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Development of Constitutionalism and Federalism in Russia


  • S. Nysten-Haarla


Building up a rule of law is one of the objectives of transition. This objective, however, cannot be separated from the other main objectives, namely a market economy and democracy. These have all been developed simultaneously in Russia and the failure of one task affects the others."Rebuilding a ship at sea" is an unavoidable vicious circle, but it is the only possible way of transition for Russia, even if it means constant failures and setbacks. The Constitution of the Russian Federation from 1993 technically contains all the bricks needed to build constitutionalism. The separation of powers between the state organs is established as well as a judicial body to guard the Constitution. Newly gained independence of the courts is an important prerequisite for developing the rule of law. There is, however, an institutional setup hindering this development. The political culture still has a long way to develop to the stage of constitutionalism. Authoritarian presidential power, which was the result of the hectic power struggle between the legislative and the executive after separation of powers, enabled an excessively powerful presidency to be the winner of the struggle. A weak party system and an underdeveloped civil society allow authoritarian rule of the president to go even further than the constitution permits. For the same reason corrupted politics can continue. The development of the rule of law has largely been left to the courts and lawyers. The Constitutional Court has, however, chosen a cautious attitude towards presidential power after having supported the legislative in the power struggle and being suspended by the President. If the balance between federal state organs is not yet found, the question of federalism is at an even more underdeveloped stage. Federalism is not developed in an open, transparent and democratic way, but in a power struggle between the center and the powers including fiscal federalism. The center has tried to regain the power, which was given to the regions during the power struggle at the federal center. This is done with the help of new federal laws increasing the powers of the federal center. The Presidential Administration has extended the federal executive power and the President has tried to change regionalist governors into "his own men". The Constitutional Court has repeatedly interpreted the Constitution in favor of the federal center. Decentralization has been developed through the back door with administrative treaties between the federation and different subjects of the federation. These treaties all differ from each other and usually contradict the federal constitution. They also contain secret provisions. These treaties have been a political necessity to prevent the federation from falling apart. In the hierarchy legal norms they are, however, submitted under the Constitution, which makes them vulnerable from the legal point of view.

Suggested Citation

  • S. Nysten-Haarla, 2000. "Development of Constitutionalism and Federalism in Russia," Working Papers ir00042, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:iasawp:ir00042

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. D. Efremov & L. Carlsson & M-O. Olsson & A. Sheingauz, 1999. "Institutional Change and Transition in the Forest Sector of Khabarovsk Krai," Working Papers ir99068, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
    2. repec:cup:apsrev:v:89:y:1995:i:03:p:582-600_09 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. L. Carlsson & N.-G. Lundgren & M.-O. Olsson, 2000. "Why Is the Russian Bear Still Asleep After Ten Years of Transition?," Working Papers ir00019, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
    4. A. Fell, 1999. "On the Establishment of Trust in the Russian Forest Sector," Working Papers ir99054, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
    5. M. Piipponen, 1999. "Transition in the Forest Sector of the Republic of Karelia," Working Papers ir99070, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
    6. Grigoriev, Serguei E. & Nagaev, Serguei A. & Wörgötter, Andreas, 1994. "Regional Economic Development and Political Attitudes of the Population of Russia: Results for the December 1993 Federal Elections," East European Series 15, Institute for Advanced Studies.
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