On December 31, 1999, the first President of Russia Boris Yeltsin in his traditional New Year address to the country sensationally announced his resignation, three months before the official presidential election scheduled for March of 2000.
Yeltsin’s rule was very controversial, as he received just about the same amount of praise as he did of scorn. His term fell on the country’s most difficult times, as it was practically reborn from the ruins, depleted after the collapse of the Soviet Union, reviving its economy, trying on capitalist relations and democracy.
The tradition of the New Year’s address started as early as 1941, when the Soviet government informed the Soviet people about the results of the first year of its involvement in the World War. Ever since, the address had become a tradition, as the country’s leaders presented the results of the year to the people.
Yeltsin always tried to make his address special and was never afraid to bring in something new. In 1997, talking about family values, he finished his speech by introducing his own large family, as, after the final “Happy New Year!” all of his loved ones entered the frame. On the contrary, Yeltsin was always very reluctant to talk about politics and even in 1998, the most disastrous year in Russia’s modern history, as the young Russian economy had been shattered by a major crisis, he didn’t cloud his speech with a mention of that. “The year was not an easy one for the country, but New Year’s Eve always brings new hopes. I believe the lights on the New Year’s tree will warm the coldest of hearts. Cheer up those by your side, tired and in despair,” he said instead.
Yeltsin was also the first one to raise a glass of champagne in front of the camera, as Mikhail Gorbachev had never allowed himself such frivolity and always delivered his speech officially from his Kremlin office without any manifestation of a holiday, that is, a New Year’s tree or any other ornament.
In his legendary turn-of-the-century speech Yeltsin lamented the mistakes he had made and asked the people to forgive him. He said, “I want to apologize for not making all dreams come true and for realizing that what had looked easy to us in the beginning, in reality proved to be painfully hard. I apologized for betraying people’s hopes, who believed that we would be able to jump from the grey, retrograde, totalitarian past into the shining rich and civilized future, all in one move.”
By his act, Yeltsin opposed the notion that it was solely power that he had desired. He, on the contrary, stressed it was “of paramount importance to Russia, as we are creating a most important precedent of the civilized voluntary handover of the power from one President of Russia to another.”
He saw his resignation as inevitable, as he strongly believed it was time for those who had been in power for years to leave. “Russia had to enter the new millennium with new politicians, with new faces, with new, smart, strong, and energetic people,” he added.
Yeltsin summed up his speech by saying that he had completed “the mission of his life”, as “Russia was not returning to the past”, and was more than willing to pass on the presidency to “a strong person, who deserves to be President.”
After Yeltsin left, Vladimir Putin became acting president till he was officially elected in the March of 2000.