Boris Yeltsin, RIP

[Ross] By coincidence, I finally got around to seeing The Lives of Others - which was as good as advertised - the day before Boris Yeltsin died, and it's hard not to let the movie's vision of pre-1989 East Germany edge into your thoughts while reading his obituaries. The story of Russia since Communism fell has been a deeply unhappy one, and Yeltsin has to shoulder a great deal of the blame; still, he was one of the men who ushered the Soviet bloc peacefully off history's stage, and for that "peacefully," in particular, we all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. Communism would have fallen eventually without Boris Yeltsin, but the grinding everyday evils that The Lives of Others summons up could have ended with a Ragnarok rather than a whimper. Yeltsin bequeathed us Putin, but he helped spare us something infinitely worse.

Rod Dreher flags a moving anecdote from the Times obit:

During a visit to the United States in 1989, he became more convinced than ever that Russia had been ruinously damaged by the centralized, state-run economic system where people stood in long lines to buy the most basic needs of life and more often than not found the shelves bare.

He was overwhelmed by what he saw at a Houston supermarket, by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans.

Leon Aron quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote in his biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000): “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.”

I was nine years old when the Berlin Wall came down, and eleven when Yeltsin rode the tank, and in both cases I was simply too young to appreciate the magnitude of what was happening. I wish I had been older.