Russians Crying for Yeltsin? Nyet

The death of a great statesman, however flawed he or she might have been, is an occasion for soft-focus nostalgia. But Boris Yeltsin’s passing isn’t stirring up any warm fuzzies in the hearts of his countrymen—at least not the ones who now reside in the Russian immigrant-dominated Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Monday Radar took a long subway ride from Manhattan to find out how the Slavic population is reacting to the death of a man who deserves much of the credit, and even more of the blame, for the Motherland’s present condition. Here’s what they said …

“Oh, it’s about time. I’ve known him for 30 or 40 years, and I’ve never seen him sober. I didn’t know him personally, of course, but back when I worked for an oil company in Donetsk, and Yeltsin was the Party secretary in Sverdlovsk, we had to go to him to approve every order of metal, supplies, everything, and he was never there. He was always at his dacha.”—Dina, a hefty, sixty-ish woman with bleached-blonde hair, interviewed on the boardwalk, where she was eating sunflower seeds

“I’m sorry he ever lived! [Pumps cane for emphasis.] I lived in the Soviet Union since 1940. All my relatives got apartments with phones. We were a mighty superpower! The world loved and respected us. And now? No one loves us! No one respects us! Did Yeltsin do something good by ruining Russia? By robbing it of billions and giving all the factories to his friends? Let me tell you: No, he didn’t!”—Misha, an elderly man in a checkered newsboy cap, sitting on a bench along the boardwalk

“I became a doctor three months ago, and let me tell you, that man had it coming. No one can consume that much alcohol and live long … Would you really care if the president of Chile died?”—Leonid, a 26-year-old physician who immigrated in 1993, interviewed in Starbucks, where he was drinking Frappucino

“I pity him. I pity him as a human being, because first and foremost he was a human being, and we are all human beings first. [Turns to his coworkers.] Girls, come tell this lady about Yeltsin. He’s dead.”—Yosef, a stylist/colorist from Moscow, interviewed in the salon where he works

“Wow, he was so young! He couldn’t have been over sixty! [Yeltsin was 76.] And he was better than the one that came before him—what was his name? I like Putin better anyway. He’s better looking.”—Lena, another stylist at the salon

“He died? Really? Today? He’s dead? Shit.”—Gena, Lena’s boyfriend, wearing a black leather jacket and a Star of David on a thick platinum chain


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