08 January 2008

Essay of Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna for the Journal The Russian Federation Today, in the Special Issue Entitled: «The Yeltsyn Era, the Putin Era»

Essay of Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna for the Journal The Russian Federation Today, in the Special Issue Entitled: «The Yeltsyn Era, the Putin Era»

The Head of the Russian Imperial House Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna: Russia is Moving on the Path of Rebirth 

Sixteen years have passed since the liberation of Russia from the Communist regime. This period is evenly divided into two parts: the 8 years of the presidency of Boris Yeltsyn, and the 8 years of the presidency of Vladimir Putin. One now often hears talk of a “Yeltsyn era” and a “Putin era,” which are often sharply contrasted. But I do not think that it is correct to do so. There are, to be sure, great differences between the methods and results of the administrations of these two presidents. But it is perhaps more appropriate not so much to compare and contrast as it is to attempt objectively to analyze the achievements of the two 8-year periods, seeing them as the first two very important steps of a very long-term progression of Russia toward a rebirth of its traditional structures and global status.

President Boris Yeltsyn at the beginning had a colossal fund of trust among the people. With him were linked the hopes of the majority of the people, who were convinced that the communist power had completely thrown the country into disarray. This high-ranking politician was not afraid openly to criticize the system, a system that had raised him to high office, and for that he was accorded enormous support. Unfortunately, both Yeltsyn and many of his countrymen who had abandoned the lies and obscurantism of communism, sincerely offered up the Western model of democracy, which was transferred over to the Russian soil, to become a kind of magic wand that was supposed to transform instantaneously life for the better. The politicians who came to power along with Yeltsyn sharply rejected Bolshevism. But they themselves became in their own way Bolsheviks of democracy and capitalism, in that, in bringing about their reforms, they, just like the Bolsheviks-Leninists, began to relate to the people and to the masses as something on which they could conduct various social and political experiments. The people very quickly felt this, and the initial enthusiasm was replaced by anger, irritation, and protest against the new injustices.

I remember my first visits to Russia. They were both joyous and bitter at the same time. They were joyous because our dream had been realized to establish a connection with Russia. But they were also bitter because our great country was lying in ruins, as if a war had just been raging there. Everywhere there was dilapidation and poverty, and the faces of the people were gloomy. The majority of the people had not even the shadow of trust in the future. Of course, the “Yeltsyn team” was not only to blame: he had inherited a country already in the midst of a deep spiritual and social crisis of atheism, many years of terror and genocide, and of non-competitive communist planned economies. But the people at that moment too much believed in Yeltsyn, too much hoped in the new government, and therefore suffered bitter disappointment.

Speaking of the events in the past and noting the various failures, mistakes, and even crimes, one often says: “But probably this was all unavoidable, and we had to grow through it.” It is much more difficult to say this about events that have touched each one of us personally, that have directly affected the course of our lives, that have taken away something from us, that have not allowed us to fulfill our dreams. An objective evaluation of our times lies in the hand of our descendants. As far as I am concerned I respect Yeltsyn because with his name and with his legacy are linked the liberation of Russia from atheism, the expansion of personal freedoms, and the first attempts to find a national idea on the basis of traditional Russian values. For this, I think, the Lord will forgive him his sins, which were many. After all, the disintegration of a great, one-thousand-year-old Russian state, the impoverishment of millions of our countrymen, the sharp weakening of the international position of Russia, and many other sad losses, are also linked with the name Yeltsyn, and to close one’s eyes and forget about that is also not possible.

The people’s trust in Vladimir Putin in the beginning of his administration was also broad and quite strong, but was of a somewhat different kind than the popularity enjoyed initially by Boris Yeltsyn. There was no appreciable euphoria, but, without a doubt, there was a general sense of trust that at the helm of the state was a young and energetic man, capable of changing the situation for the better. In my view, Vladimir Putin’s popularity has lasted even through his second term as president because of his healthy, thoughtful and at the same time optimistic handling of affairs.

Up to the revolution of 1917, the state was permeated with a religious spirit such that, even with all its shortcomings, it nonetheless strove toward the foundational ideals of Christian virtue: faith, hope, and love. The rulers of the post-revolutionary era, some consciously, others, perhaps unwittingly, did everything to destroy both faith and love in order to eliminate entirely these notions from governmental and political life. But hope, sometimes false and ephemeral but which allowed the spirit not to fall completely, was always present. In the 1990s, it was put in jeopardy. The most important thing President Vladimir Putin succeeded in doing was giving hope a new life among the people: hope that not all was lost, that Russia remains a great power, that its citizens would again live in comfort, that Russia would again occupy its rightful place in the world arena.

I have many times had to express my own opinion or to publicly disagree with one or another policy decision of the current Russian government, both during Boris Yeltsyn’s time and during Vladimir Putin’s time. I have, for examples, serious concerns about relapsing into the totalitarian past, which is preserved in the thinking and in the policies of many political bodies, including those that have renounced communism in word alone. I deeply regret that the Orthodox Church and other traditional confessions, freed from persecution for their beliefs and teachings, nonetheless run up against obstacles in their patriotic and social work, that they are without cause prevented from contributing fully to social life. Corruption, abuse, pointless red tape, the immature judicial system, the absence of a strong middle class, poverty, the demographic crisis, moral breakdown—all these and other problems remain far from resolved. Nonetheless, I believe that Russia has embarked on the path to a rebirth, that it, slowly but surely, is restoring its continuity with its thousand-year history. An example of this restoration is the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was achieved in large part due to the efforts of Vladimir Putin. The development of a national and civil consciousness, which became possible after the fall of totalitarian Marxist ideology, has taken new forms in recent years. The word “RUSSIAN” ceased to be uttered with scorn, something that has made it possible for true friendship among the peoples of Russia. So I am especially pleased to see smiles again appearing on the faces of my countrymen. I know that the majority link the strengthening of the Fatherland and the stabilization of the economy with the name of Vladimir Putin; and I do not doubt that after his presidential term ends, he will continue to play an important role in the life of Russia. And if Vladimir Putin succeeds in preserving the principle of continuity and does not give in to the temptation to be sly and calculating, which cost his predecessor his popularity, then the easier it will be to guarantee the continuity of the course of things now, when the outgoing president is enjoying popular support and in any case will remain among the nation’s leaders. It is most important that there be continuity in the direction of national reform and that the next stage in the life of Russia be marked by the strengthening of the Faith, by the celebration of the rule of law, by the growth of prosperity, and by the preservation of the greatest of human values: personal freedom. 

(Published with minor omissions: “The Head of the Russian Imperial House, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna Romanova. Russia has embarked on the path to rebirth” // The Russian Federation Today, 2007, December, no. 24, p. 31.)

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