Friday, December 11, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian ‘Tandem’ Using Constitution as Stalin Did Rather than as Yeltsin Hoped, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 11 – Despite all the talk about rule of law, Russia’s current powers that be are using the country’s constitution in ways that recall the manner in which Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin did rather than in the way in post-Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin attempted to do, according to a leading Moscow commentator.
In an essay on this week, Dmitry Shusharin says that “one needs to give the current powers that be their due: having made Constitution Day a regular work day rather than a holiday, they have behaved honestly” because their approach completely subverts the efforts of the current Russian constitution’s author (
That is part of a more general pattern in which the Putin-Medvedev tandem define themselves in “opposition to the 1990s,” a period about which they and their supporters have told so many lies that their denigration of the country’s basic law and the role that law was to play should come as no surprise.
In the tandem’s thinking, the 1993 Constitution was the result of Yeltsin’s destruction of the Russian Supreme Soviet, a step that an increasing number of the siloviki appear to view as a horrible mistake, and consequently, they deliberately blacken both Yeltsin’s reputation and the way in which he but not they like their Stalinist predecessors do business.
“Nothing forced Yeltsin to hold elections and a referendum immediately after the suppression of the revolt of the Supreme Soviet,” Shusharin says. “Nothing except the need not to allows the development of events toward one of violence and the evolution of the political system toward the force model.”
Instead, by conducting a referendum in early 1993 and then holding a vote on a new constitution in December of that year, Yeltsin put “an end to the totalitarian period of Russian history” and stopped – “now this is already clear,” the analyst says – “a possible civil war.”
This was the second occasion Yeltsin had taken such a step, Shusharin continues. “Two years before this, the Beloveshchaya agreements stopped a possible war between Russia and other republics of the former USSR,” something the accords with Ukraine and Belarus prevented.
Not long ago, the analyst continues, Russian television showed a documentary film entitled “The Bloody Divorce.” This was “not about Yugoslavia but about the former USSR. Here is what is interesting: the title alone is sufficient to undercut completely the obvious agitprop falsification” of what Yeltsin did.
Tragically, he says, “history really is repeating itself” – in this case with regard to the constitution. “As is well known, Stalin advanced the thesis about the sharpening of class terror as the country approached socialism and launched the Great Terror at that moment when circumstances in the country were stabilizing and nothing threatened his power.”
Stalin did this because for him and people like him “power alone” was not sufficient. “The same thing is true now,” Shusharin says. “The establishment of a force state – the term proposed by Andrey Illariononov – is taking place at a time when conditions are completely different than they were in 1993.”
“There are [now] no objective preconditions for limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens, the commentator suggests. “But the more peaceful and hopeful the situation, the more passionately people of this sort, including the current ruling elite, chain themselves to power.”
The current regime routinely invokes terrorism as an explanation for what it does, “But what relationship do the deaths of children in Beslan have to the elimination of gubernatorial elections and the shift to the formation of the composition of the Duma exclusively on the basis of party lists?”
“This is a question without an answer,” but one is suggested by Putin’s “absurd declaration” at the time that “the disintegration of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe,” extravagant and dangerous language that points Russia away from the approach of the 1990s to that of the 1930s.
The adoption of the Stalinist Constitution was celebrated in the USSR and by communists around the world as a triumph of democracy. And now people are talking about how Russia is moving toward the rule of law, when in fact the attack on the constitution and law shows that the country is moving in the opposite direction – just like 70 years ago.
Across the board, the Constitutional rights of Russian citizens are being violated as the powers that be create of state of the siloviki, in which personal power is the highest value.
“The essence of the current regime is contained in the oft-used words ‘with the help of the law,’” Shusharin says. “All laws, including the Constitution are for the powers that be not normative documents but instruments for the realization of their own goals. Not the goals of the state but precisely their own personal ones.”
“In a law-based state, a politician loves power in itself.” That is natural, Shusharin says, but “totalitarian rulers love themselves in power. And it is totally irrelevant [what kind of people they present themselves as bieng]” because they will do whatever they have to do to maintain themselves in power.
Unfortunately, Shusharin concludes, “the main and best means of unleashing the whip remains war,” and it is thus not surprising that President Dmitry Medvedev is “so concerned about broadening the military powers of the president,” something that is especially disturbing given Moscow’s use force in Georgia. That raises the possibility that Ukraine could be next.

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