A Sparkling Shrine to a Reviled Russian Leader


YEKATERINBURG, Russia — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has reviled these years as a interval of chaos, crime and “total poverty” that “nobody wants to ever see return.”

Kremlin-controlled information media retailers commonly lambast what they name “the wild 90s” as a time of non-public humiliation and shameful nationwide weak point.

All the abuse, nonetheless, has been an surprising boon to the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, a shimmering shrine on the sting of Siberia to Mr. Putin’s reviled predecessor and his turbulent years in energy, from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union to the top of 1999.

“I am glad they are constantly criticizing the ’90s,” stated Alexandr Drozdov, the chief director of a personal basis that oversees the Yeltsin heart, a museum and archive complicated devoted to Russia’s first elected and, at the very least in accordance to opinion polls, extensively loathed late president. “I tell them, ‘Keep criticizing, please don’t stop.’ ”

The torrents of scorn poured on Mr. Yeltsin and his period by the Kremlin’s cheerleaders have given the complicated an edgy enchantment, serving to it entice greater than 700,000 guests because it opened three winters in the past.

It has grow to be maybe Russia’s hottest and positively its most lavishly outfitted outpost of different historical past and against-the-grain considering.

On the floor, the complicated — set subsequent to a lake within the heart of Yekaterinburg, the economic metropolis the place Mr. Yeltsin lived for a lot of his life and the place Czar Nicholas II and his household have been murdered by the Bolsheviks — is a showcase for the way Russia has modified for the higher underneath Mr. Putin.

It is shiny and fashionable, effectively run and brimming with high-tech thrives.

But at its core, the complicated is a mournful requiem for the various issues misplaced since Mr. Yeltsin stepped down on Dec. 31, 1999, and handed energy to his chosen successor, Mr. Putin, with the phrases: “Take care of Russia.”

Mr. Yeltsin, stated Mr. Drozdov, “would be very disappointed” had he lived to see the place Mr. Putin has taken the nation. “He would cry.”

One exhibit options puppets from a satirical tv present that, within the 1990s, skewered Mr. Yeltsin and his officers mercilessly. The present was canceled by Mr. Putin, who took umbrage at his illustration by an unpleasant, dwarfish puppet.

The as soon as personal tv station that broadcast the weekly present, NTV, is now managed by the state and serves as a bullhorn for Kremlin propaganda.

Western-oriented liberals largely view Mr. Yeltsin as a courageous, if deeply flawed, hero who rallied resistance to an August 1991 putsch by Communist Party hard-liners, broke the back of the Soviet Union, introduced capitalism and gave birth to Russia as a free and democratic nation.

Nationalists and leftists, though, remember him as at best a vodka-soaked buffoon and at worst a traitor working for the West.

They want the complex shut down, or at least altered to create what Ilya Belous, a noisy local critic, thinks should be “a museum of Yeltsin’s crimes.” (A Muslim cleric close to the Kremlin has suggested that it be simply blown up.)

“They blame Yeltsin for destroying the Soviet Union,” he continued, “but nobody destroyed it. The Soviet Union fell apart of its own accord because it could not support itself ideologically or economically. It simply collapsed.”

The center’s goal, said Dina Sorokina, the museum director who is a graduate of New York University, is not to whitewash Mr. Yeltsin, though it does largely ignore some of the more odious features of his rule, notably the emergence of so-called oligarchs through corrupt privatization deals.

“The goal is not hagiography but an attempt to understand that time and also where we are now,” she said.

“He was like a mummy,” Mr. Drozdov said.

The Kremlin’s blessing for the project, said Mr. Roizman, the former mayor, flowed from a contradiction at the heart of Mr. Putin’s rule. While he has undone much of Mr. Yeltsin’s legacy, particularly in politics, he came to power thanks to Mr. Yeltsin.

“Putin owes Yeltsin everything,” Mr. Roizman said.

Mr. Putin, who has always placed a premium on loyalty, never attacks Mr. Yeltsin personally. But he has given state news media outlets free rein to attack his predecessor’s legacy with gusto.

Mr. Yeltsin, who was born near Yekaterinburg and governed the city as Communist Party boss in the 1970s, died in 2007 at age 76.

But he still looms large in Russia, even if mostly as a punching bag for Mr. Putin’s cheerleaders on state TV and as a hate figure for many ordinary Russians, who blame him for the demise of the Soviet empire and for plunging the country into poverty and disorder.

Mr. Putin often plays on public nostalgia for the Soviet Union and regularly boasts of ending the economic misery and political chaos of the 1990s. The center, though, offers a starkly different view of the past.

It greets visitors with an animated film celebrating Mr. Yeltsin as Russia’s first leader in more than a millennium to break a grim cycle of bloody tyranny punctuated by brief spurts of failed reform.

In addition to the permanent exhibition feting Mr. Yeltsin and the freedoms he introduced, it also hosts seminars, debates and cultural events that stray far from the monochrome, muscular patriotism promoted by the Ministry of Culture in Moscow.

As Mr. Putin’s rule, now already twice as long as Mr. Yeltsin’s, drags on, grim memories of the 1990s are perhaps brightening a bit as faith in Russia’s current course dips.

Nikita Shitov, a Yekaterinburg resident who set up a small business in the Yeltsin years and then watched rapacious officials destroy it after Mr. Putin came to power, said the 1990s were often chaotic “but the state did not crawl into our lives like it does now.”

That the public is not entirely convinced by the image on state television of Mr. Putin as Russia’s savior is clear in the often empty halls at a rival museum in Yekaterinburg, where an exhibition on “Russia: My History” gives a highly nationalistic recounting of the past.

It presents the 1990s as a period of unrelieved misery and Mr. Putin’s time in office as an era of prosperity and national rebirth.

Despite being heavily promoted by state media outlets, the museum was empty of visitors last week except for schoolchildren on a field trip.

The most virulent critics of the Yeltsin complex have been grandstanding celebrities like Nikita Mikhalkov, a filmmaker who thrived under Mr. Yeltsin’s presidency but has since recast himself as a great Russian patriot and Putin loyalist.

He has repeatedly demanded, so far without success, that the center, and a second Yeltsin museum under construction in central Moscow, be closed down so as to protect Russia from the former president’s “poison.”

The denunciations have only helped keep up public interest.

Andrei Pirashkov, a 23-year-old communist who was elected last year to the City Council in Yekaterinburg, said he was no fan of Mr. Yeltsin but often visited the center for its lively seminars and public debates.

“I am against making a personality cult around Yeltsin,” Mr. Pirashkov said, “But the real issue now is Putin.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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