Boris Yeltsin buried in Moscow

The funeral of Russia's First President, Boris Yeltsin, took place Wednesday at Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery. It was followed by a funeral dinner in the Kremlin.

Boris Yeltsin’s body lay in state since April 24 at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The doors of the cathedral were opened to public. Thousands of people came to pay their last tribute to Russia’s first President. Many queued throughout the night to bid farewell to Boris Yeltsin.

Even after death, Mr Yeltsin leaves a mark in Russian history. In a symbolic gesture, the funeral service of the first Russian President was held at Russia’s main cathedral, that of Christ the Saviour, signifying a firm break from Soviet traditions. The cathedral was demolished in 1931, the year Boris Yeltsin was born. It was during his time in office that the resurrection of this symbol of Russia's Orthodoxy was begun and completed.

“He changed the way the world looks today. I believe this gathering of many people in Moscow is an honest recognition, and everybody has paid his respect to Boris Yeltsin, who had a very clear idea what freedom means, and he lived in accordance with those principles,” Valdas Adamkus, President of Lithuania, said.

“He was an outstanding man and an outstanding statesman, a leader of a great nation. He possessed what we call a wide Russian soul and a responsive heart. I remember he was always ready to help, the moment you asked him, no matter what kind of help it was. I think that he as a leader possessed two traits, maybe contradictory. I mean political foresight and a strong political will. It was these traits which enabled him to change Russia from authoritarian rule to democracy,” said Askar Akayev, former Kyrgyz President.

A funeral service was performed by the clergy in accordance with Orthodox traditions. It was the first Orthodox funeral service for a head of state since 1894, the fact only strengthening the association of Yeltsin's rule with changes.

After the traditional requiem service the coffin with the body of Boris Yeltsin was escorted to Novodevichy cemetery. Mourners walked behind a gun carriage down the cemetery's central alley where the former president would find his final resting place.

The Russian standard was folded away and presented to Yeltsin's widow Naina Yeltsina. Supported by her two daughters, she thanked the priest performing the service and tried to brace herself as her daughters kissed their father farewell.

The service for Boris Yeltsin was followed by a funeral dinner in the Kremlin. It is traditional at funeral dinners in Russia for guests to give speeches remembering the deceased. These are saved for after the burial itself, in order to preserve the dignity of the occasion.

Boris Yeltsin's family was there, including his widow and their two daughters, as well as senior members of the government and guests from overseas.

Naina Yeltsina, remembered her departed husband: “We spent more than 50 years together. He was really a unique person. I was always amazed by his wisdom, with how he was able to see through any situation. His work was always been the most important thing to him. Family was in the second place.Thank you for remembering him. Our family will always remember him. Everybody who knew him will remember him. Thank you very much. Really, thank you.”

President Putin said: “After becoming President, thanks to the support from millions of the country's citizens, he changed the face of power. He knocked down the wall between society and the state. He served his people faithfully and fearlessly. He could, and he loved, talking to people openly. He never hid in the shadows or behind anyone's back.  He drew the fire of criticism upon himself, taking responsibility for harsh but vital decisions. Dear friends, very few people are destined to become free themselves and to lead millions of others towards freedom,” Vladimir Putin stated.

Boris Yeltsin was also remembered by foreign dignitaries. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, said it was a real pleasure to work with Boris Yeltsin.

“I have great respect for the historic role that President Yeltsin played for the Russian people and also for the world. He was an immensely complicated man and a very human person with both positive and negative aspects of that. I very much appreciated the various meetings that we had together and his ability to engage in spirited discussion. It was one of the greatest experiences for me as for the Secretary of State to have the opportunity to meet with President Yeltsin in the Kremlin. And a personal note: obviously, most American Secretaries of State don’t speak Russian and when during our meeting the translation was going on, President Yeltsin looked over and said: ”Do not translate. She understands everything!“ We skipped a lot of translation,” Madeleine Albright remembers. 

Former Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Boris Yeltsin will be remembered as the man who opened Russia to the world.

“Boris Yeltsin will be remembered for that singular act of courage at that decisive moment when he saved freedom and enabled a new Russia. Had he not acted, history would have moved differently.  He proceeded to open Russia to western markets, western ideas, economic freedoms and other freedoms. As for Israelis, he will be remembered for the kindness and open policy that he showed towards Jewish culture in Russia,” he said. 

Boris Yeltsin’s death put aside the debates on the successes and failures of his rule allowing the nation and the world to say farewell.