Thursday, April 9, 2009

Window on Eurasia: “Weimar”-Like Threat Justifies Moscow’s Authoritarianism, Russia’s Chief Justice Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 9 – Valery Zorkin, the head of the Russian Constitutional Court, said that governments like Russia’s are justified in using authoritarian measures lest they fall victim to the fate of Germany’s Weimar Republic and be replaced by chaos or totalitarianism of the most awful kind.
In a speech on Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Zorkin also lashed out at those who are now criticizing such authoritarianism in Russia, accusing them of “double standards” because so many of the current critics supported Boris Yeltsin’s equally authoritarian approach in 1993 and otherwise as political necessities (
Zorkin made his remarks to the first of what organizers say will be “a cycle of public discussions under the title “Senate Readings” that will be devoted to consideration of the idea and tasks of a legal state in particular under conditions of the economic crisis, Moscow’s “Kommersant” newspaper reported today.
In his lecture, which was entitled “The Constitutional Foundations of a Legal State in Russia. Problems of Its Realization,” Zorkin wholeheartedly defended “the elements of authoritarianism that are present in the administration of the country” and said that the crisis justified greater state intervention in a wide variety of areas.
He said that the state must find “a golden mean” between freedom and order, lest the defense of the former lead to the destruction of the latter. As an example of how that could happen, he pointed to the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1920s, “one of the most democratic republics in world history,” which failed to defend itself and was destroyed.
Zorkin said that the current financial crisis represents the kind of threat that Yeltsin responded to with authoritarian measures and restrictions on rights to the applause of the West and reformers and that those who justified what Yeltsin did should recognize the legitimacy of what the current Russian leadership is doing.
Moreover, he said, such critics should look to the actions taken by foreign leaders like US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and French President Charles de Gaulle, “who were not afraid of accusations of applying authoritarian measures of administration.” And these critics should recognize an important Russian reality:
The people of the Russian Federation, the man charged with defending the provisions of that country’s Constitution argued, “would not have supported Vladimir Putin at the turn of the century if [that people] did not understand that with one further step, the state could have fallen apart.”
The current crisis, he continued, “has taught us a lesson: Those who in the 1990s said that the market would put everything in its place … are today themselves running to the state for assistance. I understand,” he said,” the problems of centralization. But our chief task is to preserve statehood and the motherland for succeeding generations.”
According to “Kommersant,” Zorkin’s audience did not criticize his statements, and the few questions its members posed he turned aside with the suggestion that each of them deserved a separate discussion. But when he was challenged by the media after the meeting, Zorkin adopted a somewhat more defensive position.
He denied that his defense of authoritarianism constituted any kind of “bomb,” insisting that the Russian state “is required to be concerned about the individual and his rights. But,” he added, “we must protect the state and do everything” to develop it.” And he suggested that “the limit of the application of authoritarian methods in administration should be the Constitution.”
Not everyone is likely to be entirely comfortable with Zorkin’s assertions on that point especially in the wake of the events in Chisinau, which some Moscow commentators are suggesting could prompt the Russian government to adopt an even more authoritarian approach lest similar actions occur in Russia (
The Russian blogosphere is filled with discussions of what has taken place in Moldova, events that some call “the first tweeter revolt” (, and how the Russian authorities deal with the Internet now will be both a measure of Moscow’s fears and one of the first indications of its willingness to adopt an even more repressive approach.
In this connection, it is worth noting that several Russian news outlets are reporting today that embattled officials in both Georgia and Moldova have blocked access to parts of the world wide web as they try to cope with political protests in their respective capital cities (

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