A poll conducted over September 24-27 by the Levada Center, the independent polling agency headed by the eminent sociologist Yuri Levada, found that for the sake of fighting terrorism, Russians are prepared to limit the right to travel abroad and move within the country, to give the special services the right to kill terrorists abroad, and even to close down newspapers that criticize such measures.
Asked whether they would, for the sake of fighting terrorism, support toughening the procedures for inspecting identity documents and examining suspicious persons, 89% said yes, 7% said no, and 4% found it difficult to answer. (Law-enforcement organs are already legally allowed to detain persons suspected of involvement in terrorism for up to 30 days without charges.) Asked whether Russia’s special services should destroy terrorists even if they are located abroad, 82% agreed, 10% disagreed, and 8% were uncertain how to answer.
When asked whether they would be prepared to see temporary limitations on such constitutional rights as the right to travel abroad and to move freely around the country for the sake of fighting terrorism, 60% of the respondents answered yes, 33% answered no, and 7% said they were not sure. On whether the special services should, in the course of the fight against terrorism, be allowed to monitor telephone calls and electronic mail, 57% said yes, 34% said no, and 9% were uncertain. Asked whether public organizations or print publications that raise doubts about the president’s policy toward terrorism should be banned, 59% said yes, 29% no, and 12% said they weren’t sure (Gazeta.ru, October 5).
Meanwhile, the Common Actions initiative group, which includes such human rights groups as Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and For Human Rights, has begun collecting signatures for a petition protesting the “constitutional coup” they say has occurred in Russia. Referring to President Vladimir Putin’s centralization initiatives, including his proposal to have Russia’s governors and other regional leaders appointed by the president rather than elected, the petition states that these measures mean “the de facto introduction, without prior arrangement, of elements of a state of emergency over the whole territory of our country, which rules out holding any free elections in Russia.” The petition states that for Russia’s regions — and above all its ethnic republics — the changes can be understood as a return to “an imperial policy, a rejection of federalism, and a unilateral rejection by the center of the provisions of the Federative Treaty of 1992, which laid the foundations of the new Russian statehood. It is difficult to imagine all the dramatic consequences of the concentration of presidential power, including a new splash of ethnic nationalism and separatism, and even a de-legitimization of the state structure.”
The petition also criticized Putin’s call to end the election of State Duma deputies from single-mandate districts and a measure that would give President Putin effective control over the Supreme Qualification Collegium, which is the only authority in the country that can fire judges and appoints judges to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Arbitration Court. The Federation Council approved that measure on September 29 (Moscow Times, October 1). The petition also referred to “new censorship limitations” and “the transformation of the state media into an instrument of undisguised and unbridled propaganda unprecedented since the end of the Cold War.”
“All of this returns us to police authoritarianism, practically crossing out completely the results of the last decade’s democratic reforms,” the petition reads. It concludes: “Under these conditions, one must honestly state that a constitutional coup has occurred in our country. This coup threatens Russia with a deep crisis and degradation and the prospect of a historical defeat. A comparatively quick transition from an authoritarian regime to the establishment of a certain modification of fascism is not ruled out.”
The petition was signed by a number of veteran human rights activists, including Yelena Bonner, Yuri Samodurov, Yuli Rybakov, Gleb Yakunin, and Lev Ponomarev (Hro.org, October 5). Another signatory, Lev Levinson, an expert at the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute, said that given that the petition is unlikely to find wide public support, activists from human rights organizations together with opposition politicians must challenge the president’s centralizing initiatives in the Constitutional Court. While it is by no means certain the court will find in favor of such challenges, Levinson said, “It is necessary to fight against the coup in any case” (Kommersant, October 6).