Liberals’ New Constitution for Russia OKd
Russian liberals, riding the momentum of their victory over last month’s abortive hard-line coup, won initial approval Tuesday for a draft constitution designed to cement a democratic, post-Communist political system in their vast republic.
The draft breaks totally with the class ideology and false democracy of past constitutions. It proposes instead a Western-style balance of executive, legislative and judicial powers, along with a new territorial setup resembling American states.
With the Soviet Union disintegrating and the Russian Federation rising to take its place as the colossus of Eurasia, the hastily assembled draft would lay the legal groundwork for the new Russia.
“Symbols, ideals, notions and established concepts are changing,” liberal members of the Russian Parliament’s Constitution Commission wrote in a side note to the draft.
“It becomes impossible for society to progress if it lacks a definite, understandable, firm system of moral and legal fundamentals. That is what the democratic constitutional structure of the sovereign Russian Federation can become.”
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin supports the draft constitution, commission members said, even though he would lose his immense powers, virtually unlimited by courts and Parliament, under an American-style system of checks and balances.
“There has been a colossal strengthening of executive power in our republic,” commission member Victor Sheinis warned, noting that the president’s new authority came largely at the expense of Parliament. “All the factions (in Parliament) are concerned about this.”
Commission Secretary Oleg Rumyantsev, a leading Social Democrat who became the driving force behind the new draft, made no attempt to hide his pleasure at the easy acceptance it won at a plenary meeting of the commission, which was formerly riven between Communist hard-liners and liberals.
“It’s very heartening to see that life itself has removed all the former obstacles to our draft,” he said, in a reference to developments since the coup was defeated.
Along with a reform of the courts and new controls on presidential powers, the draft constitution would resurrect the Duma, Russia’s first national Parliament, which functioned between 1905 and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
“The Duma was the first Parliament of the Russian state,” Rumyantsev said. “Tradition is a great thing, and I don’t think we should forget it.”
The constitution, which would become the basic law for more than 150 million citizens from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, would also create several institutions totally new to Russia, including:
- A national ombudsman, modeled on similar positions in Scandinavia and elsewhere, who would deal with complaints from citizens that their rights had been violated.
- A Federal Council, which would serve as the higher chamber of the legislature, like the U.S. Senate, while the Duma would be the lower chamber.
- A Security Council to deal with defense matters, as well as “economic and ecological security” and public order.
- A State Council, consisting of top officials, to advise the president.
To turn the Russian Federation’s crazy-quilt of autonomous republics, autonomous regions and other semi-independent hunks of territory into a manageable system, Rumyantsev proposed the creation of a new unit known as the zemlya, or land.
He would consolidate the federation’s current mishmash of about 90 territorial units into a neater mix of 40 to 50 federation members, all either autonomous republics or zemlya units, each with its own government and leader.
Asked if the constitution would thus create a United States of Russia, Rumyantsev said: “Yes, I agree fully. Because we have to have a federation with equal members, just as the states are all equal and have the same status.”
Formerly, a group of hard-line Communists on the 100-member commission blocked many of Rumyantsev’s ideas, complaining that he was forsaking Russian and socialist ideals for knee-jerk imitations of the West.
But now, demoralized by the party’s collaboration in the coup attempt and the resulting wave of anti-Communist fervor, they have withdrawn much of their criticism.
“There is no longer the sense of confrontation, of ideological civil war,” Rumyantsev said.
Clauses concerning the equality of various types of property drew no Communist complaints about the evils of private ownership. Nor did the Communists object to abandoning the old Bolshevist principle that the soviets, or councils, should be the highest power in the land.
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