Russia bade a
solemn farewell Wednesday to its first post-Soviet
president, Boris Yeltsin, who signed a law
decriminalizing homosexuality in 1993, with a sonorous
funeral in Moscow under the gilded arches of a
cathedral near the Kremlin and burial in a leafy
cemetery near the banks of the Moscow River.
white-robed priests led the service before a crowd of
dignitaries, including Yeltsin's hand-picked successor,
President Vladimir Putin, and other world leaders of
the Yeltsin era, including former presidents George
H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The Cathedral of
Christ the Savior echoed with the priests and a choir
singing the Russian Orthodox funeral liturgy during the
85-minute service, which was televised live.
It was a quiet
finale for one of the most dynamic figures of Russia's
black Mercedes hearse carried Yeltsin's flag-draped coffin
from the cathedral past a crowd of mourners. At a spot
closer to Moscow's prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery,
it was transferred to a caisson, and an armored
military-green reconnaissance vehicle then pulled it along a
street strewn with red carnations.
It was borne
slowly to the grave as priests, relatives, and VIPs walked
The coffin was
reopened so that Yeltsin's widow, Naina, could gently
caress his cheek one last time and kiss his face. She, their
two daughters, and other relatives said their final
farewells, then the coffin was then lowered into the
earth. Yeltsin's relatives made the sign of the cross,
the Russian national anthem played, and a cannon fusillade
procession brought together Russia's leading politicians,
artists, and intellectuals, many of them political foes and
almost all of them veterans of a more chaotic,
desperate, and--to some--freer era.
Cemetery holds the graves of an array of Russia's artistic
elite, including those of Dmitry Shostakovich, Sergei
Prokofiev, and Anton Chekhov. It also holds the graves
of politicians, including another reformer, former
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who is buried about 200
yards from Yeltsin.
Yeltsin was a key
engineer of the end of the Soviet Union and led Russia
into often-chaotic attempts to recover from decades of
Communist repression and economic stagnation.
The first freely
elected president of Russia, Yeltsin was widely admired
for his valor in opposing the 1991 hard-line coup attempt,
when he scrambled atop a tank to rally democratic
opposition. But he was widely derided for his heavy
drinking and was despised for allowing the sell-off of
lucrative prizes of Russia's industrial empire to insiders
while millions of his countrymen plunged into poverty.
dramatic history of the 20th century was reflected in Boris
Nikolayevich,'' Patriarch Alexy II said, using Yeltsin's
patronymic in a letter read at the funeral. ''Being a
strong individual, he took upon himself the fate of
the country at a difficult and dangerous time of
The letter was
read by Metropolitan Yuvenaly, who led the service. The
church said Alexy was unable to attend because he was
undergoing medical treatment.
funeral, more than 20,000 people filed through the
gold-domed cathedral to the view the body of Yeltsin,
who died Monday at age 76.
the service was Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader
and a bitter rival during the final years of the Communist
era. Gorbachev's attempts at reform set in motion a
wave of open dissatisfaction with the Soviet system,
but Yeltsin believed the changes did not go far
Many of the
mourners said they admired Yeltsin for breaking the grip of
monolithic Communism and moving Russia toward
pluralism--and said they fear Putin is reversing
''I came here to
pay respect to Boris Nikolayevich for everything he has
given us: freedom and the opportunity to realize
ourselves,'' said 73-year-old Svetlana Zamishlayeva.
But now, she said, ''there is a certain retreat from
freedom of the press, from fair elections, from all
kinds of freedom.''
course that he set is being dismantled today,'' said Nikita
Belykh, leader of the liberal Union of Right Forces party,
which has become increasingly marginalized during
Putin's seven years in office.
He suggested that
when Yeltsin resigned on December 31, 1999, and turned
over the presidency to Putin, the departing leader may have
expected his successor to continue his policies.
''We all make
mistakes,'' Belykh said outside the cathedral.
lawmakers, meanwhile, expressed resentment of Yeltsin's role
in bringing an end to the Soviet Union. They refused
to stand for a moment of silence called in Yeltsin's
memory at the opening of the Wednesday session of the
lower house of parliament, news agencies reported.
''We will never
give honor to the destroyer of fatherland,'' Communist
deputy Viktor Ilyukhin was quoted as saying by the
RIA-Novosti news agency.
Russians revile him, accusing him of breaking up the Soviet
Union in a grab for power and of compounding the disorder,
loss of prestige, and economic troubles that persisted
history will give the deceased an impartial appraisal,''
Alexy said in the letter read at the funeral. (Maria