Boris Yeltsin's Reign: Worse Than Soviet Communism?

As Rich Noyes mentioned yesterday, American "mainstream" media accounts often seemed to give Mikhail Gorbachev more praise and more glory in the decline of the Soviet Union than they ever gave Boris Yeltsin. On the front page of today's Washington Post, under a positive headline ("Rough Hewn Father of Russian Democracy"), Post editorial writer Lee Hockstader  authored a fairly severe obituary, which even within the first few paragraphs was strangely claiming Yeltsin was more comparable to Stalin than was Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev:

Like Peter the Great, the 18th-century czar he once mentioned as his model, Yeltsin was no towering democrat. In launching a war against the breakaway southern region of Chechnya in 1994, he was responsible for the violent deaths of more Russian citizens than any Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin. As president, he tolerated -- even authorized -- the excesses of a system in some ways as corrupt and morally adrift as the one it replaced.

Hockstader in some sentences praised "liberating reforms," and then in some sentences, suggested life under Soviet communism wasn't as harsh and ruthless:

The early reforms of the 1990s were painful for the elderly, the infirm and those unable to adapt rapidly to the staggering changes. Death rates, suicides, alcoholism, joblessness, prices and crime soared. Birth rates, pensions, health-care standards, factory output and state support for kindergartens and social welfare programs fell dizzyingly.

In all of these claims, any Western observer ought to ask: based on whose information? Are we to trust communist statistics when we compare "death rates" before and after communism? Are we to trust communist statistics as to which Soviet dictator caused fewer violent deaths of Russians than Yeltsin?

Perhaps Hockstader would have kinder words for Yeltsin the man. No, he wrote Yeltsin was an egomaniac:

Yeltsin was crass, imperious, clownish and confrontational, a man with a titanic ego and an astounding flair for political theater. He demanded the lead role in every drama in his dramatic life--from his schoolboy days in a bleak town in the Urals to his crowning moment when he scrambled atop a T-72 tank and faced down hard-line Communists attempting a coup in 1991.

Brent Bozell noticed just last year that the Post wasn't so hard on Deng Xiaoping, Chinese dictator:

When Chinese dictator Deng Xiaoping died in 1997, the Post mentioned the “bloody crackdown” in Tiananmen Square in 1989, but the words “dictator” or “dark legacy” did not appear in the headline, which simply recited the fact of death: “China’s Deng Xiaoping, Dead at 92.” The Post reporter did not attempt to enumerate the thousands or millions killed on Deng’s watch, or wonder why he was never put on trial.

The Post presented Deng as a great liberalizer, to a point. “Deng had guided the country out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, flung open China's doors to the outside world and loosened the grip of central economic planning,” while, ahem, “insisting that the Communist Party's monopoly on power go unchallenged.”

Washington Post History
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