After a millennium under autocrats such as Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great -- and decades under Communist dictators like Stalin and Brezhnev -- Russians participated in a democratic election for the first time. Boris Yeltsin's inauguration goal of a "prosperous, democratic, peaceful, genuinely sovereign, law-abiding state," however, remains a difficult struggle. An excerpt from The Post of July 11, 1991.
By David Remnick
Washington Post Foreign Service
MOSCOW, July 10
Radical reformer Boris Yeltsin was inaugurated today as the first popularly elected president in Russia's 1,000-year history in a Kremlin ceremony abundant with religious and pre-revolutionary symbols.
"Great Russia is rising from its knees," Yeltsin said in his address. "We will turn it into a prosperous, democratic, peaceful, genuinely sovereign, law-abiding state."
The Kremlin's Hall of Congresses, site of many historic sessions of the Communist Party leadership, was stripped of its Soviet trappings for the occasion. In place of a massive picture of Lenin, founder of Bolshevism, there hung a simple red-and-blue Russian flag. Priests, rabbis, muftis and ministers sat in the first row of the hall.
Yeltsin, who won a landslide victory June 12 over five rivals for leadership of the Soviet Union's largest republic, was congratulated during the ceremony by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and blessed with the sign of the cross by Alexei II, patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. "The president is not a god, not a monarch, not a miracle worker. He is a citizen," Yeltsin said. " ... And in Russia, the individual will become the measure of all things."
Patriarch Alexei, with his flowing robes and Tolstoyan beard, took the podium and, looking directly at Yeltsin, said: "By the will of God and the choice of the people, you are bestowed with the highest office in Russia ... We will pray for you."
Alexei even appealed to Yeltsin to pay mind to the "law of Christ" and told the new Russian president, "You have now a great cross to bear." The patriarch called on Yeltsin to encourage a spiritual rebirth of Russia after decades of religious persecution and asked him to help restore churches, cathedrals and the Russian countryside.
Both Yeltsin and Gorbachev are non-believers, but both men have tried to help restore the Orthodox Church and other religions to normal society after decades of violently enforced state atheism.
Introduced by regal trumpeters and a blaring fanfare, Yeltsin swore himself in as president. At times, he seemed overwhelmed by the occasion, and once or twice his voice broke with nervousness. ...
In Yeltsin's speech, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the regime that followed were described as a tragic interlude, a ruinous period of violence and economic destruction. The theme of a new, anti-Communist era dominated every speech, gesture and symbol.
"For centuries, the interests of the state were put above those of the individual," Yeltsin said. "We were practically the last of the civilized peoples of the world to realize that the strength of the state lies in the well-being of its people."
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