Every day in history is like a snowflake from heaven’s snowflake garden. It’s unique and it is fragile. Put it in your brain before it melts. This is what happened on July 10, 1991…
Centuries after democracy was first practiced in ancient Greece, democracy made its way across the Urals up the Volga River and into Russia’s capital city Moscow. Democracy then had about 10 vodka bottles too many and slunk its way back to Western Europe. After its romp in the Russian nightlife, democracy has a hangover to this day.
That’s right tank-talking, coup defying, and liqour enthusiast Boris Yeltsin was sworn in as Russia’s first democratically elected leader on July 10, 1991. Yeltsin faced huge challenges in trying to change Russia into an open society with a competitive capitalistic economy – the rise of former Soviet strong men into oligarchs, corruption at every level of government, and the imperialist attitude towards non-Russians in the former Soviet Union. He did not really succeed even though he was elected to a second term. Russia’s wealth is still concentrated into the hands of the oligarchs, the government has become inflexible and personal freedoms are not guaranteed. Yeltsin did oversee the relatively peaceful transition of 15 new countries from the Soviet Union (Armenia, Kazakhstan, Georgia etc.). However, sovereignty was not granted to Chechnya, which is devastated from ongoing conflict with the Russian government and also Tartarstan another larger homogenous population forced under Russian control.
Yeltsin did manage to be the only head of state to be too drunk to get off a plane in Ireland. Let that sink in, too drunk for Ireland. In all honesty, he was a very brave man and the challenges he faced would be monumental for any leader to overcome. He stepped down in 1999 and Vladimir Putin took over. Democracy and free-speech have not been in vogue on the Russian scene since.