Photo: Andre Durand/AFP/Getty Images
Two Russians Walk Into a Parliamentary Crisis...
History Lesson

Two Russians Walk Into a Parliamentary Crisis...

By Photo: Andre Durand/AFP/Getty Images

What is a president in a presidential constitutional republic to do when faced with an intransigent, bull-headed faction among his people's representatives? 

Well, Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically elected president, was once faced with a similar situation exactly 20 years ago, in October 1993. The parliament, then called the Supreme Soviet, was increasingly against Yeltsin's neoliberal economic reforms (suggested to him by young Western advisors like Jeffrey Sachs). On one hand, these reforms freed up the old Soviet command economy. On the other, they drove the country into chaos and violence, and left tens of millions impoverished, their savings nullified by skyrocketing inflation. The parliament, dominated by old Soviet conservatives, was increasingly against these reforms and refused to confirm Yeltsin's key economic advisor. Yeltsin held a national referendum, a sort of national vote of confidence, which he won, and used it as a justification for what he did next.

Almost exactly 20 years ago, he dissolved parliament. The vice president and the speaker of the parliament dissolved Yeltsin's presidency, and holed up with their supporters in the parliament's headquarters, now known as "the White House."

Then Yeltsin did this to it. 


 
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