How will the re-election of Boris Yeltsin affect the future of Russia?
FIVE YEARS AGO, RUSSIANS SAID “YES” TO BORIS YELTSIN: the first democratically elected leader in Russian history – and hoped for much needed changes in society. In July of 1996, they did the same – but this time to make sure there won’t be any new changes in their lives.
The choice has been made, but will Yeltsin’s promises be remembered? Counting all pluses and minuses of the choice that was made, I may surely say that Russia became mature enough for a conscious step in the right direction and secured its integrity. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about authorities which remember promises and care about the electorate only before an election.
This time at least, the radical communist and nationalist innovators received a “no” answer from the people. Russia didn’t want to turn the wheel of history backwards or stay at the point where it is now. Although the return of communists to power has become a usual event in many post-Soviet countries (for instance, they have never lost power in Ukraine), Russia has broken this chain of precedent of “escape from freedom.”
It’s significant that despite the number of predictions of our “comrades” concerning possible riots after the election, this was only a figment of their imagination. The only exception was the attack on the capital city of Chechnya, Grozny, by Chechen rebels (athough they have no ties to the Communist Party).
Another significant fact is the absence of bloodshed which has become all too traditional on the occassion of Russia’s historic milestones. Step by step, as the country is becoming aware of the cost of liberty, the deeper it realizes what freedom is worth, and the less the desire remains to trade democratic progress for a communist paradise of cheap sausage.
On the other hand, there is a visible political division in the society. Every fourth Russian voted against Yeltsin and his reforms. Yet it would be naive to think that all 30 million citizens of the Russian Federation who gave their votes to the communist leader are devoted communists. Obviously, there are people among them who voted against Yeltsin personally or his policies, or are just tired of living in hardship. At the same time, we have a president who claims to be the “president of all Russians no matter what political views they have.” Let’s hope this sentiment was not just election rhetoric, but will become the real criteria for his administration.
On the Economy
The ephoria of victory will be alive in the Kremlin for some time, but sooner or later economic reality will sober the president and his administration with everyday crises. Months of pre-election campaigns and a state of waiting adversely affected the economy. According to estimates of both democrats and communists, Russia will meet with economic troubles this fall, such as an impending crash of the GKO market (state insurance that helps to maintain the federal budget; the government guarantees up to 127% of profit on GKO shares) and a resulting crisis of failed banks.
Also, there is not much success in both internal and foreign policy. The war in Chechnya still takes away people’s lives just as it did a year ago. Crime isn’t bridled yet at home, but is growing rapidly. However, the appearance in the Kremlin of so bright and energetic a person as Alexander Lebed is an opportunity for the president, his administration and all of Russia. It’s a chance for stabilization, order and a chance to gain the people’s trust. Let’s hope Mr. Lebed will be able to realize his peacemaker’s intentions without becoming entangled in the Kremlin’s intrigues.
On Freedom of Religion
What does Yeltsin’s victory mean for evangelical Christians? Special attention should be paid to the promises made during the election campaign. A lot was said about helping the largest religious denomination (the Russian Orthodox Church) at the first meeting of the Presidental Council for Cooperation with Religious Confessions in August of 1995. Promised government aid implies tax privileges, financing for restoration and building of Orthodox temples, and “legal help” which means opening foreign religious offices whose main goal is to protect the traditional religious denomination from foreign missionaries.
Sadly, there is a chance that a notorious bill restricting religious freedom of “sects” passed by parliament in 1993 will be reanimated. (This bill is favored by Lebed, but Yeltsin vetoed it two years ago.) If passed into law, this will not prevent the underground activities of cults such as the White Brethren (a doomsday cult which predicted the end of the world three years ago), but might more adversely affect Protestant churches which prefer to meet openly. Yet it is the desire of some leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church to prevail over the souls of the Russian populace as they did during the times of the Czars. Such an attempt would likely bring the diametrical opposite of the desired effect. As we saw in the past, persecuting the smaller evangelical groups may work instead to unite and strengthen the churches.
My prayer for the Russian president is that he would take heed of all the errors of his past rule and correct his policies as does a wise statesman. Character and honesty are admirable human qualities no matter if you’re a worker or a president of a nation. My hope is that Mr. Yeltsin will never repeat his past mistakes and will provide a successful policy for the benefit of Russia – and that Russia will become a great country in the world again.
But I believe this success and economic prosperity can come only after revival and spiritual awakening. Whether we acheive this or not, we must remember that the threat of mass imprisonments and repression is gone. The rest we will overcome with God’s help. We have seen worse times.