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Moscow Times
December 11, 2001
Constitution Turns 8, Public Still Ambivalent
By Oksana Yablokova
Staff Writer

Russia is to take the day off on Wednesday for the eighth anniversary of the first post-Soviet Constitution -- a document that more than half the population has never read and in which nearly half has no confidence.

The Constitution Day holiday was first declared by then President Boris Yeltsin in 1994, to mark the December 1993 constitutional referendum that some opposition leaders, including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, had accused the Kremlin of falsifying.

Now, eight years later when the legitimacy of the referendum is no longer an issue, a surprisingly large part of the population remains in the dark about what exactly the holiday celebrates.

In a survey released Thursday by the Public Opinion Foundation, 55 percent of those questioned said they did not know what the Constitution contains, and 47 percent said they consider the Constitution to be a formal document with no influence on the country's life.

Only 28 percent said they regard the Constitution to be good and 8 percent said there was no need to change it, while 38 percent considered it bad and 67 percent said it should be changed.

Calls to amend the Constitution have been coming from above as well. Last week, the newly elected speaker of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov, spoke out in favor of a constitutional change to extend the current four-year presidential term. But any changes are problematic, as Russia has neither a constitutional assembly -- a body allowed by the Constitution to make changes to its most crucial chapters -- nor a federal law on forming such an assembly.

Two bills proposing two different ways of establishing a constitutional assembly have been awaiting discussion in the State Duma for at least a year.

In the first bill, offered by Union of Right Forces Deputy Boris Nadezhdin, the assembly would consist of 400 members including the president, members of the Constitutional Court, heads of the Supreme Court and Higher Arbitration Court, 100 experts appointed by the president, all members of the Federation Council and 100 Duma deputies.

Prominent human rights advocate and Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalyov contributed the second bill, calling for a 450-member assembly to be elected in a nationwide vote, rather than appointed.

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