Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#3 - JRL 7008
January 5, 2002
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

Many lances have been broken about the current federative reform in Russia. The Union of Right Forces (SPS) considers that the reform is too languid, the communists regard it unnecessary at present, the Yabloko party considers it a failure, while United Russia regards it as optimal and timely. So, does the Russian Federation need to modernize its state system? Why in general does Russia need federalism? Wouldn't it be more effective for this country to have the power of a monolithic center, which is more usual for it? These questions are answered by Mikhail KRASNOV, D. Sc. (Law), a well-known legal expert and vice president of the Indem Foundation, in an interview with Trud correspondent Vladimir IGNATOV.

Question: What will the federative reform do for the man in the street?

Answer: In the first place federalism makes the relationship between the state and its citizens simple enough. The main purpose of the federative reform is clearly to outline responsibility at each level of power. It is known that the authorities feel greater responsibility when they know precisely what the voters may make them responsible for. In principle the central authorities should be responsible for defense, security, foreign policy, all-Russia standards of the quality of life and other matters concerning the state as a whole. Meanwhile a region, a territory or a constituent republic should be in charge of education, public health, housing and communal services, and roads. And the authorities at all levels should possess real financial resources.

Question: The evolution of the Federation Council is taking place before our eyes. What, in your view, the upper house will be as a result of the federative reform?

Answer: Theoretically, the Federation Council is to become a full-fledged senate. For the time being, the upper house is thrown from one extreme to another. The first Federation Council consisted of parliament members elected for a term of two years. Then its members were selected according to their positions - governors and heads of regional legislative authorities. Now they are replaced by so-called representatives. As far as I know, the Kremlin regards the present version of the Federation Council as an intermediate phase linked with the first stage of the federative reform aimed at limiting the possibilities of regional leaders to dictate their will to the central authorities.

Question: Why does Russia need a parliament of two houses? Perhaps the State Duma is enough?

Answer: No it is not. In the first place, to leave the subjects of the Federation without their representation in the legislative power branch means to push their problems deep inside or to set fire to a fuse of separatism. Second, there should be a filter sifting out populist laws, which are most liked by parliament deputies before elections.

The lower house in the world practice of parliamentarism is a rostrum for ideas circulating in society. Our State Duma is also a lightning rod absorbing public extremism. It moves political clashes away from the streets. Therefore, when State Duma deputies start a fight, it is normal in principle. Popular but too hot State Duma deputies should be counterbalanced by experienced members of the Senate. The Federation Council may become a house of sound conservatism. In my view, it would not be bad if an age limit be introduced for senators. Say, their age should not be below 40 years. And, which is the most important, they should be elected directly by the population. This will also remove suspicions of corruption in the upper house (suspicions that the seats are bought), the senators will become independent of governors and there will be no threat of their being recalled at any moment.

Question: Will the main principle of federalism - the sovereign equality of the subjects of the Federation - be implemented as a result of the reform?

Answer: Arrangement of the federation according to the nationalities principle, which is recognized throughout the world, is not the best way. But it has been established so here since 1917. Therefore rapidly to transform republics into provinces or gubernias is to create problems for ourselves. We have quite a few of them and they need urgent solution.

True federalism in Russia has not been entirely formed. The RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), despite its name, was an absolutely unitary republic with a rigid system of subordination of the local authorities to the central ones. In the early 1990s the ship of the Russian Federation headed in the opposite direction. The local elites, availing themselves of the weakness of central power in Moscow, tried to win over for themselves as many rights as possible. For themselves and not for their populations. Now you see why one of the first moves of Vladimir Putin at the presidential post was to form federal districts? Simply the independence of the Federation subjects exceeded reasonable limits. But administrative restrictions alone cannot solve the problem of Russian federalism. Only a comprehensive federative reform can provide a normal balance, on the one hand. On the other hand, it will curb attempts of federal officials to impose one stereotype for all Russia.

Back to the Top    Next Article