Photos of young Boris Yeltsin, 1940s-1980s

Boris Yeltsin, who became the President of Russia in 1991, was one of the most complex political leaders of his time. A longtime Communist Party leader, he was an important leader in the reform (social reform) movements of the 1980s and 1990s.

Yeltsin was regarded at different times as a folk hero, as a symbol of Russia's struggle for the establishment of democracy, and as a dictatorial figure.

Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin was born on February 1, 1931, in the small Siberian village of Butko, into a Russian working-class family. His parents were Nikolai and Klavdia Yeltsin. He grew up with a younger brother, Mikhail, and a younger sister, Valya.

The Yeltsin family lived in communal, or group, conditions, first on a farm and later on a construction site where his father worked. His family was in close contact with many other families and their privacy was extremely limited.

Yeltsin lived and worked in Siberia for most of his life. His early life, like that of most of his countrymen in the 1930s and 1940s, was marked by difficulty, and as the eldest child, Boris had many responsibilities at home.

A strong-willed child, Boris twice stood up for the educational system. Upon his elementary school graduation, he criticized his homeroom teacher's abusive behavior, which resulted in his being expelled from the school. He appealed the decision and after an inquiry the teacher was dismissed.

During his final year in high school, Yeltsin suffered from typhoid fever, a terrible disease that causes fever and other symptoms and spreads easily, and was forced to study at home.

Denied the right to take the final exam because he had not attended school, he appealed and won. His actions were extraordinary, given that this had happened during the rule of Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), a period when the government had a stronghold over its citizens.

Trained as an engineer, Yeltsin graduated from the Ural Polytechnic Institute. He married his wife Naina at an early age and had two daughters.

Yeltsin initially worked as an engineer in the construction industry in Sverdlovsk, moved into the management of the industry, and later began his career in the Communist Party, eventually becoming the party's first secretary in Sverdlovsk. Yeltsin joined the Communist Party at the age of thirty, relatively late, for a political dreamer.

In 1985, the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Mikhail S. Gorbachev brought Yeltsin to Moscow to work as secretary of the construction industry. Within a year he was appointed head of the Communist Party of Moscow.

The eighteen months that followed were a time of achievement and despair, culminating in his dismissal as a candidate member of the Politburo (the top member of the Communist Party) and First Secretary of the Moscow Party.

In the late 1980s, her personal relationship with Gorbachev broke down after Yeltsin criticized perestroika. In the 1989 elections Yeltsin surprised the party by receiving 90 percent of the vote and was barely elected to the small, but important, parliamentary (governing) body, the Supreme Soviet. Gorbachev was elected the President (President) of the Soviet Union by the new parliament.

During 1989 and 1990, Yeltsin's ideas made him a folk hero in Moscow, where crowds chanting "Yeltsin, Yeltsin" were frequent. Yeltsin was also elected to the Russian Parliament, which in May 1990 elected him as the President (President) of the Russian Republic. Later that year, Yeltsin formally resigned from the Communist Party.

In June 1991 the Russian Republic held its first election for president, and Yeltsin defeated six opponents to win the presidency. As president, he declared the Russian Republic independent of the Soviet Union. He undertook an ambitious program of economic reform with mixed results. Businesses returned to the private sector but the economy began to crumble.

Yeltsin's policies were frequently challenged during 1992, culminating in a major demonstration with the Russian parliament in December 1992. Yeltsin dissolved parliament in September 1993 and a dharna (peaceful protest) began.

In early October 1993, a collision occurred, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries as well as considerable damage to several Moscow landmarks. Eventually the strike was called off.

Yeltsin survived the political crisis, but his reputation suffered. The democratic Yeltsin, who protested on the streets of Moscow in the late 1980s, was forgotten and a dictatorial image of Yeltsin emerged.

Yeltsin remained at the top of Russian politics, but as a less heroic figure than Yeltsin of 1991. Although re-elected in 1996, Yeltsin's future was clouded by Russia's economic crisis and the failure of his reform programme.

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