'RUSSIA is reborn."With those words, Boris Yeltsin concluded his inaugural address as the first freely elected president of Russia. The silver-haired Siberian politician took office in a ceremony full of blaring trumpets and political choreography but virtually without the symbols of Communist rule. It was a moment to recognize the change in Soviet politics wrought by this indefatigable political fighter. "The president is not a god, not a new monarch, not a miracle worker," Mr. Yeltsin declared in his short speech. "He is an ordinary citizen, but with enormous responsibility for the destiny of Russia." The former Siberian mining engineer and Communist Party boss referred frequently to the need to restore Russia's historical identity. "Russia is ready to get out of the crisis. Great Russia is rising from its knees and will become a prosperous, law-governed, democratic, peaceful, and sovereign state." The hour-long morning televised event, held in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, was attended by leaders of most of the republics of the Soviet Union, including leaders of those republics, such as the Baltics, which seek independence. Their presence reflects the importance of the Russian Federation, the largest of the 15 republics with a population of 150 million. But attention was naturally focused on the appearance of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who delivered an address greeting the election of the man who has been at different times his ally and his foe. "Someone might say: 'So what, one more president in this country, joked Mr. Gorbachev as he opened his speech. "But," he quickly went on, "my belief is that this is a very important event, not only for Russia but ... for all our multinational motherland."
Greeting from Gorbachev Indeed, the sight of the two men clasping hands at the center of the stage fairly captures the current mood of Soviet politics. Gorbachev has yielded significant power to Yeltsin and the other republican leaders, formalized in a new draft treaty of union. But in return, Gorbachev is getting the support of these leaders, who enjoy far greater political legitimacy and popularity than the Soviet president. On Monday, Gorbachev met with the leaders of the nine republics who have agreed to sign the union treaty and got their support for the program and stance the Soviet leader will take with him to London next week for a meeting with the leaders of the Western industrial nations. But Yeltsin added something more the next day, when he told reporters that he would back Gorbachev for election to the Soviet presidency as long as he continued on his present policy course. Not everyone is happy with this course of events. On the right, conservative Communists rail against Gorbachev for betraying the socialist cause and yielding to the disintegration of the nation. And among more radical elements of the democratic left, there is a fear that Yeltsin is making unnecessary concessions that will only maintain the Communist Party in power, albeit in a more benign form. "It is a mistake of Boris Yeltsin," says Russian parliamentary deputy Oleg Rumantsyev, a leader of the Social Democratic Party. "The temporary peaceful interval which was achieved in April was a good decision, because this helped us to elect a Russian president. But if we sign an agreement between democratic republics and the Communist center, all the results of our democratic revolution will come to zero."
From rebel to statesman Yeltsin is clearly happy, however, to enjoy his transformation from a populist rebel into a pragmatic statesman. And no matter what alliances political expediency may dictate, Yeltsin's inauguration ceremony was imbued with an effort to draw a clear line between this "reborn" Russia and its Communist past. The traditional portrait of Vladimir Lenin that hangs on a curtain behind the stage was gone, replaced by the Russian Federation flag and an outline of the huge republic, which stretches from the Balti c Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps nothing marked the change of era more clearly than the appearance of Alexi II, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, on the stage of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. In a long and openly political address, the Russian religious leader decried the "seven decades of destruction of [Russia's] spiritual order" under Communist rule. "You have taken responsibility for a country that is seriously ill," the bearded patriarch said, looking over at Yeltsin. "Three generations have been brought up under conditions which killed any wish and ability to work. First the people were made to forget the labor of prayer. Then they were made to forget the labor of thought, the desire to search for truth." The patriarch called on the new president to redeem his pledges to return churches taken away under Communist rule and to restore the names of Russia's holy cities. And he called on Yeltsin to show "tolerance and wisdom," including toward his enemies. "An ill society and people who have endured so much need understanding, love, and tolerance," the patriarch preached.