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Perspective
Volume IV, No 1 (September-October1993)

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Russian Parties & Law
By KRONID LYUBARSKY

The Second October Revolution of 3-4 October 1993 radically altered Russia's already complex political and legal situation. Whereas earlier the possibility--or at least the hope--had existed that the establishment of constitutional legality and the creation of political parties would result from an evolutionary process, this is no longer possible. Since October 4 (or, more precisely, after September 21) the formation of democratic institutions has taken a revolutionary path. The superficially legal forms that this process occasionally may take should mislead no one.

In discussing the relationship between a multi-party system and constitutionality in Russia today, one has to consider separately the problem of the creation of parties and the present state of constitutional law in the country. Until recently, in what was then the USSR, only a single party existed, i.e., the CPSU, and as a result the very meaning of the term "party" was distorted in the consciousness of Soviet citizens.

The one party was perceived essentially as an official state institution, endowed by its very nature with governmental powers. The CPSU participated in "elections" as part of a "bloc" with just one other group--consisting of "non-party members." It is-noteworthy, however, that the communist leadership nonetheless endeavored to preserve terminology appropriate to a multi-party state, e.g., "party," "bloc," and "elections."

 

Creation of Political Parties
It was not until 1990, when Article 6 of the USSR Constitution providing for the monopoly of the CPSU was abolished, that the creation of genuine political parties as such became feasible in principle. The clearest available definition of a "party" is to be found in the first sentence of Article 21 of the German Grundgesetz: "Parties help to form the political will of the people."

Unquestionably, the role of political parties consists solely of their contribution to the formation and clear expression of the popular will concerning society's vital issues. However, parties as such do not carry out the will of the people on their own--they perform this function only by means of their participation in elections and then, following an electoral victory, by their creation of appropriate structures for the exercise of power.

Consequently, the primary role of parties may best be defined as the ideological and organizational preparation of elections to governmental organs. Such external characteristics of parties as the formal membership of their supporters are merely secondary considerations.

After the abolition of the monopoly of the CPSU, the first party qualifying under this definition that entered the Russian political scene was Democratic Russia. Although it called itself a "movement," in fact it was a true political party . Democratic Russia began to take shape as an organization during the preparation for elections to the USSR Supreme Soviet, and then finally constituted itself during the 1990 elections to the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet.

(The so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky will not be discussed here. Chronologically, this was the first party to be formally registered as such, but it was created at the instigation of the KGB as a counterweight to the growing democratic movement, and its membership lists were fictitious, with the result that the original registration of this "party" was subsequently canceled.)

Before long, however, a split occurred in the ranks of Democratic Russia A large number of small groups--also calling themselves "parties"--left the organization. In addition, a number of political figures of a "radical democratic" tendency--such as Yuri Afanas'ev--resigned from it. A large group of members of Democratic Russia who had originally been elected thanks to this organization subsequently went over to the camp of reform opponents, joining forces with the supporters of the communist and profascist

opposition (e .g., Mikhail Astaf'yev, Il'ya Konstantinov, Viktor Aksyuchits).

Following the emergence of Democratic Russia, other political associations began to appear one after another. Some of these specifically called themselves "parties," while others refrained from using the term. However, the vast majority of public organizations that sprang up from 1990 to 1993 provide in their statutes for possible participation in elections for federal legislative organs, thus qualifying as genuine parties.

Among these political associations are several organizations that have became familiar names throughout Russia, even though it is impossible to know whether the extent of their fame truly corresponds to the real number of their supporters and their actual political weight. It is conceivable that the popularity of some parties has been artificially inflated by the media. Most of these organizations have never published political programs and have never even stated what their positions are on vital political and economic issues.

Nonetheless, certain parties really appear to have prospects of becoming genuine political forces. Among these, the most frequently mentioned are the politico-economic association Civic Union (Grazhdansky soyuz), the Democratic Party (Nikolai Travkin), the Republican Party (Vladimir Lysenko, Vyacheslav Shostakovsky), and the Party of Economic Freedom (Konstantin Borovoi). None of these parties has yet participated in an election and consequently it is impossible to test their political power.

Among the large number of organizations that plan to compete in the election there is a collection of quite exotic groups, such as the Russian Space Travel Association.

 

91 Organizations Registered
In mid-October, at the beginning of the State Duma electoral campaign, the Ministry of Justice stated that a total of 91 organizations had been authorized to participate in the elections following official registration in accordance with the Ministry's regulations. The very existence of this plethora of organizations claiming to function as political parties shows that Russian society is still extremely fragmented. Such a multitude of parties means essentially that few real parties exist. Important social groups which could provide the basis for the creation of powerful political parties reflecting their interests have not yet arisen in Russia.

Primarily, this is related to the instability of the Russian economic system. The old economic structures based on central economic management and massive government financing have disintegrated. The groups that are interested in the preservation of the old order are extremely unstable.

 

As the impossibility of restoring the old system becomes more and more evident, some political figures associated with these groups evolve unto supporters of extreme measures, including the use of force, and join the ranks of the radical right wing. The path followed by these politicians eventually converges with the mass of the Russian Lumpenproletariat (lyumpeny), discontented by the growth of poverty and unemployment during the economic reform period.

At the same time, other political figures who have concluded that the restoration of communism is impossible are endeavoring to find an appropriate place in the new economic reality, but, since they have no clear concept of how to achieve this, they constantly shuttle between one political group and another.

Meanwhile, in exactly the same way, many convinced supporters of social reforms are still unable to formulate their interests in political and economic terms, hesitating between a "harsh" capitalism of "initial accumulation" and a highly paternalistic "social democratic" capitalism; consequently they waver between national political structures corresponding to these different models.

As a result, the so-called "parties" themselves are extremely unstable. The makeup of the body of their supporters changes constantly. Like the "parties" themselves, the blocs the "parties" establish among themselves are similarly unstable. A major role in the creation of such associations is played by their leaders' personal objectives--not by programmatic goals.

In general, this last feature is characteristic of contemporary Russian parties: By and large they arise around personalities with clearly expressed political ambitions, rather than in accordance with the socioeconomic interests of their members.

The conclusion can be drawn that in Russia' s transitional stage today a multi-party system as such still has not emerged.

Nonetheless, quite visible progress toward a multi-party system has taken place. In view of the forthcoming Duma elections, a number of political blocs (e.g., Russia's Choice [Vybor Rossii], New Russia [Novaya Rossiya], Civic Choice [Grazhdansky soyuz]), as well as separate parties and movements (Russian Movement for Democratic Reforms [Rossiiskoe dvizhenie demokrahcheskikh reform], the Democratic Party of Russia, etc.) have already been established. These organizations are ready to participate actively in the election campaign. Possibly, during the course of the campaign, they will consolidate into something resembling the true political parties found in modern democratic states. However, it has to be noted that so far this has not occurred.

The role played by extremist parties, movements and organizations--both of communist and nationalist-fascist tendencies--in Russian contemporary political life and society in general needs to be discussed in this context.

Until recently these organizations continued to be active components of the Russian political spectrum. Yel'tsin's attempt after the August 1991 putsch to ban the communist party completely was later partially frustrated by rulings of the Constitutional Court Moreover, a great number of new organizations of communist orientation arose out of the ruins of the former CPSU.

As far as the fascist organizations are concerned, in the past these groups never encountered any opposition from the authorities and were able to act with virtually complete freedom.

However, this situation changed radically as a result of the failed attempt at an armed uprising in October 1993. Both "rightist" and "leftist" extremist organizations actively supported the uprising and even took part themselves in the rebellion. This gave the presidential administration the required determination to take decisive measures against these organizations. The activity of a number of these groups was suspended, and in some cases this suspension was later changed to a permanent ban.

As a result, at the present time the Russian Communist Workers' Party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the All-Russian Communist Party of Bolsheviks (Nina Andreyeva's party) and other communist organizations officially have ceased all activity throughout the Russian Federation. Similarly, the Nazi and Black Hundred organizations-- e.g., the National Salvation Front, Russian National Unity, and the Russian National Union (Sobor) have officially ceased to operate.

Some democratically minded persons and organizations whose political views differ sharply from those of the extremist groups nevertheless are protesting against the banning of the activity of the communists and fascists, citing as a basis for their opposition generally recognized norms of civil and political liberties. However, in my view these arguments are completely inapplicable to Russia. American society can afford to permit such freedoms, whereas Russia's situation is more analogous to that of postwar Germany, where Nazi and Neonazi organizations are still prohibited, and the propagandizing of Nazi ideology and even Nazi symbols is a punishable offense.

At the present time, on a world plane there exist two criminal ideologies, i.e., Nazism and communism. The criminality of Nazi ideology is implicit in the verdicts passed down by the Nuremberg Tribunal and is stated explicitly in current German legislation.

As a consequence of the historical fate suffered by communism, which collapsed under its own weight and not following a military defeat, no international court has even been called on to pronounce a verdict on the activity of a national communist party. However, experience shows that communist parties attaining power have created criminal regimes that threatened the welfare, indeed the very survival, of a substantial portion of their country's population.

Russia's historical situation is such that both the communist and Nazi parties represent a real danger not just to the state's democratic system, but to the continued physical existence of its citizens. As a result, the complete and final elimination from national political life of organizations that function on the basis of these criminal ideologies should be recognized as being not only in accordance with principles of the defense of human rights, but also as constituting an absolutely necessary precondition for building the bases of democratic statehood in Russia.

The measures adopted with respect to these parties should be anchored in relevant provisions of the new Russian Constitution--like the analogous provisions found in Article 21, Part 2 of the Federal German Republic's Grundgesetz. This prohibition will in no way hinder the process of establishing a genuine multi-party system in Russia. The reverse is true: the possibility that any of the extremist political forces mentioned could gain power may jeopardize prospects for the emergence of a multi-party system.

On the other hand, the new Statute (Polozhenie) on State Duma elections that has been promulgated by presidential decree contains provisions that are far more problematic than were the measures applied against extremist parties. Under the statute, any party or electoral bloc that wishes to put forward its own party list of electoral candidates needs to collect no fewer than 100,000 signatures of qualified electors in its support in order for the party list to be officially registered.

If this requirement is intended to eliminate very small or fictitious parties, it is simply superfluous. (The election statute already establishes a minimum threshold of five percent of total votes cast for a party to receive any parliamentary seats.) In general, however, this requirement is inherently dangerous. At the present time there is great doubt about the country's political future--indeed great danger exists that a repressive authoritarian regime may arise again in Russia. Should this occur, the political police of such a regime would be in a position to obtain lists of the active supporters of opposition parties. The action the police would take is not difficult to guess.

 

The Constitution
At the moment the former Supreme Soviet was dissolved a draft text of a new constitution was already in existence. This text had been drawn up by the Constitutional Conference, which combined two earlier drafts, a "presidential" draft and a "parliamentary" draft, and the document received final form on July 12, 1993. It now appears that this constitution--with a few amendments made later in October--will be submitted to a national referendum on December 12, 1993, simultaneously with the parliamentary election. The constitution will almost certainly be approved.

Despite such ratification by national referendum, the adoption of a new Russian constitution at the present time -- however perfect the text may appear--is not likely to overcome the country's constitutional crisis for long.

For instance, the draft constitution produced by the Constitutional Conference and approved on July 12 does not deal at all with the question of political parties as organizations that represent the people's political will through an electoral system. Article 29 of the draft refers only to the "right to freedom of association"--which implicitly includes the freedom to form political parties, although this is not stated directly.

The draft states that any restriction on the freedom of association "may be made only in the interests of the protection of the bases of the constitutional system or with other aims as provided for under law on the basis of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as on the basis of federal laws and decisions of the courts."

The lack of clarity and the inadequacy of this formulation are already evident. The contradictory role played by a number of public associations during the course of the October events leads one to conclude that it is indispensable to redraft the above wording in the interests of greater specificity. Indeed, in view of the special political role of parties, the provisions relating to them should constitute a separate article in the constitution.

In addition to a statement on the freedom to form parties, the constitution should also contain a reference to the need for the internal organization of parties to correspond to democratic principles. Parties that claim to represent the political will of the people cannot themselves be undemocratic in terms of their internal operations--as, for instance, was the former CPSU.

Further, it needs to be stated that political parties are obliged to furnish public accounting of the sources of their funding. At the present time there is virtually no regulatory legislation in this area. As a worrying example, one can even cite the most democratic and pro-reformist bloc of parties, i.e., Russia's Choice. This bloc consists of the Democratic Russia movement, the All-Russian Association of Privatized and Private Enterprises headed by Vice Premier Yegor Gaidar, the Radical Democrats faction, as well as a large number of other groups. This bloc is rightly considered the "President' s Party."

There has been no official declaration regarding the bloc's funding, but the media regularly name as one of its donors AKKOR (Association of Peasant Farms and Cooperatives), an organization that receives substantial government subsidies. Such virtually direct government funding of a party that supports this same government constitutes an absolutely impermissible situation, notwithstanding all the sympathy one may have for the political course followed by Russia's Choice.

Finally, after the lessons of October 1993, it is clear that the banning of parties which strive to harm the foundations of a free democratic order (whether by virtue of their declared goals or by the actions of their supporters) should be anchored in the constitution.

As a result of inevitable socioeconomic--and consequently political--transformations, the current approach to questions of the federal structure of the Russian state cannot fail to undergo change. The ambiguous situation that currently exists cannot continue for much longer.

At present, the Russian (rossiiskoe) state structurally combines as it were two different principles--one, the principle of confederation of national states/republics as constituent parts of Russia, and, two, the principle of a centralized, vertical administration of the "Russian" (russkie) regions (oblasti) and other administrative units. This situation is unviable. One of the above two principles will inevitably impose itself as the sole basis for the structure of the state. In turn, this development will create the need for changes in the present draft constitution.

Currently, the draft constitution includes the so-called Federation Treaty as a component section of the text. At the same time, the main section of the text of the constitution is so constructed that the Federation Treaty is virtually ignored. It is to be expected that in the near future either the Federation Treaty will be removed from the text of the constitution, or the remainder of the text will be rewritten in order to reflect more clearly the provisions of that treaty. At that time it will finally become clear what type of state Russia will be, i.e., a unitary state, a federation, or a confederation.

Consequently, at the present time it would scarcely be appropriate to adopt a permanent constitution. It would be more rational to adopt a Declaration of Civil Rights and Liberties that would have the full force of a constitutional law, as well as a temporary constitutional law on the structure of the state, while at the same time enacting a special provision specifying the limited period during which it will remain valid. The State Duma would then be required later to adopt a permanent constitution by some future date that would be laid down.

One may assume that two years or so from now the situation in Russia will stabilize. At the present time, however, given the state of Russian society, the adoption of a permanent constitution is totally unfeasible. Russian society was unstable enough even before October, but the revolutionary events that took place then finally resulted in its total destabilization. To expect Russian society to be able properly to appraise and then to adopt the draft constitution to be submitted to its approval is not just naive--it is dangerous.

Unfortunately, the decision has already been made, and on December 12 the country will be called upon to approve the constitution by popular referendum. In my view, this constitutes a grave political mistake, the magnitude of which will become apparent in the future. It remains only to hope that when this mistake is corrected--as will inevitably occur--the result will not be yet more bloodshed.

 

[Biographical Note: Born in 1934, the author is an astrophycist. During the 1960s and 1970s, he participated actively in the Soviet civil rights movement. From 1972 to 1977 he was a political prisoner. Following imprisonment, he lived abroad as a political refugee until his citizenship was restored in 1993. He has served as the editor and publisher of the newsletter News from the USSR: Human Rights, the annual List of Political Prisoners in the USSR, and The Country and the World (Strana i mir). Currently, he is editor-in-chief of the Russian Civil Rights Newsletter, first deputy chief editor of the political weekly New Time (Novoe vremya), a member of the Russian Federation Constitutional Conference and a member of the Presidential Legislative Initiative Commission. Mr. Lyubarsky is a candidate for the State Duma to be elected in December.]


Copyright ISCIP 1993
Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially for
Perspective.

Copyright ISCIP 1993
Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have been commissioned especially for
Perspective.




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