#16 - JRL 7263
July 23-29, 2003
By Viktor Loshak
Last week's two Constitutional Court decisions suggest unequivocally that there has appeared on the legal and political scene an independent player, namely, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin. Remember, his post ranks him among the country's top statesmen.
By its latest rulings, the Constitutional Court has deprived courts of general jurisdiction of the right to decide on disputes over amending republican constitutions. This has made it far more difficult for the Prosecutor's Office and the executive branch to carry out legislative reforms. By another ruling, Zorkin&Co. has paved the way for the return to the MNVK broadcaster the assets (Channel 6) that the state took away from it. Over the last 10 years, Zorkin has been alternately branded a "leftist" and a "Red" and castigated for his role in the 1993 standoff between Yeltsin and parliament. In that year, upon becoming Constitutional Court chairman for the first time, he assessed Yeltsin's decree to dissolve parliament as a good reason for impeaching Yeltsin himself. Not everyone remembers, however, that the selfsame Zorkin - just a few days before the conflict broke out between parliament and the executive - declared from the rostrum: "If you can't agree on how to work together, then agree on how you will resign together."
Two years later, Zorkin was perhaps the only one to denounce his colleagues' ruling on "restoring constitutional order" in Chechnya.
To be sure, Zorkin has become a political figure by virtue of his status as a Constitutional Court judge: Even the president cannot relieve him of his chairmanship of the court. But one has to give the devil his due: In the course of his long track record, Zorkin never gave in to temptation. By contrast, his predecessor Marat Baglai, urged on by his entourage, never missed a chance to grab anything worthwhile. For example, he got hold of some of the most expensive land plots in the most exclusive area near Rublyovskoye Shosse for himself and his court colleagues.
But do not let us count the money in the judges' pockets - there is an explanation for everything. For example, constitutional judges and the officials around them, like everyone else, want to be well provided for in their old age. Two of them, however, declined to accept the lucrative handouts, evidently wary of tasting the cheese in the mousetrap. Zorkin was one of the two.
The Constitutional Court chairman is a free man subject only to the law. This can be a serious problem for the powers that be. When a high official can't be bought, he seems to be someone out of this world. Ours is a world where there is a price on everything - a court ruling, a song of praise, a government award, anything. The relations between these two worlds, which exist within a single state system, can be the subject of a fascinating study. Just watch Zorkin.