Saturday, November 1, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Putin, Popular Indifference Subverted Key Provisions of 1993 Constitution, Its Drafter Says

Paul Goble

New York, October 30 – Vladimir Putin’s establishment of “a vertical of power” and his promotion of the idea of “sovereign democracy” have combined with the indifference of the overwhelming majority of Russians to subvert all the key provisions of the 1993 constitution, according to the man who oversaw the drafting of that document’s final version.
In an article in the November issue of “Znamya” timed to correspond to the 15th anniversary of Russia’s “basic law,” Sergei Filatov argues that the 1993 constitution, which was born “in the sharpest struggle of various social-political forces,” played “an important role in the stabilization of the political situation in the 1990s.”
That document “defines our state as democratic, legal, federal, and social with a division of power among legislative, executive and judicial functions,” Filatov says, and if it is realized, its provisions open the war for Russia to become a modern, open, stable and strong country with a maximum of human freedom (
But since the rise of Vladimir Putin in 1999 and 2000, Filatov notes, Russia has gone in an entirely different direction, with the constitution ignored, the division of power suppressed and the population ignored and repressed. Such “a vector,” he continues, is “incompatible” with the rights of citizens and a strong Russian state respected around the world.
“The construction of the vertical of power led out country to a unitary state with a bureaucratic form of administration,” he argues. In order to justify that, the Russian state came up with the idea of “sovereign democracy” to suggest that “in the US and Europe they have their kind of democracy and we in Russia have ours.”
“Real democracy creates the opportunity for the effective development of the country, for its guarantees a competitive milieu in all spheres of our life and gives the chance to protect the most important – the life and health of man,” Filatov continues. “Sovereign democracy in contrast (according to the Kremlin)” only protects the state and those in power.
In the course of his lengthy article, the constitution’s drafter describes the ways in which the Kremlin and the Russian bureaucracy subverted and departed from all the norms of the constitution: the federal system, the rights of individuals, and the system of checks and balances within the central government, to name but three.
The destruction of the 1993 constitution by the Kremlin and the bureaucracy has been made possible by “the indifference of society to the present constitution of the Russian Federation,” an indifference that has its roots in the ever changing and totally duplicitous Soviet documents but one that has the effect of limiting the development of Russian society.
“It seems to me,” the legal analyst continues, “that we should be talking now not so much about which parts of the Constitution are not being fulfilled but about why it so happened that the 1993 Constitution did not become in full measure the law and why it did not enter our life so organically and firmly as has happened in other countries of the world.”
It is often suggested by Russian politicians and analysts that the 1993 document simply increased the powers of the president and did not contain many checks and balances and that those features are responsible for what has gone wrong. But, Filatov writes, that is to miss the point.
“No constitutional limitations will exist without a civil society, without [the development of] a legal consciousness in society, without freedom of speech and the press, and without free elections,” Filatov says. Those do not exist, and the Kremlin has taken steps to create a simulacrum of a civil society without allowing a real one to emerge.
In this regard, he continues, the Russian powers that be have been very careful to substitute for civil institutions formed from below with various organizations and parties created in the bowels of the Kremlin.” And that too has reinforced popular indifference to the constitution because people see that the words their rulers use do not correspond to reality.
“The fate of Russian constitutionalism, “is being decided today precisely in the area of the formation of culture and consciousness of the middle class.” But there is no reason for optimism on that score either, Filatov says. “The high level of criminalization of society and the growth of government corruption” lead to violations of rights and freedoms and undermine democracy.
At the present time, he concludes, “Kremlin bureaucrats are attempting to convince us that our historical tradition and present political culture makes Russians incapable of making use of the rules of life of a civilized society.” That is nonsense, but it is what all the talk about “sovereign democracy,” “a vertical power order”, and “other” terms of that kind are about.

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