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

#15 - JRL 8403 - JRL Home
SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE (http://www.fednews.ru/)

Ryzhkov: I will get down to business. I will not repeat what has been said so many times that from my point of view the president's proposals are first of all not adequate. They have no relation to Beslan and the fight against terrorism, and their purpose is only to increase the power of the Kremlin and personally of the man who is celebrating his birthday today.

Second, these changes, which have been proposed in the political system of the country, run counter to the spirit and letter of the Constitution. As an argument, let me refer you to the just concluded conference "The Federalism of Local Self-Government" in Barnaul. We organized it jointly with the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Thirty people with Ph.D. in Law attended the conference, and about 15 of them are the heads of constitutional law department. And their verdict was absolutely clear: the proposals contradict the Constitution.

The number of arguments was so big that it would be enough to publish a monograph emphasizing that 9 or 10 articles of the Constitution are violated directly and about 10 indirectly, and that a number of Constitutional Court resolutions, which are final and not subject to revision, are also violated.

The fact that the president proposes to violate three constitutional principles at once: the principle of democracy, when he deprives citizens of the right to elect regional authorities and candidates in one-seat constituencies; the principle of federalism, because appointments from above have nothing to do with the principles of federation; and the principle of a rule-of-law state, because the president proposes that we should ignore the Constitution, laws and Constitutional Court decisions -- all this indicates that we entering a very dangerous period when the fundamental law of the country is simply ignored and breached.

There have been no such flagrant violations in the past. But now we have overstepped the line. And of course this is very dangerous. It is all the more so because top officials in the country are already discussing the next move that will also violate the Constitution, which is the incorporation of the judiciary in the presidential vertical of power, and the incorporation of local self- government bodies in the presidential chain of command.

This will be yet another outrageous violation of the Constitution and our international obligations, because this will run contrary to the Charter of Local Self-Governments that we have ratified and other principal documents of the Council of Europe.

What is to be done in this situation? I would like to make seven concrete proposals. First, we in the State Duma, I mean the right wing and left wing opposition, try to prepare amendments to these laws. However frankly speaking, these laws are so unfit constitutionally that no amendments can correct them because conceptually they are anti-constitutional. In other words, if we change "a citizen is vested with the powers of a top official" into "elected", this will not make any difference. Because he will be appointed from above.

By the way, this is a very interesting law. It does not contain the word "appointed" or the word "elected". Since the authors of this draft understand that they violate the Constitution, and that those who wrote this and those who submitted this will have to bear responsibility for this, they invented something that is unheard of in the legal practice: "a citizen is vested with powers".

These 30 holders of Ph.D. in Barnaul could not explain what it means, "a citizens is vested with powers". This is a new scientific discovery. We have people with Ph.D. here, and maybe they will explain this to us. But other people with Ph.D. don't understand this.

Therefore, we will try to organize a discussion in the State Duma on these laws and formulate our point of view as clear as possible. We may come up with some amendments, even though it will be very hard to do. But this is the first area of our work.

The second area of work is the Constitutional Court. We have already taken some steps. Some of the people who are here today have written a letter, including Mikhail Krasnov, and signed it. The letter was published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, and now it is in the Constitutional Court. We hope that the Constitutional Court will say something about this especially since Mikhail Krasnov found a dormant constitutional norm, Article 100, part 3, which empowers the Constitutional Court to make addresses to the Federal Assembly.

This norm has never been used before. But we think that this is one of the occasions when the court must warn legislators that they may break the Constitution. So we shall wait for the Constitutional Court's reply.

If the law is adopted, I think we will have to find a way to appeal it in the Constitutional Court. Even if we don't find 90 deputies in the State Duma to sign such an inquiry, I, Mikhail Krasnov and other lawyers will have to think how we can get to the Constitutional Court without the participation of State Duma deputies in order to challenge this decision.

The third area of our work is that, as you know, there is a very strong legal school in the country, there are constitutional law departments in institutes and universities, there are unions of lawyers, there are associations of specialists, and I think it's the time, and I am addressing you Mikhail Alexandrovich and other lawyers, for professional laws to join in this discussion.

The discussion in Barnaul showed that they can openly express their views. There are people with doctoral degrees and there are heads of departments, and we have to think about how we could get the legal community drawn into this discussion, because the voice of professional and authoritative laws could be very useful, and I think that neither authorities nor society would ignore it.

The fourth point. There are regional parliaments. You know that their reaction to the president's initiative has been quite controversial. You also know that the law empowers regional parliaments to initiate inquiries to the Constitutional Court. Actually any legislative body in a regional can make such an inquiry, and the Constitutional Court will have to consider it.

Let me also remind you that key decisions of the Constitutional Court in the field of federalism were made in response to inquiries from regional legislative bodies. So I think that as representatives of civil society we could ask regional parliaments to have their say on this matter because they are sufficiently protected by elections and they have sufficient legitimacy granted to them by voters, and I think that an inquiry from a regional parliament or a group of regional parliaments to the Constitutional Court could improve the situation considerably.

Fifth. Municipalities have so far been silent. However, there is the Association of Municipal Authorities in Russia, there is the Congress of Municipal Authorities, there are associations of cities and so on, and I think it would be reasonable for all of us dear colleagues to do some work with them. And now that the threat of the expansion of the vertical of power is being openly discussed with regard to cities with a population of more than 100,000, I think this is the right time for us to ask them to show solidarity because this affects the interests directly.

Sixth. There are opposition parties, and I think that a number of steps have already been taken. For example, an open letter to the Constitutional Court was signed both by representatives of liberal parties and left wing forces. I have talked with Sergei Reshulsky, and the Communist Party is also preparing a statement criticizing these proposals. So I think opposition parties should coordinate their efforts better in order to counter this political reform.

And the last, seventh, point. It concerns public organizations. I think different political organizations, like human rights organizations and all sorts of associations, constitute a big force, especially since the Kremlin constantly considers ways to suppress their activities, including by licensing grant givers, that is requiring them to apply for permission before they can give money. In other words, a threat is hanging over the entire community of civil organizations.

I think everybody must understand that it is not a pinpoint strike on governors or deputies elected in one-seat constituencies. One must see the whole picture. An attack is being prepared against the Internet community, public organizations and local self- government. Regional authorities and political parties are already under attack. An amendment is being prepared to require that a party should have not 10,000 but 100,000 members certified by a notary public in regions in order to get registered. In other words, the Kremlin has launched an all-round attack on civil society.

I think our task now is to improve our coordination in the seven areas I mentioned above. These are my proposals. Thank you. If you have questions, I will try to answer them.

Satarov: I think Vladimir Alexandrovich has set a constructive tone that we all hoped for. Colleagues, if you have questions, you will be able to ask them in a minute. But please don't try to express your own views because you will have such an opportunity in the second part of our conference. Try to make your questions short.

Q: What is Democratic Alternative?

Ryzhkov: Democratic Alternative is a club we created this past spring in order to work out programs for the development of the country. We have chosen 13 fields of work. These include the political system, migration, economic policy, foreign policy and so on. So it is not a party or a public organization. It's a club where programs are drafted.

Just to give you an example, last month we held a meeting of Democratic Alternative on election reform, where Olga Zastrozhnaya, the Central Election Commission secretary, spoke. Representatives of all major political parties, both liberal and left wing, specialists attended the meeting. Alexander Ivanchenko was there too. This meeting will allow us to work out our own view on what kind of election system the country should have.

And now we are preparing another meeting to be held in October, where we will discuss Kozak's reform and its consequences for regions and interbudgetary relations, and we will also work out our view on all these problems.

Q: Do you think that the Public Chamber may become a body that will (inaudible)...

Ryzhkov: I think it would absurd to hope for that because the source of both the vertical of power and the Public Chamber will be the Kremlin. The Kremlin will appoint governors, and it will form the Public Chamber that is supposed to control the governors. But it's not realistic. This happens only in fairy-tales where the right hand constantly fights the left hand. So it's just an imitation of democracy in a situation where authorities have strangled the parliament as a counterbalance, strangled independent and continue to strange independent mass media.

Just the latest news. Georgy Bovt had to leave Izvestia yesterday. He is one of the persons who shaped up Izvestia's image. You must understand that everybody is under attack. This is why I am saying that everybody must understand that governors will be rubbed out in toilets but we will escape it. No one will escape it, either the Internet or civil society or the agency Regnum (?).

We must understand that this threat concerns everyone, and there must be very close coordination and very strong resistance. Every person must do so wherever he can.

So the Public Chamber will be just a fig leaf covering authorities' shame. And it will give no protection of course. Thank you.