July 01, 2016

Reliving August 1991

The central exhibit at the Boris Yeltsin Museum in Yekaterinburg is organized around “Seven Days that Changed Russia.” The exhibit organizers have selected seven days in the history of the Yeltsin-era Soviet Union and Russia and cleverly recreated the experience of those days for visitors. (The exhibit actually explores not just the given day, but the events surrounding it, some of which unfolded over weeks, or even months.)

There is the day in October 1987 when Yeltsin gave a speech to the Central Committee Plenum criticizing Gorbachev, marking the beginning of the rivalry between these two politicians and raising Yeltsin in the public’s esteem as a “champion of the truth.” There is also the day economic reforms were launched; the day of the 1993 putsch; the day of the 1996 elections, when Yeltsin faced off against the Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov in a hotly contested race for president of Russia; the day when President Yeltsin underwent open heart surgery; and the day in 1999 when he shocked the nation by announcing he was stepping down with the words, «Я ухожу» (I am leaving).

And of course a sizable portion of the exhibition is devoted to August 19, 1991, the day members of Gorbachev’s own government attempted to declare a state of emergency and bring a halt to his reforms – a day that ultimately led to the end of the Soviet Union. It was also the day that Gorbachev’s political career came to an end and Yeltsin, defender of the House of the Government, Russia’s White House or Белый дом, was catapulted to the pinnacle of popularity.

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