On November 25th 2015 the street of Boris Yeltsin in Yekaterinburg was closed for traffic. Even pedestrians were not allowed to walk there in the evening and the owners of the appartments were asked not to look out of the windows as snipers were sitting on the rooves. All the precautions were made for the openning of the Yeltsin Center. The fact that President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev as well as other polititians of the past and the present were invited to the opening had made so much fuss in the city.
The next day the center was opened for public. Despite the apparent lack of interest in Yelrsin in Russia, the museum has become the most visited place in the city with over 5000 visitors over the first week after the opening. The Yeltsin foundation hired Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the company that designed the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., and the new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow.
The center includes a research center, conference halls, an art gallery and a museum that depicts the sweep of history during Mr. Yeltsin’s life — from the Gulag (Yeltsin's parents were repressed and exhiled to the village of Budka 150km east of Yekaterinburg) to World War II, from perestroika to Mr. Yeltsin’s resigning on 31.12.1999, a few minutes before the millenium.
Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Yumasheva, one of the organizers of the center said that it is aimed “to tell the truth about the 1990s”, from the constitutional and economic crises of the day to the first Chechen war.
Yeltsin Museum is very interactive. One can give a speech from the Parlament stage, sit on the sofa in the Yeltsins' living room and watch TV or get on a real trolley bus that Yeltsin used when he was a Moscow official.
The museum is divided into seven zones – "seven important days in the history of the country": the August coup of 1991; unpopular economic measures; the birth of the Constitution; Yeltsin's second election campaign; Yeltsin’s farewell to the Kremlin.
The museum already has audio guides in English and is preparing to translate them into Spanish, French and German.
Opened: Tue - Sun 10.00 - 21.00
This week Yekaterinburg is celebrating the 80th anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s birth. A big man from the Urals started his political career in Sverdlovsk, then was promoted to Moscow in 1985 and became the first president of Russia. Now his statue is the first monument since the Soviet era erected to a political leader.
The monument is made of 15 ton marble pieces. It’s 10 metres tall - Boris’s height was 1.87m., much taller than his followers Putin and Medvedev (1.70 and 1.62 respectively). No wonder, the monument was erected on the Street named after Yeltsin. In the Soviet times the central street used to be a neglected area with shabby barracks. It was thanks to Yeltsin that the ugly barracks were demolished and people were moved to the new apartment buildings. Yeltsin also ordered to build a Drama theatre on this street. In the future there will be a presidential centre on Yeltsin Street too with a library and a museum. The museum will have an exact replica of Yeltsin’s office in the Kremlin.
2011 is also the 20th anniversary of the failed coup arranged by the Communists in August 1991 when Yeltsin climbed up onto a tank outside the Russian parliament and called for a general strike. On 23 August Yeltsin banned the Communist party in Russia. The photo exhibition of those events is now held in the Museum of History in Yekaterinburg. The exhibition is called ‘Yeltsin – Yes!’
There are very different opinions in Russia of Yeltsin’s presidency. The 90s are remembered as years when few men became billionaires while pensioners lived in poverty. Gangsters and mafia controlled the cities, it was especially characteristic for Yeltsin’s home city Yekaterinburg. The president was famous for his drunken speeches. I heard a lady from Moscow saying on the radio about Yekaterinburg: “Everything is wrong in your city – you killed the Tsar and failed to raise a president.”
By the way, it was Yeltsin who ordered to demolish Ipatyev House – the place of the Tsar’s murder in 1978. Though later he would say the order arrived from the Kremlin and he couldn’t disobey. However, Boris always had a huge support in Yekaterinburg. 95% of the Yekaterinburgers supported him in 1991 and the recent celebration events show that most of the Ural citizens don’t have a grudge against him.
Another interesting exhibition took place on Lenin Avenue. Local contemporary artists erected a carton monument to letter E. It is the most important letter for the city as both Yekaterinburg and Yeltsin start with ‘E’ in Russian. The citizens could bring the photos of the prominent people whose names start with E. The photos were then glued to the monument.
Among the notable citizens of Yekaterinburg Boris Yeltsin’s name is the first that leaps to mind. An engineering graduate of the Ural Technical University, he was a Communist leader of Sverdlovskaya oblast and later became the first President of Russian Federation. I believe it’s still too early to judge about the benefits and contributions that Yeltsin made or failed to make to the country. One thing for sure, he was quite a character. To give you an idea what kind of a personality he was, here’s a story that may be turned into an interesting road-movie one day.
As a student, Boris had a passion for traveling and decided to explore our huge country (it was the USSR back then) by train during summer holidays. If he’d been a foreigner, he would have gone by Trans-Siberian as many of you would. But Yeltsin was Russian and the Russians tend to go south. So here’s Yeltsin’s itinerary: Sverdlovsk – Kazan – Moscow – Leningrad – Minsk – Kiev – Simferopol – Yalta – Novorossiysk – Sochi – Sukhumi - Batumi – Rostov-on-Don – Volgograd – Saratov – Kuybyshev – Chelyabinsk – Sverdlovsk. It’s quite a long trip, isn’t it? Now it’s interesting to mention that Boris didn’t have money to buy train tickets. In fact, a poor student had no money at all. So he traveled on the train roofs. As you can see, the Indian slumdog millionaire wasn’t the first to do it! His friend gave up and got off on the second day of the journey but Yeltsin didn’t. He visited all the places of his itinerary. Of course, he was stopped by the police from time to time. Boris would explain that he was going to visit his sick babushka in Simferopol. When asked about the address of the babushka he always said – Lenin St, 5. The thing is, every town in the USSR had Lenin Street and obviously had # 5. So the police would buy his story. The future president wasn’t the one to travel on the roof. A gang of ex-cons made him play a card game where the looser was to be thrown from the running train. Fortunately, Yeltsin won although had to give the criminals his grandfather’s watch. Boris even managed to make good money somewhere in Ukraine: he helped an officer to get prepared for an exam in mathematics and nearly fell in love with the officer’s wife who was feeding the Ural student with Ukrainian borsch and pirozhki. Finally, Yeltsin returned back to Sverdlovsk. By that time he looked like homeless in worn out pants, straw hat with holes and dusty sandals. He was sunburnt, skinny, happy and full of stories.
I wonder if somebody would dare to repeat his trip these days (on the roof, of course)? May be it’s the road that leads to the presidency…