Staunton, August 18 – Russian laws often are so poorly drafted that key terms are left undefined, allowing the authorities to bring charges against those who have not violated the original purpose of the law, a problem compounded by the relatively restricted role of precedent in the Russian judicial system.
Sometimes these shortcomings appear to be intentional: if the laws were precisely drawn, the authorities would have less flexibility in applying them. But regardless of whether that is the case or not – and the evidence suggests that it sometimes is and sometimes isn’t – this lack of definition and precision frequently leads to other problems as well.
One of the most serious of these involves “separatism” and “federalism.” Separatism, as many scholars have noted, is often generated by attacks on federalism, and attacks on federalism are justified by the threat of separatism. But where one or both is left undefined, the situation can lurch from one extreme to another, threatening the well-being of the country.
In the current issue of “Regiony Rossii,” Anatoly Bednov, a journalist in Astrakhan who specializes on regional issues, discusses this problem and calls for “a precise definition” of separation in order that Russian can escape from the vicious circle of separatism and anti-federalism (gosrf.ru/authornews/129/).
“While justly condemning separatism,” he argues, “it is necessary in legal terms to protect society at the same time from another political-ideological extreme. It is important to block any anti-federalist propaganda including demands for the deconstruction of the federal structure of our state as written in the Constitution by the much-ballyhooed ‘gubernization.’”
Bednov’s article takes the form of a critique of an analysis prepared by Nikolay Starikov who also called for more precise definition of “separatism” (nstarikov.ru/blog/28219but failed, according to Bednov, to deal with definitional problems involving closely inter-related concept of “anti-federalism.”
Starikov’s call for a new law on separatism is unexceptionable, Bednov says, “except for one thing.” He does not call for a more precise definition of the term or recognize that its current ambiguities allow the authorities to bring charges “against all and sundry,” even against those who propose expanding the rights of federal subjects or amalgamating them.
“We already know,” Bednov says, “that the existing anti-extremist legislation at times is interpreted too broadly. In order that this situation not be repeated, laws must define precisely the limits of what is considered separatist ideology and activity corresponding to it.” Otherwise there will be serious problems.
The main reason that unitarism won’t work in Russia is “the multi-national, poly confessional and geographic diversity” of the country “and also historical experience: super-centralization did not save from collapse either the unitary Russian Empire or the pseudo-federal Soviet Union.”
Petr Stolypinn attempted to overcome the problems with the first, and Nikita Khrushchev, with his sovnarkom system, tried to do the same with the second. But “a real overcoming of it is possible only via real federalism.” And that means Russia needs to define legally not only separatism but also anti-federalism.
“Having said A, one must say B,” Bednov continues, recalling the Soviet anecdote: Which deviation from the CPSU is more dangerous: the right or the left. “The correct answer,” of course, was “both.”
Russian law, Bedov argues, must ban “not only propaganda of separatism but also any anti-federalist propaganda, including calls for doing away with the federal system written in the Constitution by ‘gubernization’” or some other means.
The reason for this is that “calls to liquidate the Federation and return to a unitary past will provoke national separatists in the republics in just the same way that Russophobia provokes Great Russian chauvinism and the latter in turn local chauvinisms,” a vicious circle that can’t be escaped by addressing only one part of the problem
If however when they define separatism, the Arkhangelsk writer continues, Russia’s legislators also define and ban “anti-federalist propaganda,” then “federalism becomes an absolute value not subject to any doubt” in just the same way that “the state-territorial unity of Russia” is beyond doubt at the present time.
“Those who reject Russian Federation by calling for the elimination of the federation offend not only peoples who have their own ethnic statehood within Russia but also the Russian people in the name of which such people all too often speak who have their own Federal subjects in the form of oblasts and krays.”
Bednov argues that “the legal basis for separatism was liquidated with the adoption of the 1993 Constitution, in which the phrase, ‘the right of nations to self-determination up to separation’ was let out, a phrase which served as the legal basis for the collapse of the USSR. A legal basis for unitarization of Russia never existed and does not exist now.”