Boris Yeltsin is dead. Many, I think, were surprised he was still alive. Perhaps he was pickled by the constant flow of alcohol he evidently consumed midway through his Presidency of Russia towards the end of his retirement. Who knows? The fact is after he handed the Kremlin keys over to Vladimir Putin in 2000 he never really resurfaced in the public limelight again, becoming largely forgotten.
It’s only on reflection that I realize he was a character that shaped many editorial cartoons. Here are just a few I drew as he neared the end of his reign in a drunken stupor:
Of course there must be credit given to the man who began his rise to stardom by toppling a Communist coup designed to reverse the democratic reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev.
While he will undoubtedly go down in history for liberating Soviet citizens, he may be better remembered in the old “free world” for his trashing the old USSR, and thereby ending any remnants left from the cold war years. He oversaw the disintegration of the old Soviet Union and became Russia’s first democratically elected leader. Then he tried to bring in goofy economic policies which only empowered corrupt oligarchs and angered legislators, and when things didn’t go his way he brought back old style Soviet tactics to deal with dissent and ethnic unrest. Blasting the Parliament buildings with cannon fire isn’t exactly the most democratic way to debate things with opponents, although Yeltsin seemed to think it was, and he got away with it. He also got away with pinching the bums of women politicians and bureaucrats; hamming for the cameras while visiting Berlin and by grabbing a conductors baton and leading an orchestra; playing the spoons on the head of Askar Akayev, the president of Kyrgyzstan; and staggering around in his underpants shouting for pizza in the hotel room during his first summit meeting with Bill Clinton.
Upon further reflection I connect the Yeltsin years with the Clinton years… and can’t help associating those figures, as much the buffoons they were, to that relatively harmonious period of time in the pre-9/11 world. No wonder Bill Clinton loved to bear hug Yeltsin. But once Boris was gone, the good old days of close relations clearly started to wane. Seven years on Vladimir Putin continues to rule Russia at a far sobering and utilitarian pace. What freedom Yeltsin brought in, much has been clamped down upon by his successor. Here’s one I drew shortly after Putin came to power in Russia: