Constitution from Soviet era key to struggle TURMOIL IN RUSSIA

March 26, 1993|By Newsday

MOSCOW -- More than once during the political crisis gripping Russia, the country's constitution has been compared to an old quilt that has been patched and mended rather than replaced.

The 15-year-old, much-amended document has become a key element in the power struggle between reform-minded democrats and their more conservative, centrist and Communist rivals.

Observers say that the Russian constitution is outdated, contradictory and vague and cannot serve a country in transition, much less one in crisis. Until fundamental questions -- such as separation of powers, basic rights, principles by which to live -- are settled, Russia will continue to have a constitutional crisis rather than just political battles.

"It was a constitution for another political system," said Nikolai Sakharov, head of the political studies section at the USA-Canada Institute, a Moscow think tank. "In this constitution, one of the basic principles is that all power is vested in the soviets," or councils that ran the Soviet Union from the local level up to the Supreme Soviet, or Parliament.

"The Soviet system presumes a totalitarian system; yet the principle of division of powers is a liberal democratic principle, so people don't understand the constitution very well," said Igor Stepanov, chief scientist at the Institute of State and Law in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The constitution dates from 1978, when then-Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev wanted to replace what was known as Josef Stalin's constitution of 1936 and to reflect the "new level of development" in the country, said Mr. Sakharov.

A5 Since 1978, about 320 amendments have been added.

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