Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Year the Courts Died

Masha Gessen, on the year the courts died in Russia:
The Constitutional Court used to be a wonderful place. Think what you want, but I believe a real city has to possess a few particular elements: good cafes and convenient coffee shops (check), good bookstores (check), and places where you can go see intelligent people say good things. Poetry readings and other literary evenings will do the trick -- and there is plenty of that in Moscow -- but for years I was also a fan of the Constitutional Court. Getting in was reasonably easy, and once there, you could observe a group of very well-educated, intelligent people discussing things that ought to matter to all of us. By the nature of their jobs, they always made reference to the Constitution, which is not a perfect document but is not half-bad as a starting point in any conversation.

Now that conversation is over: The Constitution and its ideals have been declared infinitely mutable.

So is it any wonder that immediately after rendering its decision on governors the Constitutional Court started packing its bags? It seems it will be going to the scrap heap of history -- I mean, the city of St. Petersburg. It is a richly symbolic move. Russia is a country with a single center: Moscow, where all information and all power reside. Moving the Constitutional Court out of Moscow means quite literally moving it out of the loop.

Valery Zorkin acquiesced to the move easily, perhaps indicating that, after more than a decade in the judicial limelight, he is eager to recede into the symbolic shade. That is what the Constitutional Court is doing under his leadership.

That is what the entire judicial system is doing: taking a step back into the space reserved for it in Soviet times -- as a system that selectively enforces selected laws at the pleasure of the state.

May the quest for justice rest in peace.


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