Staunton, October 11 – Because there have been rumors that the Kremlin plans constitutional changes to allow Vladimir Putin to remain in power or to amalgamate the federal subjects, many expected an article by Valery Zorkin, the head of the Constitutional Court, at least to give hints about what those might be if not to specify them in particular.
But few who know much about Zorkin’s personal style would have expected that in his latest article, Aleksey Shaburov, a Yekaterinburg commentator says. He writes two or so long, verbose articles a year, few of which have any specific proposals about current issues (politsovet.ru/60548-tochechnye-izmeneniya-konstitucii-o-chem-govoritsya-v-state-valeriya-zorkina.html).
Zorkin’s ideological position is well-established and well-known, Shaburov continues. Put in the most general terms, he “views the liberal treatment of human rights as inapplicable for Russia” because to his mind, Russians are collectivist and “the largest and chief collective is the state.”
He has “more than once said that in the interests of the state, the rights of the individual can be limited. True, in the Constitution of the Russian Federation is written something else, but the chairman of the Supreme Court delicately passes this by.”
Zorkin’s new essay (rg.ru/2018/10/09/zorkin-nedostatki-v-konstitucii-mozhno-ustranit-tochechnymi-izmeneniiami.html) is an exemplar of all that he has written before, Shaburov says; and it would not have attracted much attention except for the rumors that the Kremlin wants to change the constitution, something Putin’s spokesman has now denied.
“Everyone expected that precisely Zorkin in his article would announce these changes, but these expectations proved for naught. There is nothing of this in the article,” but a close read shows that he wanted to send a message but not the message most of his readers were in any way looking for.
Zorkin’s key argument was that there should not be any radical changes in the Constitution. Instead, it should be developed and any problems within it corrected by decisions of the Constitutional Court he heads. Making radical changes would be “fraught with the risk of serious social and political destabilization.”
Put crudely, Shaburov continues, “Zorkin is saying: why change he Constitution if we even without that can use it ‘as needed’?” After all, that is what he has always tried to do for those in power, rejecting things they don’t like such as local governments and promoting those they do like the term of office of the Duma members.
The chief justice also talks about creating a two-party system, although such systems, the experience of other countries shows, aren’t created by the constitution but by societies working within one, the Yekaterinburg commentator points out.
“The most concrete and specific part of Zorkin’s essay is his attack on the European Court for Human Rights. Here he is very clear: the head of the Constitutional Court doesn’t like that the European Court is imposing on Russia its understanding of human rights.” In his view, each people has the right to decide what those rights include.
Such an approach, of course, “destroys the very idea of rights as something inherent in the individual independently of whether society wants it or not. Thus, if society decides for example that the right to freedom of speech isn’t necessary, that this allows such a freedom to be dispensed with.”
Naturally, Shaburov continues, “such a doctrine is very useful for the Russian powers that be, and of course it is nowhere included in the principles guiding the work of the European Court for Human Rights.” Consequently, “it is not excluded that this is the only specific message of Zorkin’s new article.”