Boris Yeltsin’s surprise voluntary resignation on 31 December 1999,
just a few hours before the start of the millennium celebrations,
analysts were quick to dub the decade of the 1990s in Russia “the
Yeltsin era.” For better or worse, Boris Yeltsin will go down in
history as one of the great figures of the twentieth century. His
rule was nothing if not controversial. Like Gorbachev, there were
two sides to Yeltsin: the radical reformer condemning the privileges
and political corruption of the old nomenklatura and the
apparatchik (i.e., a member of the Communist apparat) who was thoroughly imbued with the ethos of the old regime.
sides were in constant tension. The tug-of-war between the
democratic and the authoritarian aspects of his political
personality has allowed Russian journalists to describe Yeltsin as a
“democrator,” a hybrid of democrat and dictator. This
hybrid nature of his charisma and leadership in a distinctive way
reflected the ambiguities of the country itself.
In his last
televised address to the nation, Yeltsin asked the Russian people
for forgiveness. He asked them to forgive him for the failures of
his reforms, for his mistakes and illusions. He said he sincerely
believed it was possible to overcome quickly the legacy of the
totalitarian past and in one great leap to reach a society “with
normal civilization.” This did not happen, he said.