By Paul Goble
With the best of intentions, Russian officials have introduced significant restrictions on the constitutional rights of Russians as part of their effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic. But because these have been imposed arbitrarily and not according to the law, Russians may find it hard to recover their rights, Dmitry Koko says.
The Svobodnaya pressa commentator says that everyone understands that it is necessary to take extraordinary measures to fight the extraordinary dangers that the pandemic presents. But the way the authorities are doing so carries with it significant dangers in the future (svpressa.ru/society/article/261375/).
There are two Russian laws, one on “the defense of the population and territory from extraordinary situations of a natural and technogenic character” and a second on “extraordinary situations,” that might have been used. But neither has been, Kokko says. Instead, regional and central officials have acted on their own without reference to these or other laws.
It is certainly true that the epidemiological situation in Russia requires “decisive measures,” the commentator acknowledges, especially in the capital where the epidemic is large and in the regions where the optimization of health care has left the authorities without the resources to deal with it.
But what is worrisome is that regional leaders in Moscow and elsewhere are introducing restrictions that under the constitution and law they do not have the right to impose. “Such limitations can be introduced only on a declaration by the president of an extraordinary situation which must be immediately given to the Federation Council for confirmation.”
“Without the introduction of such a regime,” Kokko says, “constitutional freedoms cannot be limited because each citizen has his rights. But an extraordinary situation still hasn’t been introduced [by the president and by the Federation Council], and constitutional rights are already being taken away.”
And that raises a disturbing prospect, the Svobodnaya pressa writer says. “If the corresponding degrees can be so simply introduced, then on what basis should they be withdrawn after the epidemiological situation stabilizes.” Won’t some in power be tempted to retain at least part of them? And what will citizens be able to do with these extra-legal acts?
Not everyone feels as Kokko does. Maksim Isayev, a legal scholar, not only insists that everything that has been done is legal but that the authorities will back off quickly after the pandemic passes. What the powers have done is impose only the restrictions they need. If they had introduced an extraordinary situation, they would have had to be even more draconian.
He adds that some of the monitoring devices Russians are now complaining about have been legally in place before the crisis. The authorities want to fight crime terrorism, and besides, “absolute freedom is a nonsense in a society which the state is building. You can’t use your freedom at the expense of others. Therefore, the evil police are needed to regulate everything.”
This is not “the Big Brother” of 1984, Isayev says. It is what contemporary society requires.