What kind of Constitution should have emerged after all this?
Then there were real elections that saw Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR, the first populist party of its kind (much later such parties would begin to pop up in Europe), find success, leading publicist Yuri Karyakin to shout on television: “Russia, you’ve gone nuts!” Yet a real parliament that engaged in meaningful parliamentary competition and activity did emerge, though it would not last for long. The leaders of the rebellion were arrested, but were soon granted amnesty. Yeltsin was furious, but then said: “we will live by the Constitution.” The very one adopted in December 1993.
If the Constitution itself had really entailed authoritarian power of the president, the Duma, for example, would have been unable to block the most important decisions in the summer of 1998, which might have avoided a default
– at that time, the president could not resist the communists (KPRF), which in the political language of the time were called the “irreconcilable opposition.” Because of the effective resistance of the parliamentary majority, represented primarily by the KPRF, Yeltsin was unable to bring back Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister and was forced to compromise by proposing conservative Yevgeny Primakov
as head of government – everything in line with the Constitution.
The skew of the 1993 Constitution toward the executive branch was largely attributable to the impossibility of implementing economic reforms amid dual power. The Constitution in this sense buoyed the reformers and, according to Vladimir Mau
, was intended to be an antidote to populism, primarily of the economic sort. This did not mean that the reformers dreamed of a Russian Pinochet – it was about blocking counter-reform moves that could have been used in the struggle for power.
Nevertheless, there is a caveat. As the Soviet dissident and human rights activist Valery Chalidze wrote
, the purpose of the Constitution is to proclaim the basic principles of the legal structure of society and establish the boundaries of state power. The interest of the Russian liberal reformers at the end of the 20th century mirrored the intentions of their predecessors from the 19th century. The Russian emigrant publicist Nikolai Osipov, in his insightful article “The Credo of Russian Liberalism,”
noted that liberals thought that an enlightened autocracy should be the instrument for carrying out reforms, not a constitution that would grant freedom. In this sense, most pragmatic liberals were chiefly interested in the ability of a monarch/president to ram through [reforms], and only secondarily in constitutional checks on his power.