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First Russian president Boris Yeltsin lies in state in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow on April 24, 2007.
Photo: Sergey Mikheev
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Apr. 25, 2007
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Yeltsin's Last Meeting with the People
// Former Russian President Lies in State in Moscow
Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin lay in state during a memorial service yesterday in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, while across town emergency preparations continued at breakneck speed for his interment in the Novodevichy Cemetery on Wednesday. The confusion surrounding the preparations was occasioned by the fact that this is the first time that such a high-profile figure has been buried in contemporary Russia.
Preparations for the lying in state of Russia's first president began early yesterday morning in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Under the supervision of an abundance of officials from the Kremlin administration and security services, who told journalists, "the coffin will be low you'll see everything," the church was divided into zones for relatives, the press, and the public. An officer from the OMON riot police patrolled the boundaries with a German Shepherd.

Lines began to form on both sides of the church before noon. Many people in line, most of them elderly, held humble bunches of carnations.

At 15:00, a military band and an honor guard marched past the waiting crowd into the church. A minute later, a convey of armored cars pulled up to the entrance to the cathedral, and a murmur went through the crowd: "They've arrived."

The memorial service began at 16:30. The coffin was placed in the center of the cathedral, surrounded by icons and emblems of the first president's official state honors. Members of Yeltsin's family filled two benches in the first row near the coffin: his widow Naina Iosifovna, his daughters Tatiana and Elena, and their husbands Valentin Yumashev and Valery Okulov sat in the first row, while his grandchildren sat in the second. His family sat for several hours clutching candles, until the priest took the wax stubs gently away from the crying women and the silent men.

As the line snaked in from outside, people laid their flowers quickly on a long gold table next to the coffin as women wearing traditional Orthodox headscarves struggled for spots in the front rows, eager to see who had come to pay their respects to the former president. Some admonished "don't push in church," while others merely gaped at the celebrities in attendance. As the service began, scattered words could be heard through the prayers:
"a courageous and strong politiciana true patriotGod, forgive him all his sins."

The mood was one of haste yesterday at Moscow's prestigious Novodevichy Cemetery, where Boris Yeltsin will be buried today. People were being allowed into the cemetery only if they could show a pass affirming that they had relatives buried there. A Kommersant correspondent managed to sneak through, however, and to get a glimpse of the preparations.

The cemetery's central walkway and the adjoining paths were being repaved and swept, while workers planted flowers next to the paths, wiped the dust from grave markers, and even placed fresh bouquets of flowers on the grave of legendary Soviet-era clown Yury Nikulin, one of the many famous figures buried in the cemetery next to the Novodevichy Convent.

The site that is being prepared for the funeral of Russia's first president was surrounded by three dozen or so empty metal stands for wreaths and some cedar saplings that will be planted near the grave. Several generals from the Ministry of Defense stood nearby discussing the details of the funeral ceremony in hushed tones. "No one will be able to get close to the cemetery tomorrow," predicted one of the gravediggers to Kommersant's correspondent. "That's always the way it is when important people are being buried, but we've never had anyone this important here before," he added.

Midday saw a visit to the cemetery by Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and Central Municipal Administrative District head Alexander Baidak, who spent an hour inspecting the preparations.

The cemetery's personnel originally said that Boris Yeltsin will be buried near the cemetery's eastern wall, between former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev's wife Raisa and Krasnoyarsk governor and former presidential candidate General Alexander Lebed. Soon after Mayor Luzhkov's visit, however, it was announced that Yeltsin's grave will be just off the central alley, less than a hundred meters from the main entrance and not far from the grave of the magician Igor Kio. The new location was confirmed for Kommersant yesterday evening by the cemetery's administration. "That decision has in fact been made it's a good spot there," said an employee at the cemetery who asked to remain anonymous.

Yesterday the Kremlin issued a statement saying that Boris Yeltsin will be buried "with honors appropriate for a state funeral." "There will be a company of honor guards from the Kremlin, a gun carriage, a salute, a farewell, and final respects from foreign delegations," said first deputy press secretary Dmitry Peskov. According to Mr. Peskov, the official ceremony will begin sometime after 12:30 in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and will be attended by numerous former and current foreign heads of state. After the choral service, Mr. Yeltsin's coffin will be accompanied by his family, friends, President Vladimir Putin, and a squadron of honor guards to the Novodevichy Cemetery. "Only those closest to him will be there: his relatives and those with whom he worked," said Mr. Peskov. "The part of the ceremony that will be attended by foreign delegations will take place in the church," he explained. Kommersant has learned that only around a hundred people are expected at the cemetery, and Mr. Peskov has said that "there will be no elegies read usually they don't give speeches at funerals." An archbishop will perform the graveside funeral rites, and a wake will be held in the Kremlin.

Gleb Kalashnikov, the Kremlin official in charge of heraldry and honors, told Kommersant that the funeral ceremony for an ex-president in Russia is "not institutionalized at all," but that Boris Yeltsin, as a former commander-in-chief, will be given "full military honors," including transportation on a gun carriage and a salute. According to Mr. Kalashnikov, the salute for Boris Yeltsin should consist of either a three-volley rifle salute or a 17- or 19-gun salute. "A 21-gun salute is for a monarch, but in general we never actually use gun salutes at funerals," he said. He also noted that since Boris Yeltsin was an ex-president when he died, the funeral should not include "emblems of the head of the government the presidential standard and flag." Mr. Kalashnikov may have misspoken, since the opposite practice is widespread in other countries, but "right now it is difficult to say how things will be, since we have never had to deal with this before."

Funerals for Leaders around the World

In Great Britain, state funerals must be ordered by Parliament. The body of the deceased lies in state for three days either in Westminster Hall in Westminster Palace. For prime ministers, an honor guard is mounted around the coffin by soldiers from elite military units, while men from the royal family mount the guard around the coffin of a monarch in a tradition that has become known as the Vigil of the Princes. The funeral service is held either in Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral, and the coffin of a monarch is delivered in a gun carriage drawn by sailors from the Royal Navy. Members of the royal family are buried in the Chapel of St. George, the royal mausoleum in Windsor Palace, or in Westminster Abbey, while prime ministers are buried according to the wishes of the deceased. The funeral of a monarch is an occasion for a 21-gun salute, while former prime ministers are honored with a 19-gun salute.

Presidents of the United States are required to draw up funeral plans before the end of their terms in office. Funeral processions always start at the White House and proceed either along Constitution Avenue, for former presidents, or along Pennsylvania Avenue, for presidents who died in office. In either case, the coffin is carried on a gun carriage accompanied by an honor guard comprised of representatives from all five branches of the American armed forces to the Capitol Rotunda, where the deceased president lies in state on a catafalque built for the coffin of Abraham Lincoln. The memorial service takes place either in the National Cathedral in Washington or at another church in the capital, according to the wishes of the deceased and his family. The deceased president's body is transported to the burial site immediately after the funeral, usually aboard one of the jets used as Air Force One.

The president and his family have the right to introduce any changes that they wish into the ceremony. Gerald Ford, for example, who died in 2006, was carried to the Capitol in a Cadillac hearse instead of a gun carriage. Ronald Reagan, a former governor of California, requested to be carried into the Capitol Building with his face to the west, in the direction of California. Reagan's coffin was brought from the White House to the Capitol on a wooden caisson drawn by six horses and followed by a single riderless horse with Reagan's cowboy boots turned backwards in the stirrups.

The one tradition that is consistent at all funerals of American presidents is the ceremonial salute: on the day following the death of a current or former president, or on the following day if this day falls on a Sunday or a holiday, every US Army base fires a single gun salute every half hour from morning reveille until evening retreat. At noon on the day of the funeral, every military base salutes 21 times, and after the flag is lowered on the evening of that day, a 50-gun salute one round for each state is fired. A three-rifle volley is fired after the coffin has been lowered into the grave.

French presidents have tended to shy away funerary displays of pomp and circumstance. Although General Charles de Gaulle, the first president of the Fifth Republic, was honored after his death with the traditional ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral to which foreign dignitaries are invited, he was buried without an official ceremony in the cemetery in the village of Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, where he had lived after retiring from public life. Similarly, Georges Pompidou was interred after a simple service in the suburban Parisian village of Orvilliers, and Francoise Mitterrand was seen off by his friends and family in his hometown of Jarnac.

In 1956, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong introduced the rule that all government leaders must be cremated, although Mao himself was embalmed and placed in his mausoleum in the center of Beijing. In 1997, the funeral of former president Deng Xiaoping was broadcast on national television, but on his request it was attended only by a handful of state officials and members of his family. For a short time the urn containing the former leader's ashes was placed in state in Beijing, where it was visited by 10,000 people, and his ashes were then scattered at sea. In 2005, the urn containing the ashes of former Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, who died while still under house arrest for his break with the Party's leadership over the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, was buried quietly without official honors on the outskirts of Beijing.

Funerals for Russian and Soviet Leaders in the Twentieth Century

Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (1917-1924) Vladimir Lenin was immediately embalmed following his death on January 21, 1924. His body was placed in the House of Trade Unions in Moscow, where more than 50,000 people came to pay their respects to the first Soviet leader. On January 25, it was decided that a mausoleum would be constructed to display his body. A temporary wooden tomb was quickly erected according to a design by the architect Alexei Shchusev that was later realized in marble in 1930. On January 27, Lenin's memorial procession set off at 16:00 for Red Square, where, after a brief public demonstration in his honor (the temperature in Moscow was far below freezing), the coffin was placed in the mausoleum. A permanent honor guard was then stationed at the entrance, a tradition that continued until 1993.

Communist Party General Secretary (1922-1953) Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953 and was mourned officially for four days. The line to file past his coffin where he lay in state in the House of Trade Unions stretched for several kilometers, and hundreds of people were crushed to death by the surging crowds on Red Square on the day of his funeral. After the ceremony, which was attended by members of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and representatives of foreign delegations, Stalin's embalmed body was placed alongside that of Lenin in the mausoleum. It was quietly removed on the night of November 1, 1961, as part of Khrushchev's policy of de-Stalinization, and buried next to the Kremlin wall.

The burial of former first secretary (1953-1964) and Soviet premier (1958-1964) Nikita Khrushchev took place on September 13, 1971 in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. The modest funeral and wake were attended by only a few dozen people, mostly Khrushchev's close family and friends. The authorities distanced themselves from the fallen leader even after his death, and the only announcement of his passing was a tiny notice in Pravda mentioning the death of "pensioner Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev." In order to avoid crowds at the cemetery on the day of his funeral, entrance to the cemetery was closed, ostensibly for regular maintenance of the grounds, transportation links to the surrounding regions of the city were temporarily suspended, and people were forbidden to walk near the cemetery. In August 1975, a monument by the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny was erected to mark Khrushchev's grave.

After the death of Communist Party General Secretary (1964-1982) and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (1960-1964 and 1977-1982) Leonid Brezhnev, a four-day period of nationwide mourning was announced. On November 15, 1982, the day of his funeral, classes in schools and universities were cancelled and all roads into Moscow were closed. The ceremony was broadcast on every television channel and was attended by several hundred foreign guests. Like Lenin and Stalin, Brezhnev also lay in state in the House of Trade Unions before his body was removed to be buried under the Kremlin wall. The coffin was carried across Red Square on a gun carriage and proceeded by hundreds of wreaths and emblems of the deceased general secretary's numerous awards. The burial ceremony was attended by the full leadership of the Communist Party and the USSR, and at 12:45, as the coffin was lowered into the grave, all of Russia's major towns resounded with artillery salutes, factory bells, train whistles, and automobile horns. The nation came to a standstill for five minutes before a final parade on Red Square.

The funerals of General Secretary (1982-1984) Yury Andropov on February 14, 1984 and General Secretary (1984-1985) Konstantin Chernenko on March 13, 1985 followed a similar pattern.

By contrast, Tsar Nikolai II, who ruled Russia from 1894 to 1917, initially received no such respectful treatment following his death. After he and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918, their bodies were doused with sulfuric acid and burned before being thrown into a mine shaft near Yekaterinburg. The remains were uncovered in 1991, and on July 16, 1998 they were brought to St. Petersburg, where the coffins were met by a squadron of honor guards and a military orchestra. They lay in state in the church in the Peter and Paul Fortress for a day, and access was restricted to visitors with special passes. On July 17, 1998, artillery salutes were fired as the tsar and his family were ceremoniously laid to rest among Russia's other imperial rulers in a service attended by President Boris Yeltsin.

Television Coverage of Yeltsin's Funeral

Journalists from newspapers and magazines will not be allowed access to today's memorial service for the former president of Russia. First deputy Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov referred to "protocol" and explained that the ban is necessary because "there will be so many people there." The funeral service will be broadcast live on several television channels: coverage will start at 13:15 on the channels Rossiya and Vesti-24 and is expected to last for approximately three hours. "If the service gets excessively slow-paced, it will be 'interrupted' by direct links with correspondents and archivists," said the channel's management. NTV's coverage will start at 13:30 and end at around 16:30, but NTV management has said that the broadcast may be extended. Perviy Kanal also intends to show Boris Yeltsin's funeral live, but representatives of the channel could not say for certain how much airtime will be devoted to it. The Russian State Television and Radio Company will be recording the event from inside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the territory of the Novodevichy Cemetery, and the other television channels will have to rely that footage when repackaging and relaying the broadcast on their own networks.

The broadcast of Yeltsin's funeral was a topic of discussion late into the night yesterday at the headquarters of Russia's leading television channels, although only the state-owned English-language channel Russia Today, which will also broadcast the funeral on live television, was able to comment further yesterday: Russia Today spokeswoman Yulia Yermolina said that the network will be relying on ten reporters and two satellite antennas to broadcast the events in the cathedral and the cemetery. Ms. Yermolina also informed Kommersant that Russia Today will preface the broadcast of the ceremony with a short presentation by Evgenia Polishchuka, the deputy chairwoman of the Russia Orthodox Church's publishing house, that explains Orthodox burial rites for an English-speaking audience. "After all, this is the first time since the days of [Tsar] Alexander III that Russia's top leader has been buried as a Christian," said Ms. Yermolina.

International Reaction: Who is Coming to Moscow

The funeral today for former Russian president Boris Yeltsin will be attended by numerous former and current heads of state and government from around the world. Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, and Estonia are all sending their highest representatives: Presidents Alexander Lukashenko, Robert Kocharian, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Valdas Adamkus, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves will all rub shoulders in Moscow today. Lithuania is also sending former president Algirdas Brazauskas. Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who arrived in Moscow for an official visit on the day of Yeltsin's death, has stayed for the funeral, and he will be joined by Tajik Prime Minister Akil Akilov and Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev. The representative from Georgia will be Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdzhanadze.

The question of who will represent Ukraine at the events in Moscow occupied Kiev all day yesterday. In the morning, a government press release stated that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko will be attending the funeral, but that afternoon Yushchenko's press secretary Irina Vannikova said that a trip to Moscow to attended Boris Yeltsin's funeral "does not appear on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's schedule for April 25." Instead, Ukraine will be represented by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga will also not make it to Moscow, since she has a meeting scheduled for today with Belgium's King Albert II and Queen Paola. The Latvian delegation will be headed by Latvian ex-president Guntis Ulmanis.

Representatives from more distant countries who will come to pay their respects today include Germany's ex-president Horst Koehler, former US presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, former British Prime Minister John Major, Polish ex-president Lech Walesa, Finland's retired president Mauno Koivisto, and former Bulgarian president Zhelyu Zhelev, as well as Swedish and French Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt and Philippe Douste-Blazy, respectively. The memorial service will also be attended by Japanese Ambassador Yasuo Saito in the place of Japan's other political leaders, who were unable to make it to Moscow in time for the funeral. Many other countries from around the world are also expected to be represented at today's events by their ambassadors.

EU High Commissioner for Foreign Policy and Security Javier Solana had expressed his wish to pay his respects to Mr. Yeltsin in person, but yesterday he announced that he was needed at a meeting today in Ankara with Iranian National Security Council secretary Ali Larijani. The EU's leadership will now be represented by European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

Yulia Taratuta, Andrei Kozenko, Alexander Voronov, and Pavel Korobov

All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 25, 2007

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