Yeltsin is sworn in to lead Russia into a new era

July 11, 1991|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Boris N. Yeltsin was inaugurated yesterday as president of a Russia that is creating itself day by day, a state still so unformed that there was no Supreme Court justice to administer the newly written oath of office and no official words for the new national anthem.

So Mr. Yeltsin, the first elected president in 1,000 years of Russian history, gave himself the oath, one hand resting on his heart, the other resting at his side. Heralded by a blare of trumpets, he stood in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses amid red oriental carpets, behind a bank of pink roses, and swore to defend the laws and constitution of the Russian republic.

As he sat in the crowd of people's deputies, awaiting his moment at the rostrum, he looked like a man fully aware of his moment in history, a man who felt the weight of the past and foresaw the dimensions of what lay ahead.

He looked like a man who had not slept well the night before.

He looked, even, like a man who half expected tanks to circle the Kremlin while the KGB carried him off.

Instead, the nation watched a communism was denounced and carted off, first by a Leningrad actor and then, astonishingly in this country where atheism is the official religion, by the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The actor, Oleg V. Basilashvili, summoned forth a great past, a glorious inheritance. He reminded his listeners that they were descendants of a nation that had produced Peter the Great, Pushkin, Dostoevski and Tolstoy.

Even more remarkable were the words of Patriarch Alexis II, who denounced 73 years of Communist rule for making people forget how to work and pray. And then he made the sign of the cross over Mr. Yeltsin.

After reciting the oath, a now-confident-looking Mr. Yeltsin told his countrymen and the world that "Great Russia is rising from its knees and will become a flourishing sovereign state."

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the unelected Soviet president, looked almost furtive by comparison and did nothing to allay that impression with a pro forma speech that only somewhat lamely congratulated Mr. Yeltsin.

As the day of pageantry ended, Muscovites rushing home from their day's work saw bread lines.

Lydia Satdarova, a middle-aged woman who works in a watch factory, refused to worry as she left a store about a mile from the Kremlin without her bread.

As the bread disappeared, a small mound of chocolates had appeared, a favorite brand that had not been seen in the city for a year. As if alerted by telepathy, a line of about 20 people willing to fork over a day's pay for 2 pounds of chocolate materialized instantaneously.

When that supply was exhausted at the very hour when most Muscovites begin buying their bread, the manager closed up two hours early, stoutly denying that there was a shortage of anything. The pre-printed sign he put on the door said, "Store closed for technical difficulties."

Mrs. Satdarova said she was sure there would be bread somewhere. Her daughter had promised to buy some earlier in the day.

She had not voted for Mr. Yeltsin, she said, because she had seen so much in the official press about his bad behavior in the United States a year ago, when he was said to have been drunk at an appearance in Baltimore.

She voted for a fringe candidate who promised everything -- cheap vodka, plenty of food, no lines, whatever.

Now, she is inclined to place her hopes in Mr. Yeltsin. "It is shameful we are reduced to such conditions," she said, looking at the empty bread shelves. "What has happened? We work hard, like you do in America. We work hard, too. And we have nothing.

"What has happened to us?"

Mrs. Satdarova said she could only hope. "We devoted our whole lives to something. We believed it would get better someday. We kept believing someday it would get better." She paused.

"I believe things will be better. I believe it."

Over in Pushkin Square, Ludmila Popova, a librarian, said she was not surprised by Mr. Yeltsin's tired appearance. "You don't know what they did to him," she said, describing endless official attacks in print and on television against Mr. Yeltsin. "We feared he would be killed."

A retired gym teacher named Galina Svergun said Mr. Yeltsin was elected by "the miserable condition of the people."

"We had a holiday celebration of our nation today," she said. "We are free people now."

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