Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Under Russian Constitution, Federal Laws Don’t Always Take Precedence Over Republic Ones, Tsyplayev Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Sergey Tsyplayev, a former presidential plenipotentiary in St. Petersburg and now dean of law at the North-West Institute of Administration of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, says that under the Russian constitution, federal laws don’t always take precedence over republic ones, as far too many claim or assume.

            In Vedomosti yesterday, Tsyplayev who participated in the drafting of Russia’s constitution in 1993 says that the most obvious “contradiction” between that document and “the traditional administrative culture” of Russia involves an understanding of just what federalism entails (vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/12/12/744909-federalizm-iz-konstitutsii).

            (The Vedomosti article is a slightly reduced version of his blog post (echo.msk.ru/blog/tsuplyaev_s/2109648-echo/). The discussion below follows that post rather than the shorter published article.)

            Russia has traditionally had an administrative system “in the form of a command hierarchical vertical,” the legal specialist says; but “the task of federalism is exactly the opposite,” originating as it does in a recognition of the complexity and variety of social life in the country.

            “If one reads the Constitution carefully, then it becomes clear” that it enshrines federalism with its “horizontal” links rather than any power vertical, that it divides power rather than unifies it, and that it encourages officials at all levels to be “responsive to their electors rather than to their bosses,” as a vertical system requires.

            The constitution specifies, the legal expert continues, that some powers are the exclusive province of the federal government, some are shared between it and the federal subjects, and that all not enumerated on either of these lists belong to the federal subjects and the Russian people, the ultimate source of sovereignty.

            It is thus “untrue” to claim as some do “that federal laws are always higher and more important than regional ones and that they can regulate the latter” however Moscow wants, Tsyplayev says.

               Those who support the idea of “a power vertical” view power as flowing in every case from the top down with the top being “the source of power” rather than the people. “But the Constitution proclaims that ‘the bearers of sovereignty’ and the single source of power in the Russian Federation is its multi-national people.”

            Among the many things that means, Tsyplayev argues, is that the federal center cannot appoint and remove governors at its discretion or because a governor has “lost the trust” of the Kremlin.  “A governor receives his mandate from the hands of the people and is responsible to them.” The center’s ability to move against him is strictly limited by the Constitution.

            Violation of the constitutional norms by the center, he continues, “is worse than theft” because it keeps power “in a closed hierarchical pyramid” and because “people with initiative cannot exist” and develop “an independent character and leadership potential. The result is what we already see – stagnation and ‘nothing more.’”

            Many Russians may find centralization of power comfortable, but they have to recognize that with it comes “a concentration of responsibility” which in turn means that “when the carrots run out,” there is only one place and ultimately one person who can be held responsible. What that leads to, he says, is “what we observed in the case of the USSR,” its collapse.

            “The Constitution of the Russian Federation provides the necessary legal opportunities for a wise decentralization of power and responsibility. Its potential for the development of the country not only is not yet exhausted; it hasn’t even been made use of,” Tsyplayev argues. He urges promoting “a new zemstvo” movement as a start.

            The constitutional law specialist then turns to the current proposals to rewrite the constitution, proposals that he says tend to arise whenever “the political temperature goes up.”  But he warns that those calling for these things should remember that it is easier to start this process than to end it and that it entails risks to the rights and freedoms of Russians.

             What is needed, he suggests, is not a rewriting of the country’s basic law but rather addressing “the significantly more complicated and long-term task – the rearrangement of the political culture” of the Russian people and its governments.  The questions thus are “do we want to grow?” or do we want to stagnate as we are now?

Russian Health Ministry Admits It’s Significantly Understated Number of HIV-AIDS Cases



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – A new survey which found that 1.5 percent of the Russian population is infected with the HIV virus has compelled the Russian health ministry to acknowledge that officials have been significantly understating the number of cases there. The ministry has been saying that only 0.7 percent of the population is infected.

            Russian statistics have always been problematic, but sometimes the gap between claims and reality becomes too great even for Moscow to continue to assert things that aren’t true. That has happened in this case as a result of a program which 25,000 Russians in 24 regions were tested for the HIV virus (ura.news/news/1052316385).

                That program found 375 infected, roughly 1.5 percent. The figure for the Russian Federation as a whole, officials now concede, is likely to be roughly the same and not the 0.7 percent they have claimed up to now.  That means more than two million Russians have the virus (life.ru/t/здоровье/1069704/zarazhionnykh_vich_okazalos_v_2_raza_bolshie_chiem_pokazyvaiet_ofitsialnaia_statistika).

            Because the regions involved, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk oblast, Sverdlovsk oblast and Primorsky kray, have long been rumored to have far higher rates of infection that elsewhere, it is possible that the projection of 1.5 percent for the country as a whole may overstate the share. But it is certainly closer to the truth than the 0.7 percent.

            Some officials are pointing to that possibility and calling on everyone to refrain from drawing conclusions until the final results are published next year (http://nsn.fm/society/vyvody-prezhdevremenny-minzdrav-o-prevyshenii-mnogoletnikh-pokazateley-po-vich.html), but even now it is likely that Russia is suffering more new cases of HIV infection than any other country.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Clashes between Russians and Muslims Spreading to Universities in Russia



Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 12 – Conflicts between Russians and Muslims on the streets and in the Russian military have a long history, but now they are spreading to an important part of daily life -- in higher educational institutions where some administrators now calling for the students to be separated by ethnicity and religion to prevent more clashes.

            This phenomenon came to broad public attention this week when a video clip showing a Russian student being forced to publicly apologize for his comments about Caucasian women that Muslim students found offensive and denigrating attracted more than a million views online (ura.news/articles/1036273236).

            “This is not the first such incident” even in elite higher educational institutions like the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, Stanislav Zakharkin says in his report for the URA news agency.  Earlier, a Russian joke about the Koran led to a situation in which one foreign student was forced to leave her Russian university and ultimately the country itself. 

                Aleksandr Safonov, the pro-rector of the Academy, says that no one knows how many such clashes there have been because no one is keeping a record of the statistics.  But he says that it is his impression that the numbers may be growing and increasingly reflect religious and ethnic differences rather than between urban and rural groups as was true in Soviet times.

            The pro-rector suggests that the higher educational institutions can and should address this issue, possibly by “dividing” the students and explaining to each group how the other perceives it and what is the best way to overcome such differences.

            Maksim Shevchenko, a Muslim commentator who is a member of the Presidential Human Rights council, plays down the importance of these clashes, “Conflict,” he says, “is the essence of human nature” and a way to learn; and he dismisses the idea that such clashes are about nationality.

            “One must not speak about Russians and Caucasians in general,” he continues.  There are sad cases in all nations, and what is important is to learn when ethnic and religious differences matter, when they don’t, and how to address these differences in a civilized war.

            Others are pushing for a tougher set of reactions. Arslan Khasavov, a writer who is a member of the Russian Council on the North Caucasus, says universities and especially elite ones must impose administrative punishments on those who get out of hand. And if things go even further, they should refer matters to the police for criminal prosecution.

            The URA news agency reports that the Russian magistracy has begun an investigation into the case shown on the video clip and that the head of the Union of Chechen Youth in the Russian capital says that he will meet with and try to educate those Muslims who did the attacking in this case.