Yeltsin memorial unveiled

Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev have attended the unveiling of a memorial to modern Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, who died one year ago. Known for his rapid economic and political reforms, Yeltsin was one of Russia’s most contr

The memorial features an Orthodox cross, and a lowered Russian flag, draped over Yeltsin’s grave.

“The turbulent 90s were a time of abrupt changes and bold, extraordinary people – individuals who were able to go against the grain. They led millions of people towards new goals. Boris Yeltsin belonged to this outstanding group. He followed a difficult path as a politician and as a citizen. He had to make many difficult choices. But his path was as unique as the destiny of our country,” Vladimir Putin said at the memorial’s unveiling.

Moreover, several sites are being named after the first Russian president to mark the anniversary, among them the university in Ekaterinburg where Yeltsin studied, and one of the city's streets.

Yeltsin’s colourful career

The first president of the Russian Federation came from the highest ranks of the Communist Party. Some analysts joke that the only way he knew was authoritarian but his instincts were democratic.

“Once he turned to me saying, ”we have to give money to this factory“. And I say, ”I'm glad to do it, but there it's not in the budget.“ He exclaims, ”What budget? I'm president!“ But he learnt fast,” Aleksandr Livshits, Former Finance Minister and Yeltsin's ally recalls.

Improving relations with the West were among his priorities. He opened the world to Russians and Russia to the world, by relaxing borders and also the media.

Although Yeltsin considered freedom of the press among his biggest gains, at times he had very special relations with what is known as “the fourth estate”.

“Just imagine, we arranged an interview with him soon after the coup. We arrived at his residence in Sochi at about 11 pm, knocked on the gates and were asked to wait. I will never forget that, when the gates opened, there was his wife Naina, walking up to us in her slippers, and she said, ”I'm so sorry but he's already asleep," said TV anchor Tatiana Mitkova.

The flaws during his rule though were as big as the achievements. Economic reforms resulted in a drastic decline in living standards: corruption flourished, organised crime ruled the streets and businesses.

In 1993, he ordered tanks to shell the Russian Parliament and clamped down on street protesters. And in 1995 he launched a military campaign in Chechnya.

Before the presidential elections in 1996 the Communist party won an overwhelming parliamentary majority. Despite protests from some of his allies, Yeltsin resolved himself to take part in the race and won, albeit by a small margin.

When he bid farewell, it was done in the Yeltsin way – several hours before Russia celebrated the new Millennium.

His name may now arouse controversial emotions, but most people agree that, without this man, the world might have been a very different place.

Boris Yeltsin was born in a village in the Sverdlovsk region, in Russia's Urals.

He graduated from university having majored in construction. In a way that training became a metaphor in his politics – to demolish the communist regime and to build a new state.

Yeltsin died on April 23, 2007 at the age of 76. He’s survived by wife Naina and two daughters.