Gorbachev and Yeltsin: Portrait of 2 Presidents

November 17, 1991|By WILL ENGLUND | WILL ENGLUND,Will Englund is a Moscow correspondent for The Sun.

Moscow -- Two presidents: one talented, the other strong; one rational, the other fearless; one seeking personal order, the other seeking personal answers. This is a country with two men at the top, Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Boris N. Yeltsin, each a true Russian type, neither complete, each jealous of the other's traits, their lives symmetrical and entwined.

Are they unable to do without each other? Are they two parts of a larger whole? Deep down, do they detest each other or admire each other, or has it gone beyond that?

Dr. Aron I. Belkin, one of the only practitioners of psychoanalysis in Moscow, has written a long and fascinating article that explores the relationship of the odd couple now in charge here. Published in the newspaper Kultura, it offers a glimpse of personal psychological needs being played out on a national stage.

Clearly, Dr. Belkin said in an interview last week, the country is moving from the "epoch" of Mr. Gorbachev to that of Mr. Yeltsin, who holds most of the power now. Yet the Soviet president stubbornly remains on the scene, and it is almost impossible to consider one man without the other.

Their characters are as distinct as can be, yet they are so similar in age and background that they instinctively understand and need each other.

"Yeltsin could be called the second ego of Gorbachev, and vice versa," Dr. Belkin said. "They are very close because they are children of the same time."

Both came from the provinces, both came of age after World War II, both eventually saw that the Communist system was rotting from within. Mr. Gorbachev, of course, moved ahead more quickly, being named general secretary of the Communist Party in 1985.

Dr. Belkin describes Mr. Gorbachev as exemplifying one of the two major types of Russian character. He values "order in everything and rationality." He "hates falsehood and cruelty, and also easily believes in dogmatic doctrines." He has little sentiment and a great degree of self-control. What he lacks is self-confidence.

Mr. Gorbachev spotted Mr. Yeltsin, then a local party boss in the city of Sverdlovsk, and promoted him to Moscow.

"I presume that Gorbachev had double feelings about Yeltsin from the very first," Dr. Belkin wrote. "Even Yeltsin's appearance was something new -- his height, stature and physical strength. Many of the features of his personality are true Russian, in the common Russian belief. His personal appeal, the air of violence about him, his frankness and diligence, his rejection of cheap effects."

Mr. Gorbachev admired these qualities, "and obviously tried to find them in himself." Unconsciously, he believed Mr. Yeltsin to be his superior.

"Yeltsin seemed to strike a very sore string in Mr. Gorbachev's soul," Dr. Belkin wrote.

In 1987, Mr. Yeltsin lashed out at the opponents of perestroika, only to be cut down by Mr. Gorbachev and tossed out of his job. That should have been the last the world would ever hear of Boris Yeltsin, yet Mr. Gorbachev allowed him to hold onto his career in politics.

In retrospect, it was perhaps one of the most crucial moments in Soviet history, but Dr. Belkin believes it wasn't a deliberate move by Mr. Gorbachev.

Rather, Mr. Gorbachev had to prove he was Mr. Yeltsin's better, but he couldn't do that while Mr. Yeltsin was a crushed or defeated man. It had to be the "true Yeltsin" to satisfy the Soviet president.

But when the true Yeltsin re-emerged he was in no mood to acknowledge Mr. Gorbachev's superiority. Having been fired from the Politburo by Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Yeltsin found himself becoming a hero to the people. He had spoken out against the party -- at a time when the party was taking on a totally unaccustomed role in the life of the nation. For 70 uninterrupted years, the Communist Party had thrived by finding enemies to denounce: the bourgeoisie, Trotskyites, Bukharinites, "cosmopolitans," Jews.

Under Mr. Gorbachev's perestroika, though, the enemies were disappearing. Even American imperialism, Dr. Belkin said, vanished as a threat. "And then it turned out," he said, "that our real enemy was this bureaucratic-administrative system, and the Communist Party."

The party reaped what it had so assiduously sown, now finding itself the object of the deep-seated Russian need to have an enemy. And Mr. Yeltsin had leadership virtually thrust upon him, Dr. Belkin believes.

Mr. Yeltsin himself has written that after 1987 he went through a deep personal crisis; he says he saw the light and emerged a changed, and better, man.

Mr. Yeltsin swept back to power, more than he had ever dreamed of before, finally winning the Russian presidency in a free election last June. Mr. Gorbachev seemed uncertain how to deal with the new Mr. Yeltsin, until his own crisis crashed in upon him the night of Aug. 18.

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