Lev Ponomarev: 'Whose agent was Boris Yeltsin? On the 25th anniversary of the first Russian presidential election'

posted 19 Jun 2016, 10:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Jun 2016, 10:36 ]
11 June 2016

By Lev Ponomarev, leader of the movement “For Human Rights”, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

This year 12th June marks the 25th anniversary of the election of the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, in 1991. For me 12th June is a day to remember because of this, and not because on that very day in 1990 the Declaration on the Sovereignty of the Russian State was adopted. The adoption of the declaration was more like a statement of intention to build a democratic country. But the election of a president of Russia under that slogans of power to the people, the independence of parliament, the independence of the judiciary, the inviolability of private property – this was already a victory.

It’s true, within two months in August 1991 the GKChP (State Emergency Committee) tried to take this victory away from the people. But they did not succeed because there was already a democratically elected president leading Russia. In August this year there will also be the 25th anniversary of the victory over the GKChP, but for me these two dates merge together. If Yeltsin had not been elected on 12th June 1991, the people would not have been able to stop the attempt to restore the Soviet Empire in August.

I remember the elections on 12th June 1991 with nostalgia not only because I was 25 years younger. But mainly because of the spirit of celebration which accompanied this nationwide support for Yeltsin.

My words may seem a subjective – after all I supported Yeltsin, was one of the leaders of Democratic Russia, which Yeltsin relied on to win the presidency. But everyone may be judge the validity of my evaluation by reading the recollections of Nikolai Ryzhkov who was a candidate in the election from the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and suffered a crushing defeat. His article is called “The Secret of Yeltsin’s Victory” and it is clear from this that there was no such secret at all. Remembering the election, Ryzhkov says they were absolutely free and fair and he understood that he lost because Yeltsin had so much support among the people. To this day in some sick minds there is still the opinion that the victory of democracy in Russia, and Yeltsin’s victory, was the result of a conspiracy by the US State Department. But in fact, if Yeltsin had been anyone’s agent, he was the agent of the people.

At that time the bureaucratic structures which subsequently isolated the president had not yet been created. Communication was open and sincere. The election campaign was run almost without funding – there was no money in the country. At that time I was a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR. I remember how I arrived in a car at Domodedovo airport, went onto the runway and in the aircraft cabins themselves handed over packs of leaflets in support of Yeltsin. The pilots on their own initiative took the leaflets and took them to Kamchatka and other far off regions of the country.

This event in the history of Russia shows that the people of our country are far from helpless and unable to determine their own fate. In 1991, despite decades of brain-washing and intimidation by a totalitarian regime, Russians risked choosing freedom and democracy. At the time there were no political analysts, no money either, nor zombification through the television. It was totally a consciously made choice.

Unfortunately, just a few years after these elections Russia took the path of losing its recently won human rights and freedoms. From one point of view, this is a natural process of backlash that happens after every revolution. On the other hand, it was brought about by a combination of circumstances, above all the tragic war in Chechnya, that were associated with the demise of the Soviet Empire. In the end oligarchs and Chekhists surrounded the president and cut his links with democratic society.

But the reaction – the triumph of imperialist forces – which we now observe in the Putin era – is a temporary phenomenon. And the experience of that victory shows that the striving for freedom is a part of the Russian mentality. And this means that at a certain time it will wake up.

As is well-known, any country moves in one or other direction not because of the influence of the majority, which is usual passive, but under the influence of a small percentage of consolidated, convinced and active people. That is what happened at that time – the supporters of democracy attracted the population to their cause and an enormous amount of energy was directed towards achieving Yeltsin’s victory.

Now this progressive and thinking part of the population has fallen into apathy. There are many difference reasons for this. But my friends and I believe that the victory of democracy in Russia is possible once again.

Translated by Frances Robson