Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at a gala reception in honour of the 80th birthday of Boris Yeltsin
1 february 2011
Mrs Yeltsin, friends, colleagues.
We have gathered here today to celebrate the 80th birthday of Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin. President Yeltsin, together with the new Russia, brought about very difficult but needed transformations and headed the process of radical change that delivered Russia from its deadlock.
The full extent of President Yeltsin's personality is yet to be evaluated by history and future generations. However, we can already say that in the 1990s Russia was born anew. It became a civilised and open state. The role played by the first president in its establishment, in the adoption of the ideals of freedom and democracy by the public and in government policies was enormous. His words "Look after Russia", which he said as he surrendered his presidential powers, were filled with a great moral meaning, conveyed his idea of serving the state and his personal feelings about our country.
Russia's current achievements and what has become everyday reality in the life of every Russian now – the ability to freely express and uphold one's views, the possibility of self-realisation and the chance to see the world – have all come from the deep-seated reforms carried out under Yeltsin's leadership. It was during his presidency that a new Russian statehood was created, a Russia open to and caring for people was born, democratic institutions and a market-based economy came into being, and Russia's Constitution was adopted declaring rights and freedoms of citizens to be the highest value.
Both Yeltsin himself and the entire country had to tackle great challenges of the transitional period. But he did not step back.
Boris Yeltsin was destined to become a political leader: he was a strong-willed man, one who had an innate belief in the values and ideals he upheld. He had to tackle tremendously difficult matters. Yet despite the complications of the period, he was open to people and was always ready to come to their help and assistance. And Russians (he called them "fellow citizens", with a particular emphasis on the words and a special intonation) responded in kind, they believed in him and supported him. This real and humanely sincere support earned Boris Yeltsin the title of the first truly popularly elected head of state in the country's history. Twenty years ago, in the dramatic year 1991, he obtained his mandate from citizens of free Russia and considered that trust most valuable.
Every working day he proved his loyalty to this choice and upheld in a bitter political struggle the values that we today accept as ordinary and inviolate. It was no simple business, but Boris Yeltsin courageously – yes, courageously – accepted his difficult fate and stood up for his convictions. He marched on and taught us many things. For me, it was important to see that on issues of vital and principled significance for the country he had always – yes, always – pressed on to the end, never steering from personal responsibility and fully taking it on himself.
True, Boris Yeltsin was a law unto himself. But he was also wise and valued common sense. He knew how to listen to others and appreciate their views, seek and find compromises. He employed both experienced professionals and novices. Mr Yeltsin was confident that this country would never relapse into the past, that it would march only forward and considered that to be the main achievement of his presidency.
Friends and colleagues,
People from all walks of life have gathered in this hall today, but we all believe in Russia and are striving to build a modern and confident country, one which Boris Yeltsin dreamed of. And we will always remember the colossal efforts it took President Yeltsin to achieve this. Our great obligation is to do everything possible for Russia to become a strong and prosperous state where people have every opportunity for self-realisation and where their rights and freedoms are protected. I am sure this will be so. Thank you very much for attention.