Why Russians don’t celebrate Constitution Day


December 14, 2015 –

Boris Stepnov, PolitRussia – 

Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski

“Why we don’t celebrate Constitution Day” 

Today, December 12, is marked on the calendar as the Day of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. According to the decree of Yeltsin, it was a free day, until 2005, when this status was abolished, and now Constitution Day is deemed a memorable date in Russia. But what should we remember?

Let’s say from the start that there is a Constitution. The encyclopedic dictionary of constitutional law gives such a definition:

“…the fundamental law of the state which expresses the will and interests of the people as a whole or of certain social strata (groups) of society and which enshrines the important beginnings of public structure and state organization of a given country in their interests.”

This  is a very precise definition. Ideally, the Constitution should be a state-forming document which fixes the social contract of relations between the population of the country and the ruling regime. Beyond legal technicalities, a Constitution should determine on what conditions citizens give the government the authority to govern the country and what rights and freedoms the ruling regime is to guarantee. 

However, in the United Kingdom there is no Constitution at all – the government system is a monarchy…Jurists wallow, treating such a situation as if “there is a constitution, but it is not codified.” But this does not change the essence. Although for the English it might not be worth it in this or that situation, a Constitution is required for any truly legal state. 

Constitution Day is traditionally assigned to the date of the adoption of the document. The first constitution of the USSR, which legally enshrined the formation of the state, was adopted on January 31, 1924, and the Constitution of 1936, the “Stalinist” one, what adopted on December 5. It was replaced by the “Brezhnev” constitution on October 7, 1977, and Constitution Day was moved once again.

The current constitution was adopted on December 12, 1993 during the reign of Yeltsin. It was written, it should be honestly admitted, in the interests of the West, and not Russia. And this is not a conspiracy: the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) openly writes on its website, describing its activities in Russia: 

“USAID-funded Rule of Law implementers helped draft the Russian Constitution, Part I of the Russian Civil Code, and the Russian Tax Code”

It should be asked: why were foreign specialists needed to write the Russian Constitution?

In the dictionary definition, it does not say: “or certain social strata (groups),” in this case, alas, being the compradors. This is precisely why in part 4 of article 15 of the Constitution the priority of international law over national is specified:

“Universally recognized principles and norms of international law and international treaties of the Russian Federation are a component part of its legal system. If an international treaty with the Russian Federation established other rules than those prescribed by law, then the rules of the international treaty are adopted.”

“PolitRussia” has more than once wrote about the measures taken at the highest level by Russia now to practically repeal this provision (legally, it is impossible without changes to the Constitution). And here, literally this month, this happened:

“The State Duma adopted a law authorizing the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation to ‘recognize the inapplicability / un-enforceability of decisions of international courts’ in the case of their contradiction of the Russian Constitution. It is clear that the most competent organization for the question of ‘what is appropriate, and what contradicts the Constitution of the Russian Federation’ is the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.”

The most-antiRussian position of the Yeltsinist Constitution has been overcome. 

And now the Chairman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matviyenko, confidently says:

“On December 12, we can and should congratulate each other for having such a balanced and wise constitution which, no matter what objective, subjective, or arising problems or these or that currents there are, nonetheless guarantees the progressive development of the country….The Constitution today provides for a stable, sustainable of the country, rights and freedoms of citizens, and our national interests on the international arena. The Russian state and our society have never run into problems over the years which cannot be resolved within the framework of the current Constitution, in the framework of our basic law of the country.”

On the 15th anniversary of the Constitution in 2008, Dmitry Medvedev also positively appraised the current Constitution:

“On December 12, 1993, in our country for  the first time in its history a fundamentally new Basic Law was adopted – such a law which recognized the supreme value of man, his rights and freedoms, which set the foundations for a democratic Russia, and which obliges the state to respect and protect these new basic values.”

Honestly speaking, a variety of claims have been made against how the Constitution was adopted.

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According to official data, 54.8% of the population took part in voting, and 58.4% of voters voted “for”, which represents 31% of all voters in Russia. Essentially, not even the ordinary majority voted “for,” not to mention qualified ones, and this is an important issue! Later, arguments were cited which justified election fraud, claiming that turnout was only about 46%. Refutation of these arguments has also had its place. It is already impossible to determine who is right, since the ballots were destroyed a few months after the vote on the order of the Chairman of the Central Election Commission, N.T. Ryabov. 

But the point is that Yeltsin had no right to convene a national referendum. Article 185 of the Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic read:

“Changing the Constitution of the RSFSR is carried out by decision of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR and adopted by a majority of not less than two-third of the total number of deputies of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR.” 

And law No. 241-1 of the RSFSR from October 16, 1990, “On the RSFSR referendum,” read: “the right to make a decision on holding a Russia-wide referendum is the national vote on the most important issues of state and public life of the Republic and belongs to the Congress of People’s Deputies of the RSFSR and to the Supreme Soviet of Russia between congresses.”

Therefore, Yeltsin issued the famous decree No. 1400 “On gradual constitutional reform in the Russian Federation,” which was used to stop the implementation of legislative, administrative, and supervisory functions of the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia and the Supreme Soviet of Russia, and also terminated the powers of people’s deputies in general. And then he issued other decrees aimed at accelerating the adoption of the new constitution while actually ignoring the existing one. Therefore the referendum was not held – it was replaced by some kind of “popular vote” which was not prescribed in any of the existing law of the Russian Federation, and the adoption of the decision was up to the ordinary majority of votes.

But maybe it is not worth paying attention to legal issues, but rather agree with the suitability of the existing Constitution? I recommend n this subject a brief comparison of the two constitutions of the USSR, the one from 1936 and the one from 1977, with the Constitution of the Russian Federation of 1993. We will consider the right to work.

From the constitution of 1936: 

“Article 118. Citizens of the USSR have the right to work, i.e. the right to receiving guaranteed work with payment for their labor in accordance with its quality and quantity. The right to work is ensured by…eliminating the possibility of crises and the liquidation of unemployment.”

From the constitution of 1977:

“Article 40. Citizens of the USSR have the right to work, i.e., to received guaranteed work with payment for their labor in accordance with its quantity and quality and not below the state’s established minimum measurement – this includes the right to choose one’s profession, occupation, and work according to vocation, abilities, professional training, education, and social needs…”

From the constitution of 1993: 

“Article 37.1 Labor is free. Everyone has the right to freely dispose of their abilities to work, to choose their occupation and profession…to remuneration for work without any discrimination and not below the minimum wage established by federal law and the right to protection against unemployment…”

Very clear: In 1936, there was already unemployment, and the state engaged in eliminating it, therefore labor was compensated “according to ability.” In 1977, there had already long been no unemployment in principle, and it does not talk only about the right to work, but the right to work according to specialization in accordance with vocation. A great achievement of socialism was the opportunity to choose one’s job by vocation, not for salaries. 

In the Yeltsinist constitution, there are many pretentious words about work, but they are not guaranteed, just as “everyone is free to use their abilities,” and payments are guaranteed at no lower than the minimum and “without discrimination.” But, excuse me, what is this “right to protection against unemployment” in the presence of unemployment? 

In the 1993 constitution, there is also the right to housing interpreted as “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of a home,” and free obtainment of a living space is left only for “poor people and other citizens mentioned in law” (guaranteeing these rights in practice is a separate question), and the provision on “low rents for an apartment and communal services” subtly disappeared. And so on…

Does this mean that it is necessarily to urgently change the Constitution? No, it doesn’t. One of the two main anti-Russian provisions has already been neutralized, and it has been demanded that Article 13 – “No ideology may be established as a state or obligatory one” – also be neutralized. Establishing any ideology as obligatory indeed is inadmissible, but a official national ideology in Russia is urgently needed. As Stalin correctly expressed: “Without theory, we die!” 

In March 2014, Yevgeny Fyodorov, speaking at a round table on strengthening the sovereignty of Russia correctly pointed out:

“Removing the ban on a state ideology, Russia gains the right to the production of its own face, its own character and state construction can be actively begun out of artificial infancy. Clearly oriented state policies will appear among officials, and notions of what is good and what is bad will appear. With a state ideology, it is much easier to bring justice to civil society. I hope that it will be much easier to set and implement the tasks of Russia’s development.”

Of course, this is not a panacea, but it is necessary for the development of Russia. It is impossible to develop without having a direction of development. It is impossible to work out adequate tactics without having a strategy.

Moreover, changes to the Constitution are not required. The main thing is that there be an ideology and that it worked. Its recognition by the state de jure can wait.

Is Constitution Day a celebration? I think that the tidy termination of the observance of this day on this date speaks for itself. But Russia really needs, a little late, a new Basic Law, a real Russian once, and not one written under the diktat of the West.

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