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Boris Yeltsin.

Collapse of Soviet Union tops major events of 1991. With the crumbling of the great country which now has passed into history the bread basket has gone to the Russian President Boris Yeltsin (61). He has at various times been dismissed, both in the Kremlin and in the West, as a buffoon, an opportunist, a would-be autocrat wrapped in a populist mantle. His judgement has often been questioned along with his sobriety. Cynical speculation has abounded about his conversion to democratic principles. His assertiveness and impulsiveness have always exasperated more conventional politicians like. Gorbachev, who viewed Yeltsin for years with wariness and distrust.

Born in 1931 in Sverdlovsk province in the UralMountains. Boris Yeltsin grew up in a family so poor that all six members slept on the floor of a one room apartment with a goat. His childhood was, he has written, "a fairly joyless time." He was always as he later recalled, "a little bit of a hooligan." When he was 11, he lost the thumb and forefinger of his left hand after he and a pair of chums stole two hand grenades from a warehouse: as they tinkered with the weapons, one exploded. He was expelled from grade school for denouncing a sadistic teacher. Yeltsin stubbornly pursued the battle, and the teacher was eventually fired.

Trained an engineer, Yeltsin waited until he was 30 before joining the Communist Party. By 1985 he had carved out a regional reputation as the reformists minded first secretary of the Sverdlovsk district central committee. It was enough to bring him to the attention of another reformer from the hinterland, the newly installed Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev soon appointed Yeltsin first secretary of the Moscow city party committee. Thereupon the tall, bulky technocrat seemed to settle into a sort of permanent guerrilla war with his superiors in the Politburo and with his often corrupt underlings throughout the city's rambling bureaucracy.

In the Politburo be chafed openly at Gorbachev's go-along committee style, as the new leader manoeuvred to consolidate power. He began to rock the boat loudly, with sulfurous speeches that argued for rooting out corruption and injustice. In Moscow he rode the subway and workers grimy commuter buses, barged into stores to ask why there was no meat for sale, fired hundreds of incompetents from the city's payroll and arrested hundreds of others for corruption. Embarrassed by Yeltsin's increasingly critical tone. Gorbachev in late 1987 forced him out of the Politburo and humiliated him at a close plenum of the Moscow party committee, after Yeltsin made an impassioned plea for greater democracy. On Moscow streets the news of his downfall was greeted with something akin to mourning.

Yeltsin's nursed himself back to both political and physical health and bided his time. During the 15 months he spent in the wilderness, he built up a coterie of devoted friends and followers who have supported him in all his political ventures since then.

Yeltsin became known as a maverick while running the Moscow party committee - he was outspoken, impetuous and disdainful of authority. He took on the entire machine in 1989 to run as Moscow's delegate-at-large for the Congress of People's Deputies. The contest was the first nationwide multicandidate parliamentary election in the Soviet Union since 1918, and Yeltsin's combative campaign won him the support of 89 per cent of Moscow's 6 million voters, an astonishing accolade from the usually cynical and apathetic populace.

It was not until late in 1989 that Moscow's reformers became convinced that Yeltsin had undergone a genuine conversion to democracy. What persuaded the small prodemocratic interregional group in the Congress of People's Deputies was Yeltsin's willingness to work with younger and far more radical deputies and learn from them about issues he had never been familiar with, like economic privatization and the Baltics case for independence.

Yeltsin lead a reclusive home life. His wife Anatasia rarely appears in public. The couple have two daughters, two grand daughters and one grandson, also named Boris. Yeltsin plays tennis at least once a week and is an avowed admirer of the works of the anticommunist Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, as well as the traditional classics: Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev. He has no intellectual ambitions nor is he self consciously "cultured". Yeltsin bluntly seems uncomfortable with cut and thrust discussions and face to face airing of differences. After Gorbochev handed over custody of nuclear arsenal and codes, Yeltsin declared himself the sole inheritor of "the button" as he called the code box.

Yeltsin faces a battle on three fronts in 1992 - within his own administration, with an angry people egged on by extremists and with his "partners" in the new Commonwealth of Independent States. As with Gorbachev, Yeltsin will stand or fall on economics. Having put himself personally in charge of an ambitious reform programme, he has to see it through. His single-mindedness of late October, when he outlined his free market charge, is now marked by fear of the social consequences. No longer will Yeltsin have Gorbachev to blame.
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Author:Raza, Moozi
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Economic survey 1990-91 statistical supplement.
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