A Letter of Resignation

Sergei Kovalev sent the following letter to President Boris Yeltsin resigning as chairman of the President’s Human Rights Commission, an office he has held since October 1993. The letter was published in Izvestia on January 24, 1996.

January 23, 1996

To B.N. Yeltsin

   President of the Russian Federation

Mr. President:

For the past six years I have considered it my duty to promote in every way possible the policy that can fairly be called the “democratic transformation of Russia,” notwithstanding many reservations. For a long time that policy was closely linked with your name. You were the head of a country on the road to democracy, and at first you were even considered the leader of the democrats. As long as you remained headed in that direction, I considered myself your ally, or, in those instances when you departed from the overall course or drastically slowed the tempo of advance, a member of the loyal opposition.

Russia’s road to freedom never promised to be easy. Many difficulties were obvious from the very beginning. Many others cropped up unexpectedly. To overcome them, all of us—the government, society, each individual—had to make complicated and sometimes tragic decisions. The main things the country expected from you were the will to make changes, and honesty. Especially honesty. In electing you, Russia saw not only a politician ready to demolish the former state structure but a person who was sincerely trying to change himself, his views, his prejudices, and his habits of rule. You convinced many—myself included—that humanitarian and democratic values could become the foundation of your life, your work, and your policies. We weren’t blind. We saw the typical traits of a Communist Party secretary preserved in your behavior. But all Russia, like a man striving to overcome a serious defect, was struggling with itself. We understood you even when we did not love you.

In recent years, however, even though you continue to proclaim your undying devotion to democratic ideals, you have at first slowly, and then more and more abruptly, changed the course of government policy. Now your government is trying to turn the country in a direction completely contrary to the one proclaimed in August 1991. That has made me feel obliged to state my own position publicly.

I won’t recount all your many mistakes and miscalculations—a host of eager contenders are ready and willing to do that. It’s not a question ofspecific failures, but the reasons for them: your priorities and guidelines for government policy are wrong in principle.

Beginning in late 1993 if not even earlier, you have consistently taken decisions which—instead of strengthening the rule of law in a democratic society—have revived the blunt and inhumane might of a state machine that stands above justice, law, and the individual. Your enemies claim you did this to bolster your personal power. But even if they’re wrong about the cause of your behavior, that doesn’t change the effect.

During the tragic days of the fall…

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