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MOSCOW, December 09. /ITAR-TASS/. As Russia prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of its Constitution, adopted at the referendum of December 12, 1993, disputes over amendments to the document rather than anniversary festivities are high on the minds of politicians and experts.
It seems that the political elite intends to revise some basic liberal principles, written in the document under the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin.
The Constitution of 1993 was approved as a compromise in a political fight between Yeltsin and his opponents in the Supreme Council. At that time, Yeltsin dissolved the parliament in a decree, quelled the resistance of parliamentarians and called a snap election with a parallel adoption of the country’s fundamental law.
The Constitution established such norms as rejection of state ideology, secular nature of the state without a dominating religion, and independent formation of the bodies of state power by the Russian regions.
In November 2013, a group of scientists with the support of an inter-fractional group of State Duma deputies offered that alongside with state sovereignty, “spiritual sovereignty of the country” be fixed in the Constitution and “a special role of Eastern Orthodox Christianity” recognized.
Following that, a group of deputies from the United Russia Party launched the initiative to write into the Constitution a norm on compulsory state ideology.
With that in view, the Human Rights Council under the Russian president posted on its official website on Monday a statement saying that human rights activists took “with surprise and anxiety” increasingly frequent attempts to amend the Constitution.
Members of the Council asked not to forget the political crisis of 1993 in which the Constitution was adopted as a public compromise. “Today, like 20 years ago, public accord on key issues is important for us. Consensus on the Constitution is the main of these issues. It is the Constitution that is the main guarantee of our development towards a democratic federative social legal state,” the statement said.
“Increasing the authority of the head of state, getting back to ideological monopoly, establishing a state religion - all this means undermining not only of the fundamental law, but of the regime itself,” the statement said.
Not all members of the Human Rights Council share the concern of their colleagues, voiced in the statement. The dean of the Faculty of International Politics and Global Economy at the National Research University “Higher School of Economics”, Sergei Karaganov, believes that neither a special role of Orthodoxy nor the compulsory nature of state ideology will be fixed in the Constitution.
In his televised interview last Friday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev voiced an opinion that changes to the Constitution could be used as a last resort. He said the establishment of any special preferences for this or that religion was inadmissible in the Constitution, noting that Russia observed freedom of worship.
“Disputes about a special role of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and state ideology are unessential, they are a smokescreen for fixing more radical changes in the Constitution,” Karaganov told Itar-Tass.
According to the expert, “the country’s leadership intends to initiate an amendment to the Constitution abolishing the supremacy of international law over Russian laws”. “This norm is fixed in the constitutions of 90 percent of developed economies of the world, including the U.S.,” he said.
On the whole, Professor Karaganov is against any amendments to the Constitution. “Law nihilism of Russian citizens can be expressed through an old saying ‘One law for the rich and another for the poor’. That is why the most important thing for successful development of the country is not to revise basic constitutional values, to educate respect for law and create conditions for inviolability of legal conscience. This is the only way for Russia to become a state governed by the rule of law,” he said.
Over the past few years, several amendments have been made to the Constitution, cancelling electivity of the governors (at the present time it is at the discretion of the regions), as well as extending the presidential term from four to six years and the term of duty of the Federal Assembly (parliament) from four to five years.
In connection with the already-made and planned amendments to the Constitution, editor-in-chief of the Russky Mir (Russian World) magazine Georgy Bovt told Itar-Tass that “the Constitution is created for long, it cannot be amended hurry-scurry to please the political environment”.
“This is a monolith on which the laws of any state are based. However, in principle there are no formal bans on amending the Constitution. It can be changed even any day. But then there is no use in demanding that citizens respect a law that can be changed tomorrow,” Bovt said.
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