Lev Ponomarev: How a Constitution based on “unwritten rules” threatens the authorities

posted 28 Dec 2016, 09:19 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 Dec 2016, 09:47 ]
14 December 2016

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio SOL]

Authorities in Moscow refused to allow a public meeting in Torfyanka Park on 11 December. However, activists picketed anyway, in order to express their views. The action was timed to coincide with Constitution Day in Russia. Executive director of the movement For Human Rights and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lev Ponomarev told Radio SOL who attended the picket, and how a Constitution based on “unwritten rules” is dangerous for the authorities.

At first we were refused permission for a rally of 700 people in Torfyanka Park as it would have caused a nuisance to the people living in the neighbouring apartments. Of course this was complete nonsense. Then we were refused permission for a picket of 100 people. We offered to hold both the meeting and the picket in Sokolniki Park, where a special fenced-off area has been created for opposition or citizen activists so they can talk to each other, or with squirrels and the local wildlife. Obviously we refused to go there.

Individual pickets were held along Tverskaya Street, with about 30 or 40 people, each of them holding a placard, standing on both sides of the road. It is important to note that these were representatives of diverse Moscow social groups who are fighting for their rights. There were people from large families who are on the waiting list for social housing. There were people who have been illegally evicted from hostels and thrown onto the street because the hostels were being sold to commercial bodies, along with their tenancies; when these people go to the court it turns out that they perhaps moved in during the Soviet period and their documents aren’t the ones that the system now requires… It’s a total mess in Moscow, and nobody is taking responsibility, which is causing a lot of social tension.

So there were dozens of people standing along Tverskaya Street, each carrying their own grievance on a placard and talking about it to journalists who came along. There were also truckers’ representatives, talking about the “Platon” road tax system.

Recently a new movement has emerged, called “14%”. Some of its members also came and joined our pickets. They had also tried to read the Constitution at government buildings. There is a real Constitution, and then there’s a Constitution based on “unwritten rules” – this is how our authorities now understand the Constitution. They’ve been reading the “unwritten” Constitution. [Radio SOL offered the following quotation: “Law is for the weak. The weak have to abide by laws written by the strong. The strong don’t have to abide by the laws they write for the weak.”] 15 people were arrested in Moscow.

The behaviour of the police was quite disappointing; it was clear that the police themselves don’t know what to do with these young people, who are from the “14%” movement, born after 1990. The young “uncrushed” generation, as they say. I’m very interested in these young people. They are engaged in civil society activism. They’re saying, “We demand that the Constitution of the Russian Federation be put into effect.”

This is just like the demand of the Soviet dissidents. They didn’t seek to overthrow the Soviet regime, but said, “OK, for better or worse the Soviet system is here, but there is also a Soviet Constitution, and it’s not so bad, so it should be put into effect.” Young people are saying much the same thing now. I think this is a good sign.

Maybe the authorities will feel the shadow of history and recall that while there were few dissidents in Soviet times, still the Soviet system eventually collapsed because it flouted its own laws and Constitution. It’s entirely possible that the same fate awaits our current leaders in the near future, if they’re going to behave like this with these remarkable young people.

Translated by Anna Bowles