Monday, April 23, 2007

With Yeltsin Dead, the Media Confused on Legacy

Deaths are always an interesting time for a watcher of the world. Insta-history has now become a full-on participatory sport, with a death as the Olympics. But only in certain instances, such as today’s demise of Boris Yeltsin, do the contradictions of myth versus reality fully expose themselves to wondrous effect.

Consider the lauded tributes raining down on this man from every corner of the world (the Americas and Europe for the MSMs purposes). That he played a decisive role in “beating Communism” is beyond dispute, nor is the “fact” that this was one of the best things to ever happen to the world. Except in all the glad-handing, someone forgot to ask the Russians what they thought.

In the West we were taught to view things in terms of freedom and democracy, good and evil. Yeltsin turned an evil empire into a capitalist paradise, which made it free. He was elected after the most shameful spectacles of a bought-off election every seen in the world, which made him democratic.

But for the people living in Russia, who knew the questions were never so simple and of a matter of literal life and death, a 3% approval greeted his departure from politics. I can not find an article that states this fact, nor mentions the way Russians themselves are greeting this event. Since we did not care while his unpopular policies were being rammed down Russia's throat (with Bill Clinton and the West's moral assistance), it is fitting we should care less today.

Here is a man who presided over an unprecedented giveaway of a nation’s resources to a tiny elite, who bought up oil and mineral reserves at bargain basement prices and made themselves fabulously rich. Russia endured massive corruption, the rise of a Russian style of organized crime, rapid increases in alcoholism, poverty and disease at the same time public health went to the birds. Day by day the nation sunk lower into the abyss of irrelevance and mockery as their drunken President could barely show his face in public. At the end of his reign, the nation of Russia had lost nearly 2 million of its citizens to early deaths and a pointless, political war in Chechnya that would constitute a crime against humanity if it had happened anywhere else in the world.

Even if one believes that condemning millions to lives of poverty and misery was worth it for the “greater good” of freedom and democracy, they would have to be blind to give kudos on those scores. As the otherwise glowing obit in the Independent UK says,

“Contrary to the myth that some have cultivated, he was not a democrat as most people would understand the word, nor was he a principled proponent of free speech or the free market. Nor, though, was he the drunken exhibitionist of the televised clips that were aired time and again last night."

I think Mikhail Gorbachev said it best:

"I express the very deepest condolences to the family of the deceased, on whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country and serious mistakes. A tragic fate."



Blogger leftside said...

More from the Christian Science Monitor:

MOSCOW - To Western eyes, it was the new, democratic Russia. Boris Yeltsin, the man who had wrested the country from the grip of communism two years earlier, was facing what he described as an armed "mutiny" by communist holdovers in the country's elected parliament. So when Mr. Yeltsin sent troops and tanks to disperse the Supreme Soviet legislature and arrest its leaders, Western leaders cheered his actions.

But many Russians were appalled.

"When I heard [then US President Bill] Clinton describing Yeltsin's actions as 'a triumph for democracy,' I was horrified," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "The president shelled parliament, killed lawmakers, and destroyed the only elected branch of government capable of challenging him. That had nothing to do with democracy."

Such contradictory perceptions have been made abundantly clear following the death Monday of Yeltsin – a man who brought down the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, shaped an independent Russia, and handpicked former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, who has led the country into what many regard as a new era of autocracy. The reflections on Yeltsin's legacy that have poured in from around the world point to a collision of Western and Russian narratives over the place of all three leaders in history. And the most controversial figure is Boris Yeltsin.

"Fate gave him a tough time in which to govern, but history will be kind to him because he was courageous and steadfast on the big issues: peace, freedom, and progress," former US president Bill Clinton, who worked closely with President Yeltsin, said in a typically generous Western accolade to the man who broke the USSR, championed democratic values, and ushered the formerly isolated, state-run Russian economy into the global marketplace.

But, in Russia, even many of Yeltsin's former close allies temper their eulogies with references to his "serious errors," while much of the commentary has been sharply negative. During Yeltsin's nearly nine years in power, Russia's gross domestic product slumped by over 50 percent, millions of people lost their savings in repeated financial crises, and life expectancy plunged to third-world levels.

5:46 PM  
Blogger jsb said...

Because we all know the old USSR was a bastion of freedom. Jesus, man. You are so retrograde. Step forward, it's a new day, a new century. Communism is and always has been a failure.

9:16 AM  
Blogger jsb said...

Two new helpful books on Communism:

9:41 AM  

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