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


7. The New Constitution

On „Super Sunday" (12 December) Russians also had to vote on the new constitution, which President Yeltsin had promised would be „Russia’s first truly democratic basic law." On 3 November the President met in the Kremlin with the leaders of the republics and heads of the regional administrations. In his speech the President informed the regional leaders about the prospects of the Constitutional Assembly, which basically concerned three main points: equality of the subjects of the Federation, taking the text of the subjects of the Federation Treaty out of the constitution; removal of the terms „sovereignty" and „sovereign state". Yeltsin stressed that he did not come out against the rights of the nations for self-determination, but denied the right to separate from Russia. [ Izvestia, November 6, 1993, p. 2.]

This information caused sharp objections from national republics. To take them into account, a working group of 10 specialists headed by the Chief of Staff S. Filatov was formed. As a result of its activities four articles of the new constitution have taken new shape.

I will not examine here the essence of all the aspects of the new constitution but concentrate on one of them - the federative structure of Russia. In this respect I will outline the statements in the new constitution which I consider to be the most important for shaping Russia’s federative structure.

1. The new constitution in fact recognizes the equality of three subjects of the federation, although it distinguishes republics (states), which have their own constitution and legislation, from other subjects possessing merely regulations and legislation. Basically, this is a play of words. The most important point is that all the subjects of the federation are equal (Art. 5, items 1, 4).

2. The federative structure of Russia is based on its state identity (Art. 5, item 3), which implies the prohibition of secession but does not undermine the right to self-determination for the nations in its original sense - the right for free development of the national landscape, for preservation of cultural and spiritual distinctiveness of each nation and nationality (Art. 68, items 2, 3; Art. 69).

3. The relations between the subjects of the Federation and the Center are legally grounded. The constitution clearly sets out the powers of the Federation, of its subjects, as well as the common powers of both (Art. 71, 72). In addition to these, the subjects enjoy all those powers normally accruing to a state (Art. 73), including independent legislative activity (Art. 76, items 4-6).

4. The constitution forbids the willful changing of the status of Federation subjects, stating that this can only be achieved by mutual agreement of the Russian Federation and the subjects in question (Art. 66, item 5).

5. The constitution establishes full transparency of regional internal boundaries for goods, services, and financial resources (Art. 74).

6. The subjects of the Federation establish political systems on their territories but in accordance with the constitution (Art. 77, item 1). This forms the common basis for the political system within the subjects of the Federation.

The opponents of the new constitution pointed out some drawbacks of the document. However, their observations are of a general character and not always well argued. [ Basically, the opponents affirm that the constitution has been created too quickly (although it took over three years) and in complete secrecy. They also complain that this document fits only present political leaders. As soon as these figures are removed from Russia's political scene, they argue, the need for such a constitution will disappear as well. ( Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 3, 1993, p. 1-2.; Pravda, November 17, 1993, p. 1-2.).] With regard to Russia’s federative structure, there are two main observations for the new constitution.

1. The events of September-October 1993 have interrupted the evolutional establishment of federalism in Russia from „within". The new constitution establishes a unitarian system and does not create a fair federation. [ See, for example, V. Lafitsky, "What will a cruel politician do to Russia?", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 17, 1993, p. 1-2.]

From my point of view, this argument proceeds from false assumptions. The „evolutional establishment of Federalism in Russia" was no more than a chaotic movement to disintegrate Russia (first of all from the side of the national republics). Blackmailing the Center for more rights, they did not have the slightest idea or concept about the future organization of Russia as a whole. Never did their plans go beyond the „regional" level. Moreover, during the events of September-October 1993 the regions, separated by mutual claims, proved to be incapable of self-organization. This shows that, in the meantime, the federation in Russia can be built only by the Center.

2. The new constitution includes the ridiculous model of the national-territorial division of Russia, which preserves the „asymmetric" federation. [ See, for example, A. Kibrik, "Without waiting for agony," Moscow News, November 14, 1993, p. 7.]

In principle this is true. The new constitution recognizes the clear distinction between the national republics (states) and the other regions. But as we have noted above, this document also recognizes the equal rights of all the regional types.

This represents a considerable step forward, a step in the right direction, where the final goal is to abolish national-territorial division in Russia and introduce a purely territorial model.

At the same time, it would be naive to expect the constitution to introduce this model immediately. This can only be a long-term goal. National characteristics do exist in Russia, and they will undoubtedly influence, even determine, Russia’s federative structure for many years to come. To ignore these national characteristics would be both unwise and dangerous.

One has to admit that the republics forestalled the other subjects of the Federation in their political development. They were the first to fight Russia’s unitarianism and succeeded in creating significant regional self-awareness. They also accumulated significant experience in building their relationships at the federal level. This is another reason why total ignorance of their special position can easily contribute to the collapse of the country.

The new constitution is imperfect because it reflects imperfect realities. In general it shapes a constitutional federation with national characteristics - typical for Russia. In this respect it would be unrealistic to expect more at present. In the future, when the document no longer corresponds to realities, it can be corrected through the parliament in a normal, civilized procedure.

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

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