Prominent politicians and former dissidents joined more than
1,000 activists in Moscow this weekend to declare a national emergency
for human rights and urge a consolidated fight to protect the
Human rights campaigners from 65 regions representing more than
300 organizations attended the two-day Emergency Congress in Defense
of Human Rights. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Human Rights
Commissioner Oleg Mironov were among the speakers.
The congress, which was sponsored by Yabloko and half a dozen
U.S. foundations and labor unions, devoted attention to the war
in Chechnya, judicial reform, freedom of the press, civilian control
over law enforcement and the rights of workers and businessmen.
But Yavlinsky and other speakers cited the perceived threat
to the Constitution as the primary component of the current "emergency."
"The Constitution, which we did not support in 1993 [when
it was passed], has become YablokoТs platform, and we will defend
it using every parliamentary and nonparliamentary method,"
Yavlinsky said in his address Sunday.
Many liberals say a bill now pending in the State Duma indicates
that the Kremlin is considering a major overhaul of the Constitution.
The bill in question, introduced by State Duma Deputy Boris
Nadezhdin of the Union of Right Forces, would provide for the
formation of a constitutional assembly. Chapters 1, 2 and 9 of
the Constitution Ч which outline the major principles of governance,
the rights of citizens and the procedure for amending or rewriting
the Constitution Ч can only be changed by a constitutional assembly.
Under NadezhdinТs bill, which reportedly enjoys the support
of the presidential administration, the assembly would consist
of the president, the Federation Council, 100 Duma deputies, top
judges and 100 lawyers appointed by the president. Opponents of
the bill say it would create a "nomenklatura assembly,"
since most of its members would be appointees.
The speakers at the congress also issued warnings about a bill
on political parties recently submitted by President Vladimir
Putin. The billТs backers say it would eliminate fly-by-night
parties and encourage the emergence of an orderly two-party system.
Grigory Yavlinsky, the
Yabloko party leader, stepping up to make his speech at
the Russian Congress for Human Rights on Sunday.
Opponents maintain it would wipe out small parties and prevent
new ones from emerging.
"Those countries that have two- or three-party systems
donТt limit the number of parties that can participate in elections.
The system is created by the voters themselves," said Duma
Deputy Sergei Kovalyov, a longtime human rights activists and
former dissident who was one of the congress organizers.
In his address to the congress, Kovalyov said the organizers
debated about whether to call the congress chrezvychainy, which
can be translated as "emergency" or "extraordinary."
"Some say that nothing extraordinary is happening here.
ItТs a trend. When a former superpower is turning into a second-rate
third-world country, the rise of nationalism is inevitable,"
Yelena Bonner, the doyenne of the human rights movement and
honorary chairwoman of the congress, could not attend due to illness.
In a written address to the congress, she scolded the human rights
movement for losing sight of their values.
Despite the increased openness of society since the Soviet UnionТs
collapse, moral choices have become more murky, she said.
"Today we have gotten entangled in our adherence to various
movements and parties. But it was precisely our clear moral position
Е that had influence on society Ч significantly more influence
than the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of human rights organizations
that exist today," Bonner said.
Mironov, who was appointed human rights commissioner by the
Duma in 1998, also had words of warning. "The situation with
human rights today evokes alarm and concern and can be characterized
as unsatisfactory," Mironov said.
Despite the pessimistic tone of the congress, some hopeful notes
were also sounded. "Russia has all the components of civil
society. We have many nongovernmental organizations, many private
businesses, independent media, political parties," said Lyudmila
Alexeyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group. "Civil
society has not strengthened yet and there are many trials ahead,
Е but we have great chances for success." Organizers said
between 1,200 and 1,300 people attended the congress, which was
held at the Kosmos Hotel in northeastern Moscow.
St.Petersburg Times, #638, Tuesday, January 23, 2001