24 April 2007

Ode to Yeltsin

In August 1991, you showed them that the State should answer to the People, that it could be defeated. You showed them that democracy was worth fighting for because it could be won.

In October 1993 you showed them that sometimes it was OK to use the iron fist to save "democracy." But what would that teach your successors who have their own ideologies (and power) to save?

In July 1996 you showed them that it was possible to win an election at any cost, even if it caused that election to fall short of the democratic ideal for which you had once fought. Because the alternative - a return to communism - was too horrifying to contemplate. And so, in the name of democracy, democracy was undermined. But what would that teach your successors who have their own reasons and resources to win an election at any cost?

And in December 1999 you showed them that when you've made years of mistakes, sometimes it's best to slip away quietly for the sake of stability. Stability for yourself, knowing you won't be prosecuted for your mistakes, and stability for the country, which won't have to go through the discomfort of a disruptive election process. And while your hand-picked successor was a man the people wanted, he was still your hand-picked successor, given all the resources and benefits of office not by the people but by you. What would that teach him when it comes time to pick his own successor?

More importantly, what would that teach the people about their ability to control the destiny of their country? In August 1991 anything was possible. By December 1999 it was anything but possible.

And so, perhaps your legacy is unfulfilled hopes, dreams, wishes, and promises. For what started out as an historic experiment in Russian democracy was slowly undermined, chipped away at in the attempts to save that ideal. But what are they left with in the end?

Perhaps your prime minister's famous words are the most fitting epitaph for you:

"We wished for the best, but what we got was the usual."

1 comment:

TinyTornado said...