Thousands pay respects to Yeltsin

Russians say goodbye to former leader ahead of his state funeral.

Body of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin lying in state, Moscow
Yeltsin is still considered a key figure for many middle-aged and older Russians [AFP]

The former prime minister of the UK, John Major and Viktor Yanukovych, the prime minister of Ukraine, were also scheduled to attend Wednesday’s service which will culminate in Yeltsin’s burial at the landmark Novodivechy Cemetery.


Key figure


Russians queued in their thousands on Tuesday to pass by Yeltsin’s coffin in the Christ the Savior Cathedral on the banks of the Moscow River. Many lit candles and said prayers.

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Despite being a key figure in his country’s move to democracy, Yeltsin’s legacy was also seen as being tainted by incomplete reforms and economic mismanagement that pushed millions of Russians into poverty.

Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera’s Moscow correspondent, said that while it may have come as something of a surprise that so many Russians wanted to pay their respects to Yeltsin, it was also a reflection of the key role he played in his country’s history in the early 1990s.

He said that Russians have had seven years since Yeltsin retired from the presidency in 2000 to recover from the adverse effects of his economic policies.

Obituary: Boris Yeltsin

Born in Yekaterinburg in 1931

Officials estimated that around 4,000 people, mostly middle-aged or older, had paid their respects by early evening.

“I followed Yeltsin as soon as he appeared, I followed him everywhere … he was the first honest and decent president,” Taisiya Shlyonova, a 75-year-old pensioner, said.

Press reaction

Tributes to Yeltsin in the media on Tuesday focused on his apparent contradictions: a hero to many for dismantling the Soviet Union but a villain to others for appearing to allow the new Russia to sink into chaos.
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said: “The man who gave people new life and new opportunities to pursue their dreams also, and this was important for him, removed fear from peoples’ hearts.

Despite his flaws many Russians see Yeltsin
as a key figure in their country’s history [AP]

“People saw their difficulties in adapting to a new way of life as [being] the blunders of the country’s leader. And as people no longer had fear, the head of state was ostracised by just about everyone.”

The Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said: “The malevolence of fate: everything he initiated turned out the opposite way round. He wanted to make many rich, but only enriched a few.”
Many of the Russian tributes to Yeltsin viewed him through the prism of seven years under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s current president.
Moskovsky Komsomolets said: “He was president of Russia for eight and a half years and not once … did he stifle the freedom of the press. Because of that we can now publish what we think.”
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies