Human Rights Activists Express Mixed Feelings About Yeltsin

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 17

Several leading Russian human rights activists were also critical of Boris Yeltsin for his actions vis-à-vis Chechnya but were more positive in their overall assessments of his record. “Yeltsin made many mistakes,” Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Interfax on April 23. “One of them, unforgivable from my point of view, was starting the first Chechen war.” At the same time, she said that Yeltsin did much to develop Russian democracy. “I will always have good memories of him. Even though he was by nature imperious, harsh, brought up in the Soviet communist rules of a totalitarian system, Yeltsin inscrutably somehow understood that it was important for Russia to move in the direction of democracy.”

For her part, Svetlana Gannushkina, chairwoman of the “Grazhdanskoe sodeistvie” (Civil Assistance) Committee and a member of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, cited Chechnya as evidence of Yeltsin’s “flexibility.” “When he understood that what was going on in Chechnya was a terrible crime, he could stop the war,” she told Kavkazky Uzel on April 25. “Yeltsin could change. He was more flexible than today’s leadership. He was not afraid to surround himself with smart, competent people.”

Still, Gannushkina questioned whether Yeltsin was motivated by democratic principles or simply used the anti-communist sentiments of the late 1980s and early 1990s as a way to come to power. She added: “Yeltsin transferred power to Putin in order to hold out at the top. Because it was precisely the people from the security bodies who could keep him there when the presidential seat was becoming unsteady. In order to support himself, his family and entourage, Yeltsin had to rely on some kind of force. Boris Yeltsin’s only miscalculation at the time he stepped down from the post of president was the standard mistake made by people who bring someone else to power. They believe that they will be consulting them and grateful to them. Yeltsin was mistaken. In his first attempt to interfere and give Putin advice, he was told that it was not needed. We will long be reaping the fruits of the gift that Boris Nikolaevich gave us at the end of his term in the form of a successor.”