Political crisis in Russia : the regional dimension / Irina Busygina. - Bonn, 1993 (Studie der Abteilung Außenpolitikforschung im Forschungsinstitut der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung ; 58). - ISBN 3-86077-112-4


5. The Federation Council

During recent years the idea of the creation of a body comprised of the representatives of the Federation Subjects was raised several times. The „old" Council of the Federation was established already on 30 January 1991 and acted under the leadership of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, though one could hardly notice any of its activities. Later this idea sounded from below, from the regional level.

During the Eighth Congress of the People’s Deputies in March 1993, 73 subjects of the Federation signed the draft of the agreement concerning the creation of the Federation Council. [ Izvestia, March 27, 1993, p. 2.]

In August 1993, this idea was revived by President Yeltsin. On 12-14 August in Petrozavodsk he held the meeting of the Heads of the Republics (excluding Chechnya) and the representatives of eight regional and inter-regional associations. The President proposed to create in Russia a new superior body, stressing its legitimate character. [ Izvestia, August 14, 1993, p. 1.] In fact, according to the plan of the President, this was to be a kind of mini-parliament, to which each subject of the Federation would delegate the leaders of the executive and legislative branches (i.e. 178 people and the President at the head). Actually, the most authoritative body could have been created, the collective voice of Russia.

In Petrozavodsk, the regional leaders reached an agreement to establish the Federation Council but only as a consultative body. This was reasonable, for otherwise the parliament would certainly have immediately blamed the President for the creation of anti-constitutional political structures. The parliament undertook countermeasures to prevent creation of this new body. Telegrams were sent to the Soviets at all levels, forbidding them to support the idea. For their part, the Chief of Staff S. Filatov and the Deputy Prime Minister S. Shakhray sent letters to the regional administrations, explaining the fruitful role of the new body. [ Up to the beginning of September the situation was the following: 43 regions supported the idea of creating the Federation Council, 7 regions found it reasonable but without participation of the federal authorities in the word of a new body, several regions (the exact number was not determined) refused to discuss the idea ( Izvestia, September 11, 1993, p. 4.)]

The President planned the Federation Council as kind of a part of the future parliament, with a powerful structure able to discuss (and probably adopt) the new constitution, as well as the Election Law, the practical mechanisms of implementing the Federation Treaty, etc.

From the beginning, the experts pointed out at least two drawbacks to such a plan: [ See, for example, the interview with Senior Secretary of the Constitutional Commission O. Rumyantsev and his deputy V. Sheinis ( Stolitza, N38, 1993, p. 6-8.)]

1. To turn the Federation Council automatically into the upper chamber of the parliament would mean replacing direct representation of the regions with regional leaders.

A federation is not a simple mosaic built of the regions put together but a deeper unity. Besides governor and chairman of the Soviet the citizens of each region should elect two representatives to the Federation Council. If local elites do not want the region to be represented in Moscow by somebody else, it simply means the undermining of parliamentarianism, the very idea of the parliament as the permanent people’s representation in the Center.

Moreover, if we examine the idea of turning the Federation Council automatically into a part of the parliament, we come to the conclusion that such a system would not work. If the leaders of the regions would sit in the parliament, who would rule the regions? It is impossible to rule, for example, Yakutia or Tula oblast while periodically ruling Russia.

S. Shakhray considered it possible to find a solution - for example, to gather in Moscow once a month for five days. In principle this is true. One can even propose to rotate the sessions of the upper chamber among the regional capitals, but the ineffectiveness of such complicated regulations (on both regional and federal levels) would be impossible to ignore.

2. The direct inclusion of the regional leaders in the federal decision-making process, i.e. in the „ruling" of Russia, would contribute to further disintegration much more than all the regional „parades of sovereignties". The road to confederation would thereby be paved, since the primary feature of a confederation (not federation!) is the direct formation and realization of federal power through regional power.

The regional leaders felt that in general the idea of the Federation Council would respond to their needs. However, their notion of this new body was rather far from the President’s proposal. The regional leaders put forward several conditions for implementing the new body.:

1. They stressed the consultative character of the Federation Council and rejected as anti-constitutional the intention to turn this body into the upper chamber of the parliament;

2. They insisted that the competences of this consultative body should not intersect with the competences of the federal structures, i.e. of the parliament, the President or the government;

3. They called on the parliament to adopt a special law concerning the activity of the Federation Council.

The regions wanted to create a constitutional (i.e. without opposing the parliament) but independent body. They also wanted to elect two co-chairmen from the executive and legislative branches who would be subordinate neither to the President nor to the Supreme Soviet.

One has to take into consideration the unique mentality of the majority of Russia’s regional leaders. There are few real „born" politicians among them. Most are typical „nomenclatura" of the Brezhnev era, far from pure politics and entirely oriented toward economics. These leaders needed the Federation Council as a practical tool for solving very concrete economic problems. [ At the beginning of September the leaders of seven regions of the centre of Russia joined in Yaroslavl and adopted a resolution concerning the future agenda of the Federation Council. Among the most urgent questions were setting up an order in the banking system and in energy prices, and the problem of state regulation of the economic complex ( Moscow News, September 5, 1993, p. 12.).]

Actually, the Federation Council, even as a consultative body, could have contributed to the fulfillment of four main tasks:

First. The improvement of the basic interaction of the federal and regional authorities. Every now and then the heads of the oblast or kray administrations are ignored either by the President or by the government.

Second. The establishment of equal rights of the regions. For the first time the leaders of the republics, kray, oblast and okrug would have been able to meet around one table.

Third. The unification of executive and legislative powers within the regions. At the Council each region would have been able to speak with one voice, easing the process of compromise with other regions.

Fourth. The Council would also have been a school of real federalism for the regional leaders and federal authorities. They would have learned to coordinate different interests. The horizontal links between the regions would also have been stimulated.

The plans concerning the creation of the Federation Council were great - it could have been the school of federalism, the most powerful political force and the axis of Russian political development. Cruel reality put an end to these ambitions. New tactics, implemented by the President during the fall, showed that the role of the Council of the Federation in the Russian political scene remained unclear.

© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-bibliothek | 9.1. 1998

Previous Page TOC Next Page