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Yeltsin Banks on the Support Of People, Army, and Regions

With promises of economic reform no longer convincing, Yeltsin's more potent theme is to frighten the Russian people with the possibility of a return to the Communist era

By Daniel SneiderStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 22, 1993


THE Boris Yeltsin who appeared on nationwide television Saturday night was the same man who stood atop a tank on August 19, 1991, to lead the resistance to the hard-line Communist coup, a leader courageous in his spirit and decisive in his actions.

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The Russian leader called on his people to follow him into battle to complete the war against the Communist system they fought a year and a half ago. This time, Boris Nikolayevich warned of a "second October revolution" by the old nomenklatura, the Communist Party elite, "who have found a convenient niche" in the Russian parliament.

In defeating the August putsch, Yeltsin had several key weapons. As the only elected leader in Russian history, he could count on overwhelming popular support. At a crucial moment, the largely Russian armed forces of the Soviet Union, especially their younger generals and senior officers, refused to back the aged Communist leadership. And the regional elite, the heads of the Russian-populated regions and the 21 ethnically determined republics that make up the Russian Federation, backed Yeltsin in his dri ve to make Russia independent.

Yeltsin's ability to win still depends on those three factors - the people, the Army, and the regions. Whether they side with Yeltsin or with the parliament and its allies will determine the victor.

Yeltsin's popular support has steadily dropped during more than a year of economic reforms as uncontrolled inflation has eaten away at already depressed living standards. Polls, however, do not show a lessening of support for reforms as much as a loss of hope in the future, which is reflected in growing political apathy.

"This country is so tired," says Lena, a Moscow housewife. "The situation has been so bad for so long, people can't wait much longer."

Yeltsin acknowledged in his address on Saturday that change in Russia was "going too slowly and is too hard." But he sought to blame that on his opponents, accusing them of blocking reforms such as private ownership of land and spurring inflation by pumping out money to bankrupt state-run enterprises. His political message was accompanied by an eight-point package of economic measures, including pushing through land reform, guaranteeing privatization, backing small entrepreneurs, providing public works j obs for the unemployed, compensating those whose savings were lost due to inflation, and fighting corruption.

Such promises are no longer very convincing, as Yeltsin himself clearly understands. His more potent theme is to frighten the Russian people with the possibility of a return to the Communist era. In this, the Russian president can still tap a deep well of emotion. "If the communists come again, I will leave the country," vows Viktor Bakhtin, an artist from the Siberian center of Krasnoyarsk who backs Yeltsin's latest move. But if they are given the opportunity in a plebiscite to make a clear choice, the president clearly counts on the Russian people to once again pick him. And there is evidence to back that belief.

In a poll conducted throughout Russia in late February by the Russian Fund for Constitutional Reform, the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet, or standing parliament, had positive ratings of only 15 percent, with negative ratings of 67 and 63 percent respectively. Comparatively, the president was backed by 38 percent, while 43 percent said they did not trust him.