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March 17, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8643

Open Letter With Hundreds Of Signatories Warns That Amendments To Russian Constitution Amount To A Coup

March 17, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8643

On March 15, 2020, over 350 scientists, (the number of signees has since grown to 427 people) jurists, artists and writers published an open letter in the liberal Echo of Moscow outlet protesting the illegality of the new amendments to the Russian Constitution and their method of adoption. These amendments, they claimed boiled down to an anti-constitutional coup and a destruction of the basic principles enshrined in the current constitution. If the signers entertained any hope that the Constitutional Court would be swayed by their letter, that hope vanished a day later when the court upheld the legality of the amendments and basically wrote that the citizens would electorally decide whether Putin would serve additional terms.[1]

A translation of the open letter follows below:[2]


The Russian Constitution is about to undergo torture (source: Philologist.livejournal.com)

"We citizens of Russia, legal professionals, scientists, journalists and writers, appeal to our fellow citizens, deputies at all levels, politicians, public figures, and, of course, to the judges of the Constitutional Court, who were sworn-in[3] on the text of the current Constitution.

"We believe that over our country looms the threat of a deep constitutional crisis and an unlawful anti-constitutional coup in pseudo-legal guise. Three main circumstances convince us of this fact.

"We consider the introduction of paragraph 31 to Article 81 of the Constitution, resetting the terms of the current president and the previous presidents[4] to zero to be fundamentally unlawful and politically and ethically inacceptable. This provision is being adopted, despite the Constitutional Court's November 5, 1998 determination, which declared the inadmissibility of manipulating the calculation of presidential terms.[5] Effectively, this entry in the Constitution will decide that the general constitutional rule set out in paragraph 3 of Article 81 does not apply to two specific persons: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. The existence of such a clause in the Constitution stands in direct contradiction to the principles of equality before the law and equality of rights and freedoms established by Article 19 of the Constitution. It contradicts the principle of alternation in power, the principle of a democratic state predicated on a republican form of government, enunciated in paragraph 1 of Article 1 to the Constitution, and runs counter to common sense and fair play.

"We are deeply concerned that the other amendments that are being adopted to chapters 3 to 8 of the Constitution run counter to the provisions of its immutable chapters 1 and 2. These provisions violate the principle of equality before the law and guarantees of individual rights and freedoms, they contradict the principles of federalism, of separation of powers, of judicial independence and the autonomy of local self-government. Such a contradiction is expressly prohibited by the Articles 16 and 64 of the Constitution, which protect its basic ideals and provisions. Ignoring these articles is inadmissible. This creates a situation of internal contradiction between the first and second parts of the Constitution and leads to the paralysis and degradation of constitutional legal mechanisms.

"Finally, we are deeply concerned with the blatant violation of the procedure for adopting amendments to the Constitution. Article 136 of the Constitution enumerates the representative bodies that must express their opinion on the amendment to the Constitution in order for it to be considered adopted.

"The March 4, 1998 federal law “On the Procedure for Adopting and Entering into Force of Amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation” explicitly states that “an amendment to the Constitution of the Russian Federation involving interrelated changes to the constitutional text should be covered in one law” (paragraph 2, article 2). It is quite obvious that the law “On improving of the regulation of certain issues of the organization and functioning of public authority” blatantly and openly violates this aforementioned requirement, by combining a complex of thematically and substantially unrelated text changes. Thus, the representative authorities did not have the opportunity to express their opinion to these substantially different amendments, which means that the procedure for the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution, as stated in article 136 of the current constitution, was not respected. And the amendments to the constitution listed in the bill cannot be considered adopted and enjoying legal force.

"We must qualify the entry into legal force of the amendments adopted via a gross violation of constitutionally established procedure, as the destruction of the legal order established by the current constitution and as an anti-constitutional coup. This development of events undermines the possibility of the evolutionary development of our country based on the principles of democracy and freedom, and threatens to be a new tragedy of national discord. Being aware of the historical significance of this moment, we urge all concerned citizens, political and public figures to make every possible effort to return the situation under the rule of law and constitutional order."


Demonstrator holds sign beseeching the Constitutional Court not to bury the constitution (Source: Livejournal.com)

Reactions To The Letter

The Kremlin reacted to the letter nonchalantly. Presidential press spokesperson Dmitry Peskov commented: "Of course, we saw this letter. You know that there are different letters. There are other letters. A huge number of letters of support are arriving...the question lies in the proportion of those who support and do not support [constitutional changes]…We will evaluate it at the voting."


Press secretary Dmitry Peskov (Source: Rosbalt.ru)

Artist Pavel Shipilin believed the signers were naïve in believing that they could have any impact in today's circumstances:

"I read it, but I'm not going to discuss it. I was even surprised that it did not touch me, like the rest. Although at another time would have been vigorously quoted.

"Wake up, guys - the world is changing right before our eyes, it is no longer recognizable. Tourism has gone to sleep- hotels, restaurants and even, apparently, airlines will go under the auction hammer. Not to mention small coffee shops and souvenir shops. Tourism will be followed by everything else - banks, transport, [and] energy…

"In Europe, you see, fighting will start on the borders.

"And liberals write letters about the constitution. Like children, I swear."[6]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Rbc.ru, March 16, 2020.

[2] Echo.msk.ru, March 15, 2020.

[3] The oath reads: “I swear to fulfill the duties of a judge of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation honestly and conscientiously, while submitting only to the Constitution of the Russian Federation and to nothing and no one else”

[4] The authors refer to both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev

[5] Cikrf.ru/law/decree_of_court/pesolut24.html

[6] Livejournal.com, March 17,2020.

 

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