Documents on Democracy

Issue Date April 2000
Volume 11
Issue 2
Page Numbers 182-86
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On 31 December 1999, Russian president Boris Yeltsin surprised his country and the world by resigning, ending nearly a decade at the helm of post-Soviet Russia. Excerpts from his farewell remarks follow:

Today, I will be giving you my New Year’s greetings for the last time. But that’s not all. Today, I am speaking to you for the last time as president of Russia.

I have made my decision.

I have thought about it long and hard. Today, on the last day of the departing century, I am resigning.

I have heard many times that “Yeltsin will do anything to stay in power; he won’t turn it over to anyone.” That is a lie.

But that’s not the point. I have always said that I would not deviate one bit from the Constitution. That the Duma elections should take place at the constitutionally appointed time. They did. And I also wanted the presidential elections to take place on time–in June 2000. That was very important for Russia. It would have created an extremely important precedent of a civilized, voluntary transfer of power from one president of Russia to another, newly elected one.

And yet I made a different decision. I am leaving. I am leaving before my term expires. I realize that I have to do it. Russia should go into the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new, clever, strong, and energetic people. And those of us who have already been in power for many years must go.

After seeing the hope and faith with which people voted for a new generation of politicians in the Duma elections, I understood that I had accomplished my life’s main mission. Russia can no longer return to the past. Now, Russia will always move forward, only forward. . . .

Today, on this day that is unusually important for me, I would like to say just a few more personal words than usual. I would like to ask your forgiveness. [End Page 182]

For the fact that many of our dreams have not come true. And for the fact that what seemed easy to us turned out to be excruciatingly difficult. I ask your forgiveness for not justifying the hopes of those who believed that at one stroke, in one burst, we could leap from the gray, stagnant, totalitarian past to a bright, prosperous, and civilized future. I myself believed this.

It seemed that we could overcome everything in just one burst. But it didn’t turn out that way. In this, I turned out to be too naive. The problems turned out to be too complicated. We fought our way forward through mistakes and failures. Many people’s lives were turned upside down in that difficult time. But I want you to know something. I have never said it before, but it’s important for me to say it to you now. I felt the pain of each and every one of you–I felt it in my heart. I had sleepless nights, tormented by worry over what I could do to make people’s lives at least a little bit easier and better. That was my most important job.

I am leaving. I have done all that I could. It’s not because of my health, but because of a combination of all these problems. A new generation is coming to replace me, a generation of those who can do more and better. In accordance with the Constitution, in resigning, I have signed a decree placing the duties of the president of Russia on the head of the government, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. For three months, in accordance with the Constitution, he will be the head of state. And in three months, also in accordance with the Constitution of Russia, presidential elections will take place.

Later that day, Vladimir Putin accepted his new office. Excerpts from his remarks follow:

Dear Russians! Fellow countrymen!

Today, I assumed the duties of head of state. Presidential elections will be held in three months. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: There will be no “power vacuum” in the country. Any attempt to go outside Russian law or the Russian Constitution will be dealt with severely.

Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of the press, and property rights–these fundamental elements of civilized society will be reliably protected by the state. The armed forces, the Federal Border service, and law-enforcement bodies are all working normally. The state will continue to guard the security of every person as it has in the past.

In deciding to hand over power, the president acted in strict accordance with the constitution of this country. It will take some time for history to deliver its verdict on how much this man has done for Russia. Yet it is already evident that Russia has taken the path of democracy and reforms, that it has stuck to this path, that it has emerged as a strong and independent state–and all this is to his great credit. [End Page 183]

While these changes at the top were taking place, Russia continued its brutal war in Chechnya. On January 12, Chechen foreign minister Ilyas Ahmadov discussed the conflict in an address to the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at SAIS in Washington, D.C. Below are excerpts from a summary of his remarks:

When the Russian government began its second war in Chechnya, it stated that it had discovered the centers of terrorism in Chechnya and announced it had the appropriate types of technology to fight terrorism. Now we know just what that means. The Russians are using sophisticated aircraft, bombs, and armed forces against us to wage a brutal campaign that has inflicted thousands of civilian deaths on our people. . . .

The Chechen people will fight for as long as we have to. We have no other choice. There have been many casualties. Approximately 10,000 civilians have been killed. My main goal is to stop the total destruction of our people. But now all of the previous agreements that were made between Chechnya and Russia are no longer valid. Where can we start? We are prepared to negotiate. But Russia unilaterally violated all the previous agreements we had between us. President [Aslan] Maskhadov desires to return to the negotiating table. . . .

We know that we Chechens are fated to live with the Russians through-out the centuries. We must end the war and rebuild trust between us.

East Timor

Following the violence surrounding East Timor’s 30 August 1999 referendum on independence from Indonesia, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was established in October. Longtime independence leader Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, president of the National Council of the Timorese Resistance (CNRT), recently discussed the situation in East Timor in a speech at the Forum for Democratic Leaders in the Asia-Pacific in Seoul. Excerpts follow:

The people of East Timor have gained a true understanding of the meaning of human rights, freedom and democracy through their 24-year-old struggle for national liberation. Having achieved our principal objective, our main preoccupation at present is the creation of a strong civil society and a truly pluralistic system of government.

The CNRT is a platform established to foster national unity, which includes in its membership political organizations, community groups, and associations encompassing the many diverse components of East Timorese society. Under its banner the people of East Timor voted with tremendous courage and profound democratic consciousness for independence. This tremendous popular participation in the consultation must not be permitted to end with the ballot of 30 August. In the new [End Page 184] independent East Timorese nation, the conscious and active participation of the people in determining the course of their destiny must be preserved and actively built upon. . . .

The question of how we deal with the difficult issue of national reconciliation clearly also has implications for the process of peace-building inside the country. While the wounds resulting from the recent violence are deep and the pain of the people must not go unack-nowledged, we have confidence in our people’s capacity to forgive, if not to forget. They will forgive not because we, the leaders, demand it of them, but because they themselves have fought too hard and long to see their peace and tranquility sacrificed to further violence committed out of bitterness, hatred, and revenge. The difficulties endured to this day cannot be allowed to hang like a shadow over a future which is otherwise bright. . . .

In the interests of promoting economic growth towards self-sufficiency, East Timor advocates the development of a market economy with selective intervention of the state to ensure equity, transparency, and efficiency. We encourage the building and strengthening of the private sector in all social spheres, with particular emphasis on support for Timorese entrepreneurs. . . .

During the transition to independence, CNRT is committed to working actively and productively with UNTAET, serving the interests of the Timorese people throughout the whole transition period, while never losing sight of the national interests which will prevail in the post-transition period.


On January 16, Socialist candidate Ricardo Lagos defeated rightist Joaquín Lavín in Chile’s presidential runoff (see the articles by Arturo Fontaine Talavera and Manuel Antonio Garretón on pp. 70-84). That evening, Lagos delivered a victory speech, excerpts of which appear below:

I want to move us forward to resolve the anguish that remains from the passing century. This century leaves us a lesson: that of protecting the rights and dignity of everyone, that of respecting life, that of caring for nature, that of concerning ourselves with all of our families and their children. And in particular that of defending human rights as the basis of our achieved coexistence. . . .

And a second mandate: to work together with those who until yesterday were our adversaries, to construct this new country that you, the Chileans, have entrusted to us. I will not mislead anyone. We have the opportunity to forge and to consider the future today.

To those who did not vote for us, I invite them to work and to set [End Page 185] aside suspicions or resentments and join us here and now in this splendid task that I call them to. Here there is space for all. No one party is the winner in Chile. Chile is the common project that we want to achieve.

Tonight I request that each one of you who voted for me knock on the door of the house of a neighbor who did not give us his vote, greet him with affection, and say to him, “Unite with us, we can work together for a better Chile.”

The Nation is one and the Nation calls all of us together; therefore I go in the name of the Nation and I speak to all of you.


On 24 October 1999, Fernando de la Rua of the opposition Alianza was elected president of Argentina, succeeding longtime Peronist president Carlos Menem (see the article by Steven Levitsky on pp. 56-69). Excerpts from a speech by de la Rua on the day following the election appear below:

I want to convey to all Argentines and to all the countries of the world the importance that these elections have had for our country. We are beginning our fourth consecutive electoral period, which demonstrates the consolidation of the constitution and democracy. . . .

I greet those who voted for us and I also greet those who did not vote for us. Ballots always convey a message and I understand the message of those who voted in favor and against us. . . .

I want to implement a new policy in the country, leaving behind sterile confrontations and divisions, summoning everyone to work for the general well-being and leaving aside selfishness. . . .

Now that the elections are over, the electoral dispute is also over, so we will leave behind memories of this day and of respect for our honorable opponents.

This is why I will promote a dialogue with all the social and political sectors, with the opposition, with all the governors no matter what party they belong to, with the legislators, and with all the men and women of good will who want to build with us a better Argentina. I will be the president of all Argentines.

We are preparing to begin the new century with consolidated institutions, leaving behind our confrontations and divisions. . . .

Once the election is over we will begin to work immediately to meet the ideals of the people. We must clearly state that our administration will have the categorical characteristic of transparency. We will end all kinds of corruption.

We will end all kinds of impunity. We will live within the framework of the constitution and the law, respecting all the Argentine people, equal rights, and dignity.