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First Amendment, Russian Edition

By Oleg Kozlovsky for
6 November 2008
On 5th November the world’s attention was drawn to American presidential elections and
the victory of Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Russian authorities used this day to declare an
unprecedented reform in the country’s recent history—changes to the Constitution. Dmitry
Medvedev in an annual address to the houses of the Parliament suggested that the presidential
term should be increased from 4 years to 6 years and the Duma’s term—to 5 years.
There is no doubt that Medvedev’s “suggestion” will be regarded as an order by members
of Parliament. They have already responded to his speech and expressed readiness to vote for
any Kremlin’s amendments to the Constitution. A referendum on this issue is not required, so
adopting the new legislation will be easy and quick. Some deputies have even said that
Medvedev’s current term may be prolonged till 2014 instead of 2012 (and Duma’s till 2012
instead of 2011). Later and rarer elections will somewhat ease the Kremlin’s fear of an “electoral
revolution”—its worst nightmare since the uprising at Kyiv Maidan.
The changes, if passed, will become the first amendment to the Russian Constitution
since it was adopted on a referendum15 years ago. Medvedev’s predecessor, Vladimir Putin, has
always been repeating that the Constitution doesn’t need any changes. He preferred to simply
ignore it: when he abolished elections of regional governors, submitted the Parliament to
himself, technically introduced censorship and political repression, violated independence of
courts and property rights. But some things still couldn’t be changed without amending the
Constitution, like the length of president’s term or the two-term limit. As usual with KGB, Putin
didn’t do the dirty part of the work himself, he used Medvedev instead.
Ironically, the first changes to the Constitution were suggested by the person elected to
his office at the staged and fraudulent elections that lacked even minimal legitimacy. Then they
are to be approved by the undemocratically elected Duma lacking any real opposition and then
by the Council of Federation whose members haven’t been elected at all. To add to this picture
of cynicism, this is done while praising the Constitution and its standards democracy at a
pompous celebration of its jubilee planned for 12th December.
The plans to change the Constiution were immediately condemned by the opposition and
don’t seem to be popular among regular people. The emerging united democratic movement
Solidarity called Medvedev’s actions illegitimate and antidemocratic. The Other Russia coalition
plans to hold a Dissenters’ March in December that will demand that the Constitution remains
untouched. People who discuss the issue on the Internet and in the street also criticize the
changes. The government, however, prefers to ignore the public opinion.
As the opposition candidate in the USA receives congratulations on winning presidential
elections, Russian ruling elite shows once again that it’s not going to pass power to anybody else.
Comparison of Russia’s first amendment to the Constitution to the American First Amendment
perfectly symbolizes that development of democracy here has gone terribly wrong.