole country... They must not be allowed to bring eternal night.

1980sEdit

  • Let's not talk about Communism. Communism was just an idea, just pie in the sky.
    • Comment during a visit to the United States, as quoted in The Independent [London] (12 September 1989)

1990sEdit

 
I as the elected President of Russia give you the order to turn your tanks and not to fight against your own people.
 
You can build a throne with bayonets, but it's difficult to sit on it.
 
Liberty sets the mind free, fosters independence and unorthodox thinking and ideas...
  • A man must live like a great brilliant flame and burn as brightly as he can. In the end he burns out. But this is far better than a mean little flame.
    • Statement to a TImes reporter in 1990, as quoted in "The wit and wisdom of Boris" in Guardian Unlimited (23 April 2007)
  • Despite all the difficulties and severe trials being experienced by the people, the democratic process in the country is acquiring an increasingly broad sweep and an irreversible character. The peoples of Russia are becoming masters of their destiny.
  • Storm clouds of terror and dictatorship are gathering over the whole country... They must not be allowed to bring eternal night.
  • Your commanders have ordered you to storm the White House and to arrest me. But I as the elected President of Russia give you the order to turn your tanks and not to fight against your own people.
    • Appeal to the military to not participate in the coup attempt, while standing on a tank during troop movements against the Russian White House. (19 August 1991)
  • I believe in this tragic hour you can make the right choice. The honor and glory of Russian men of arms shall not be stained with the blood of the people.
    • Appeal to the military to not participate in the coup attempt. (19 August 1991)
  • Using the traditional demagoguery, which has been tried and tested over the years, the putschists blame all our current difficulties on the democrats and promise economic recovery and a better life, security and prosperity for the citizens of the USSR. What a hypocritical lie! Surely Pavlov is responsible for rocketing inflation and unprecedented price rises this year? Surely Yazov as leader of the most corrupt highest placed generals, is responsible for the poverty and lawlessness of our servicemen? Surely Pugo bears personal responsibility for the blood shed in the Baltic republics? Surely Starodubtsev, leader of the organization of Soviet land-owners is to blame, owing to the stance he assumed, for the abortive collection of last year’s bumper crops? And these are the people who promise to “restore order in the country!”
  • Perhaps, for the first time ever there is now a real chance to put an end to despotism and to dismantle the totalitarian order, whatever shape it may take. I trust that after all the unthinkable tragedies and tremendous losses that it has suffered, mankind will reject this legacy. It will not allow the 21st century to bring new suffering and deprivations to our children and grandchildren.
    • Address to the U.N. Security Council (31 January 1992)
  • For many years our two nations were the two powers, the two opposites. They wanted to make us implacable enemies, that effected the destinies of the world in a most tragic way. The world was shaken by the storms of confrontation. It was close to exploding, close to perishing, beyond salvation. That evil scenario is becoming a thing of the past. Reason begins to triumph over madness. We have left behind the period when America and Russia looked at each other through gun sites ready to pull the trigger at any time. Despite what we saw in the well-known American film, The Day After, it can be said today, tomorrow will be a day of peace, a day less of fear and more of hope for the happiness of our children. The world can sigh in relief. The idol of communism which spread everywhere social strife, animosity and unparalleled brutality which instilled fear in humanity has collapsed. It has collapsed never to rise again. I am here to assure you we shall not let it rise again in our land. I am proud that the people of Russia have found strength to shake off the crushing burden of the totalitarian system. I am proud that I am addressing you on behalf of the great people whose dignity is restored. I admire ordinary Russian men and women who in spite of s...severe trials have preserved their intellectual integrity and are enduring tremendous hardships for the sake of the revival of their country. Russia has made its final choice in favor of a civilized way of life, common sense and universal human heritage. I am convinced that our people will reach that goal. There is no people on this earth who could be harmed by the air of freedom. There are no exceptions to that rule.
  • You can build a throne with bayonets, but it's difficult to sit on it.
    • Televised speech (4 October 1993), as quoted in A Democracy of Despots (1995) by Donald Murray. p. 8
    • Variant translations: You can make a throne of bayonets, but you can't sit on it for long.
      You can build a throne with bayonets, but you can't sit on it for long.
  • Liberty sets the mind free, fosters independence and unorthodox thinking and ideas. But it does not offer instant prosperity or happiness and wealth to everyone. This is something that politicians in particular must keep in mind.
    • As quoted in Russia and the Independent States (1993) by Daniel C. Diller, p. 446
  • There are numerous bugbears in the profession of a politician. First, ordinary life suffers. Second, there are many temptations to ruin you and those around you. And I suppose third, and this is rarely discussed, people at the top generally have no friends.
    • The Struggle for Russia (1994)
  • Today is the last day of an era past.
    • Speech at a Berlin ceremony to end the Russian military presence in Germany (1 September 1994)
  • History demonstrates that it is a dangerous delusion to suppose that the destinies of continents and of the world community in general can somehow be managed from one single capital
    • Address to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Budapest opposing the expansion of NATO (6 December 1994)
  • One could see that what you are writing was that today's meeting with President Bill Clinton was going to be a disaster. Now, for the first time, I can tell you that you are a disaster.
  • Then some sort of election race is being created. The elections are not until the year 2000, but already now such a situation is being created that everybody seems to be striving for elections. Of course, such a situation cannot be tolerated any more. Here, on the contrary, there must be a united team. The team must be close-knit and work as a single fist.
  • Russia has entered the year 1997 with a heavy burden of problems and the situation in the country is extremely complex, above all as concerns the economy. We have failed to stop the production slump and ensure the influx of investments. Society's belief in the ability of the power structures to stop the onslaught of crime is being undermined. It is ever more difficult to provide the armed forces with the essentials. The already low standard of living for the majority of Russian citizens continues to decline. People are suffering from delays in the payment of wages, pensions and benefits. All efforts to solve this problem have failed to yield tangible results
  • It is time to have order. First of all, inside the power structures. And I will have it. I am not satisfied with the government. The executive power has proved unable to work without presidential peremptory shouts. Most of the promises given to the people, particularly as concerns social questions have not been fulfilled. I have prepared a package of important and urgent measures. The structure of the government will change. Competent, energetic people will join it. I will announce within the next few days. But emergency measures are not enough. For this reason we shall begin to restore order to the entire system of bodies of state authority, state finances, regulation of the economy, and the fulfillment of social promises of the state, and we shall do it this year. This year, we shall draft and approve a program of radical reform of the executive power. Its aim is to radically enhance the efficiency of the state government.
  • Great harm to the country is done by the passing of laws that cannot be implemented. No allocations for them are envisaged in the budget. The deputies are aware of this, but still insist on passing laws that require tens of trillions of roubles to implement. It is strange that the authoritative and experienced regional leaders -- members of the Federation Council.
  • I told NATO, the Americans, the Germans, don't push us towards military action. Otherwise there will be a European war for sure and possibly world war.
  • A sense of proportion and humanitarian action are not issues for terrorists. Their aim is that of killing and destroying.
    • Speech at a summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Istanbul, Turkey, as quoted in BBC World Service (19 November 1999)

Against the Grain (1990)Edit

 
Dissidents should be paid 13 months' salary for a year, otherwise our mindless unanimity will bring us to an even more hopeless state of stagnation.
Against the Grain : An Autobiography (1990)
 
It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical: At such moments every new word and fresh thought is more precious than gold. Indeed, people must not be deprived of the right to think their own thoughts.
  • Dissidents should be paid 13 months' salary for a year, otherwise our mindless unanimity will bring us to an even more hopeless state of stagnation. It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical: At such moments every new word and fresh thought is more precious than gold. Indeed, people must not be deprived of the right to think their own thoughts.
    • p. 172
  • I am convinced that the moment is coming when, with its message of eternal, universal values, it will come to the aid of our society. For in these words: "Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," lie those very moral principles that will enable us to survive even the most critical situations.
    • On the renewal of the Christian church in Russia, p. 251

There won't be a civil war (1991)Edit

Interview in Ogonek (23 March 1991)

  • Quite recently I spoke to very different audiences in Yaroslavl, Kaliningrad, and Novgorod provinces. And although I met with workers, intellectuals, peasants, military men, party employees, and managerial employees, people with diverse political views, sympathies, and passions, it will be a long time before I will be able to recall such unanimity on the most important point, that is, the understanding that the country has reached the very final stage of collapse and that there is no longer anywhere to fall back to. The people who led one of the wealthiest and most talented countries on the planet to a state of destitution and degradation must always have a face of the “enemy” to fall back on, someone they can blame for everything that is going on. We have always had an “enemy” in the seventy-three years of Soviet power: at first we had the bourgeoisie, the gentry, and the capitalists; then we had the counterrevolutionaries, the Trotskyites, and the left- and right-wing deviationists, and also the kulaks; then came the CIA, imperialism, and the Zionist conspiracy. And now we need a new “enemy,” because no one believes in the CIA, the Trotskyites, or the capitalists anymore. The new “enemy” is the so-called democrats, who are destabilizing, tormenting, subverting, disorienting, and committing all other kinds of vile acts in their lust for power. On the basis of this logic, all we would have to do to make everything good in the country would be to remove the democrats and get rid of them somehow, and then there would ensue a glorious time known as the “Communist future,” “the socialist choice,” or the “radiant future.”
  • I trusted Gorbachev. It seemed to me that an alliance with Gorbachev might become very important in stabilizing the situation both in the republics and in the country as a whole. And many people urged me on. Our joint work on the 500-day program brought the interests of a renewed union of republics and the center even closer together. Gorbachev had admitted publicly that the Shatalin-Iavlinskii program looked very interesting and promising to him. It seemed to me that all we had to do was take one more step, and we could walk together onto the road which would lead us out of the crisis. But that didn’t happen. He suddenly changed his position drastically, and the 500-day program collapsed, burying any hopes with it for a way out of the impasse. Instead of breaking with Gorbachev and firmly divorcing myself from the president’s policies of half steps, half measures, and half reforms, I fell prey to the illusion that we could still reach an agreement. But, as it turned out, it was impossible to make an agreement with a president who is simultaneously the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist party and to whom the interests of the party caste and the party elite will always take precedence over any other interests. And so we lost four months. We didn’t get anywhere by supporting Moscow indirectly by our silence.
  • But I don’t believe in a civil war. No matter how agitated the atmosphere gets and no matter how hard the president and his advisers try to aggravate the situation, I am absolutely confident of the people’s common sense.

Farewell speech (1999)Edit

Resignation speech (31 December 1999)
 
I am leaving. I did all I could.
  • Today I am turning to you for the last time with New Year's greetings. But that's not all. Today I am turning to you for the last time as president of Russia.
    I have made a decision.
    I thought long and hard over it. Today, on the last day of the departing century, I am resigning.
    I have heard many times that "Yeltsin will hang onto power by any means, he won't give it to anyone." That's a lie.
    But that's not the point. I have always said that I would not depart one bit from the constitution. That Duma elections should take place in the constitutionally established terms. That was done. And I also wanted presidential elections to take place on time — in June 2000. This was very important for Russia. We are creating a very important precedent of a civilized, voluntary transfer of power, power from one president of Russia to another, newly elected one.
    And still, I made a different decision. I am leaving. I am leaving earlier than the set term.
    I have understood that it was necessary for me to do this. Russia must enter the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new, smart, strong, energetic people.
    And we who have been in power for many years already, we must go.

    Seeing with what hope and faith people voted in the Duma elections for a new generation of politicians, I understood that I have completed the main thing of my life. Already, Russia will never return to the past. Now, Russia will always move only forward.
    • Variant translation: Russian must enter the new millennium with new politicians, new faces, new intelligent and energetic people...
      • As quoted in The 100 Greatest Heroes (2003) p. 60 by Harry Paul Jeffers
  • I should not interfere with this natural march of history. To hold onto power for another half-year, when the country has a strong man who is worthy of being president and with whom practically every Russian today ties his hopes for the future? Why should I interfere with him? Why wait still another half-year? No, that's not for me! It's simply not in my character!
  • Today, on this day that is so extraordinarily important for me, I want to say just a few more personal words than usual.
    I want to ask for your forgiveness.
    For the fact that many of the dreams we shared did not come true. And for the fact that what seemed simple to us turned out to be tormentingly difficult.
    I ask forgiveness for not justifying some hopes of those people who believed that at one stroke, in one spurt, we could leap from the gray, stagnant, totalitarian past into the light, rich, civilized future. I myself believed in this, that we could overcome everything in one spurt.
    I turned out to be too naive in something. In some places, problems seemed to be too complicated. We forced our way forward through mistakes, through failures. Many people in this hard time experienced shock.
  • Today it's important for me to tell you. The pain of each of you has called forth pain in me, in my heart. Sleepless nights, tormenting worries — about what needed to be done, so that people could live more easily and better. I did not have any more important task.
    I am leaving. I did all I could — not according to my health, but on the basis of all the problems. A new generation is relieving me, a generation of those who can do more and better.
    In accordance with the constitution, as I resign, I have signed a decree placing the duties of the president of Russia on the head of government, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. For three months, again in accordance with the constitution, he will be the head of state. And in three months, presidential elections will take place.

2000sEdit

 
It looks as if some people either have a short memory and are forgetting about that time and the events that occurred then
  • I cannot shift the blame for Chechnya, for the sorrow of numerous mothers and fathers. I made the decision, therefore I am responsible.
  • It looks as if some people either have a short memory and are forgetting about that time and the events that occurred then … Let us recall the putsch of August 19, 1991. It was after the putsch that the republics began, one after another, to declare their independence.
    Russia also declared its independence. This was approved by the Supreme Soviet, and you know and remember that there was the Declaration on the Independence of Russia. So, the entire course of history was leading to a point when the regime, the political regime in the country had to be changed. It demonstrated that the Union was not as strong as this was loudly preached by mass media and the propaganda in general. The republics wished to become independent. This must only be welcomed... We have good peaceful relations and there were no military clashes. None of these countries had revolutions with bloody casualties and there was no civil war in any of the republics... Russia had to change and it did change.
  • We don't appreciate what we have until it's gone. Freedom is like that. It's like air. When you have it, you don't notice it.
    • As quoted in The 100 Greatest Heroes (2003) p. 60 by Harry Paul Jeffers

Quotes about YeltsinEdit

  • The reformer Yeltsin represents the tendency which wants to reduce the gigantic state apparatus. Consequently he follows in Trotsky's footsteps.
  • He's been on the verge of death so many times. … His doctors themselves are in shock that he's still alive. Half the blood vessels in his brain are about to burst after his strokes, his intestines are spotted all over with holes, he has giant ulcers in his stomach, his heart is in absolutely disgusting condition, he is literally rotting … He could die from any one of dozens of physical problems that he has, but contrary to all laws of nature — he lives.

International reactions to the death of YeltsinEdit

 
Yeltsin's presidency has inscribed him forever in Russian and in world history. … A new democratic Russia was born during his time: a free, open and peaceful country. ~ Vladimir Putin
Declarations and condolences following the death of Yeltsin on April 23, 2007 from heart failure at age 76; sorted alphabetically by author or source.
  • Boris Yeltsin was a man of bold and free spirit who, I believe, will remain in the history of not only Russia but also of the Baltic States and the world. His position accelerated Lithuania’s march towards freedom and contributed to the restoration of the independence of all Baltic States. It was a great honor for us to have such a friend and partner.
  • Without a doubt, President Yeltsin — with all the human weaknesses no one is free of — was one of the truly great men of our age. When all was uncertain in the disintegrating Soviet Union, he was the one to set a new course by abolishing the Soviet Union and recognising the independence of the three Baltic States. His repudiation of Communism was unequivocal, and he clearly directed the new Russia towards ever closer cooperation with the rest of Europe. He was a great person in the history of Russia and of Europe.
  • I think he will be best remembered as the person who really ultimately did save the arrival of democracy in Russia.
    That momentous occasion when he stood on the tank outside the Russian Parliament and held back the counter-revolution, if I can put it that way, by the old guard of the former Soviet regime. He has a place in history as a result of that. Later on he lost a lot of credibility on some economic issues, but nothing can wipe out the contribution that Yeltsin made to bringing democracy to Russia.
  • Yeltsin's presidency has inscribed him forever in Russian and in world history. … A new democratic Russia was born during his time: a free, open and peaceful country. A state in which the power truly does belong to the people. … the first President of Russia’s strength consisted in the mass support of Russian citizens for his ideas and aspirations. Thanks to the will and direct initiative of President Boris Yeltsin a new constitution, one which declared human rights a supreme value, was adopted. It gave people the opportunity to freely express their thoughts, to freely choose power in Russia, to realise their creative and entrepreneurial plans. This Constitution permitted us to begin building a truly effective Federation. … We knew [Yeltsin] as a brave and a warm-hearted, spiritual person. He was an upstanding and courageous national leader. And he was always very honest and frank while defending his position. … [Yeltsin] assumed full responsibility for everything he called for, for everything he aspired to. For everything he tried to do and did do for the sake of Russia, for the sake of millions of Russians. And he invariably took upon himself, let it in his heart, all the trials and tribulations of Russia, peoples’ difficulties and problems.
  • When we remember Boris Yeltsin, we remember a person who played an important role in bringing down the Soviet dictatorship and who guided Russia in its first steps towards democracy. Without the contributions Yeltsin made at that time, it is likely that developments could have taken a very different turn. As President, Boris Yeltsin also helped open up Russia for important market economy reforms. In a country where private ownership was previously forbidden or actively opposed, this was an effort that was neither easy nor unproblematic, but was utterly necessary.
  • A great democrat and remarkable politician, whose name is associated with an epoch in the world’s history … Boris Yeltsin made a unique contribution to Russia’s revival, promoting the principles of freedom, equality and sovereignty in the former Soviet Union and seeking to fairly rebuild the modern world, and his contribution can only be compared with those by great leaders.
  • With his unfortunate passing, the Chinese people have lost a sincere friend.
    • Li Zhaoxing, Chinese foreign minister, as quoted in People's Daily (24 April 2007)

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