Monday, April 23, 2007

RIP, ya bastard

Boris Yeltsin, dead at 76.

I don't hate the guy or anything, but one of the most troublesome stories we tell ourselves when it comes to Russia is that "Yeltsin=Good, Putin=Bad." Things have gotten worse for Russians under Putin when it comes to human rights, and that's clearly bad, but they weren't wonderful to begin with.

On the other hand -- and this isn't an exchange or trade-off -- it's gotten much better for Russians when it comes to eating. Yeltsin presided over the collapse of the Russian economy, and it was only barely beginning to recover when he left.

So you've got a guy who was a lousy democrat without even managing to clothe and feed his people properly, and you've got Putin who's undeniably a worse democrat, but who's presiding over a recovering economy. That is, I think, the more accurate narrative to tell about Russia since the end of the USSR.


Oberlinblogger said...

I think that "lousy democrat" is a little to kind. He did shell the parliament building, after all. And he didn't just preside over the collapse of the economy, he traded it to the oligarchs in exchange for reelection. I think maybe, "less effective authoritarian" vs. "very effective authoritarian" might be the distinction I would make.

-Sam L.

john said...

Well.. I was being kind. The body isn't even cold yet, after all...

Oberlinblogger said...

Right. Sorry. I guess I didn't really think very hard about that part of the post.

I, uh..., hear he was a pretty likable guy?

-Sam L.

john said...

Good drinker. Loved to party.

Kevin Rooney said...

Not sure how much responsibility either of them deserves for the state of the Russian economy. By the end of the Brezhnev era, the Soviet Union was already just an oil state. Saudi Arabia with better literature and better parties. Bit more snow too.
Low oil prices made Yeltsin look bad and high oil prices make Putin look better. Putin's real job is to convert an incredibly well-funded Potemkin village into a real first-world economy.