Historians recreate the Yeltsin era for the youth
At 3 Yeltsin Street, in the heart of Yekaterinburg(a major city in the Ural Mountains), construction has been underway for about a year. Locals know full well that, inside the fence, on the site of a former shopping center, the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center — their native son — is being built.
Many have already taken part in creating the exhibits by donating "artifacts of modern history" for the future museum. For example, food vouchers from the era of lines and shortages: People needed these gray pieces of paper in the 1980s to buy the most basic groceries, such as grains, sugar and butter.
People have donated old photos, newspapers and magazines, leaflets and posters that date back between1991 and 1996 — back to when the first president of Russia visited his hometown to garner support during his electoral campaign.
Most people know that a museum is being built, but not all are aware that this is "a center of the historical heritage of the president of Russia who gave up his authority."
So reads Federal Act No. 68,which was adopted by the State Duma on May 13, 2008. Every former president will now have his own presidential library, or "presidential center," where anyone who so desires will be able to see what the politician did, what laws he signed, with whom he met, and in what era he lived.
The idea is that former presidents will hand over their archives, gifts, manuscripts and valuable documents to these centers. These centers will be a place for historical and scientific research and humanitarian projects.
Most importantly, these centers will be open for visitors. Someday, there will be several of these museums, andby the end of the centurythere will be nearly 20.
The Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg is not just the first of its kind: Boris Yeltsin was the first president to be democratically elected by universal direct vote. Prior to his election, Russia had never elected a head of state.
The 1990s were the Yeltsin era — a time of upheaval and changes in lifestyle, when the country overcame political and economic crises in the painful move forward from the Soviet past toward democracy and a market economy. Assessments of the era are still very mixed.
Ralph Appelbaum Associates (New York), which is responsible for creating presidential libraries in the U.S. (in particular, the Clinton Library) and the Jewish museum in Moscow, won an open competition to take part in creating the exhibits.
Working alongside them is a team of architects, archivists, engineers and Russian screenwriters. The group is headed by the famous film producer Paul Lungin.
The task of the creative group is to build an exhibit dedicated to Russia's 20th century, beginning with World War I and ending with its last days.
The Labyrinth of Russian History hall goes from the dreadful documents of the Great Terror of the 1930's, to signs that people carried during the enormous demonstrations of the 1980s, when they demanded an end to the Communist monopoly on power.
The exhibit on "Seven Days" of the Boris Yeltsin era goes from his first scandalous speech in the Kremlin at a session commemorating the 70th anniversary of Soviet power, to his voluntary resignation on Dec. 31, 1999.
A separate section deals with freedoms that the Yeltsin era brought, as well as the first Constitution that established democratic institutions in Russia — general elections, parliament, presidential power, freedom of speech and private property rights.
These halls contain much that is unexpected, including new media technologies and original design themes.
There are also the treasures of historians — letters, notes, Boris Yeltsin's school workbooks (from the family archives).
There are original copies of unique documents: for example, the first copy of the Federal Treaty that was to be signed on Aug. 20, 1991. On Aug. 19, however, there was a military coup, and the Soviet Union broke apart...
The creative group promises that the Presidential Center will house not only temporary exhibitions and a museum of modern history exhibits devoted to Boris Yeltsin and his era.
There will also be a children's center for creative and social initiatives, concerts and public lectures, and debates and conferences on the challenges of modern Russia.
The goals of the Presidential Center are rather complex: It aims to fit within the context of the current needs of a large city and, at the same time, within the context of its era.
Most importantly, perhaps, is that the Yeltsin Center is designed, first and foremost, with the young generation in mind — those who were born in the 1990s.
They know very little about this era, and sometimes they know almost nothing. They confuse the dates and names and are content with the myths and stereotypes that adults have told them.
There is often no one to tell them what actually happened and why. This is the problem, and the mission of the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center is to tackle this challenge along with others.