Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Despite Constitutional Ban, a Single State Ideology is Returning to Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 12 – The 1993 Russian Constitution specifies that “no ideology can be established as a state or obligatory one,” but some Russian officials are taking steps to make an end run around that ban and others are openly talking about the repeal of that provision so that they can more actively disseminate Vladimir Putin’s vision of a common set of national values.

            In an essay on yesterday, Moscow commentator Grigory Viktorov describes the course of this discussion and these actions over the past three months and why that discussion is troubling for those who remain committed to the constitutional principle that Russia is to be a country of “ideological multiplicity” (

            Last November, the rector of a St. Petersburg university called for establishing positions at his institution to engage in “ideological work,” an idea that was criticized by Vyacheslav Volodin and Dmitry Peskov, among others, whose words seemed to have put an end to the idea but “things have turned out differently,” Viktorov writes.

            The same month, Aleksey Aleksandrov, the plenipotentiary representative of the Federation Council to the Russian Constitutional Court, said that the 1993 ban on an official ideology was the result of fears of a revival of totalitarianism and that as those fears are no longer real, the constitutional prohibition “is a mistake.”

            That prompted “a new wave of rumors,” the commentator says, that the Kremlin intended to change Article 13 of the Constitution and end this ban, and those rumors continued even after “Izvestiya” reported on December 4 that any move in that direction was “an initiative from below” rather than a reflection of central plans (

            But even that did not end this story, Viktorov continues.  On January 31, Aleksandr Zapesotsky, the St. Petersburg rector who made the original proposal, defended it in “Rossiiskaya gazeta” and argued that it is time to stop avoiding a discussion about the role of ideology in the state (

                Zapesotsky has been rector since 1991, worked with Mayor Anatoly Sobchak when the latter’s chief of staff was Vladimir Putin, the Moscow commentator says, and as such “he is hardly likely to struggle for an obviously hopeless goal.”  Consequently, it is “probable tht this issue is being discussed by someone at the top.”

            The authorities could seek to amend the constitution, of course, although as Viktorov says, that is a long and cumbersome process. Or as seems more convenient and thus more likely, they could argue that the ban does not mean what it appears to mean either because they are not imposing an ideology by force or because what they are offering reflects broader values.

            Some may object that in doing so, Moscow would be violating its undertakings to international bodies by its having signed various conventions, but as Viktorov points out, none of these in fact prohibit a state from having an ideology, although they do have something to say about what such an ideology must not advocate.

            And, he continues, many supporters of the promotion of a new state ideology could argue that what they are trying to do is nothing like what the CPSU did. Zapesotsky was not recreating the party committee and secretary system but giving assignments to university officials that they were never given directly at least in Soviet times.

            That argument opens a number of questions such as “Does Article 13 of the Constitution really ban citizens of Russia from uniting on an ideological principle?” or “has it prevented the Russian Orthodox Church from involvement in the development and adoption of the Foundations of Social Doctrine?”

            Those opposed to ending the ban already note, Viktoroc continues, that “I you look around, you will see there are already many prohibitions. Imagine what would be the case if a state ideology were to become possible?”

            “Perhaps,” he says, the way out is to put in place a ban on any government monopoly over political ideology.  But those like Zapesotsky clearly aren’t interested in doing that. They have another goal, one they have pursued in an “extremely effective” manner even if it doesn’t conform to the provisions of the existing Constitution.

            Viktorov thus implies, although he does not say specifically, that Russia today is on a slippery slope toward a situation in which the Kremlin will seek to re-impose an ideological straightjacket on Russian society, albeit one that will be different in kind than the one many might see as its model.

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