Staunton, May 6 – Russians were all too willing to copy Western ideas about divisions of powers and the independence of the judiciary into their constitutions without any deep reflection as to what these things mean, Vladimir Pastukhov says; and as a result, each of these things turned into its opposite and helped power the rise of a new dictatorship.
Now, the London-based Russian analyst says, many who are talking about how to escape Russia’s current situation are committing a similar mistake: they are assuming that the system can be changed by changing a few of its parts rather than recognizing that any such changes will likely be subverted as well (polit.ru/article/2022/05/06/pastuhov_pposle/).
Only if the system as a whole is changed on the basis of careful reflection rather than simple enthusiasm is there any hope that changes in the parts won’t suffer the same fate in the future that they suffered in the last several decades, leading to outcomes exactly the opposite of those their advocates want and suggest.
As Russia’s experience with its 1993 Constitution shows, the words in such a document are one thing, but they can be realized only on the basis of the understandings of the people who are charged with implementing them. And because these “understandings” were fundamentally anti-democratic, the system they built was as well.
One of the most important examples of this concerns federation. The 1993 document proclaimed Russia a federation but it “was the constitution of a unitary state according to the understandings” of those who wrote and have operated under it. It left a large number of “gray zones” that the centralists worked to fill at the expense of those who wanted a federation.
Putin has simply moved to complete this drive, eliminating what some hoped for and using the gaps and understandings to restore a completely unitary state. “The task today is not to rewrite the Constitution” on any particular point, but to write a new one that will allow for the construction of an entirely different political system.
Doing that is an extraordinary challenge, Pastukhov continues. “No one has ever tried to do anything like that in Russia or even understand whether it will work in Russia.” It has always been a centralized and authoritarian political system, and it has never had one in which powers were divided and in which each component had sufficient authority to limit the other two.
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