10 Silent Features of Federalism in Russia

The concept of federalism as adopted by the Russia involves a full adherence to all such features as stand recognized as essential and fundamentally important features of a true federation. Russia enjoys the name of Russian Federation.

1. Written Constitution:

The Constitution of the Russian Federation is a written constitution which declares that the state is a democratic, federal and rule of law state. Chapter 3 of the constitution stands devoted to a discussion of the federal features of the constitution and it lays down the division of powers between the federal government and the governments of the Subjects of Russian Federation.

2. Rigid Constitution:

Like a truly federal constitution the Constitution of Russian Federation provides for a rigid method of amendment. Chapter 3, which contains provisions regarding Russian Federation, can be amended only by a special procedure of amendment. A proposal for amendment can be made by the President of Russia, the Federation Council, the State Duma, the Government of Russia, legislative assemblies of the Subjects of Russian Federation as well as groups of deputies numbering not less than 1/5th of the total number of deputies of the Federation Council and the State Duma.

Amendment proposals adopted in accordance with the set procedure become Acts and come into force only when approved by at least 2/3rd of the Subjects of Russian Federation.

(This method of Amendment applies in respect of amendment of chapters 3 to 8 of the Constitution).

For chapters 1, 2 and 9, the Constitution provides even a more rigid method — proposal is to be made by a majority of at least 3/5th of the total memberships of the Federation Council and the State Duma. Thereafter a special constituent assembly has to be called, which is required to pass the amendment proposal by a 2/3rd majority of its total membership or the proposal has to be submitted for a popular vote i.e. referendum.

In case a clear majority (51%) supports the proposal, it becomes a part of the Constitution. However, here again such a referendum is considered valid only if at least 50% of the electorate exercises its right to vote. It is indeed a very rigid method of amendment. Thus, Constitution of Russia fully meets the condition of making the federal constitution a rigid constitution. Russian Constitution is indeed a very rigid constitution. The presence of several active political parties in the political system makes it very difficult for the party in power to make amendments in the constitution.

3. Subjects of the Russian Federation:

Russian Federation has several types of federating units, all of whom are referred to as the Subjects of the Federation.

Further the Constitution ensures:

(i) Equality of all Subjects.

(ii) Each Republic has its own constitution and legislation and every other Subject has its own charter and legislation.

(iii) The status of each Subject is defined by a federal law. Such a law is passed by the federal government and adopted by the legislative and executive bodies of the concerned Subjects.

(iv) The status of a Subject or Subjects can be changed only by a mutual consent of the federal government and the concerned Subject or Subjects.

(v) Each Subject enjoys autonomy in carrying out its legislative and executive functions. The sovereignty, however, belongs to the Russian Federation.

(vi) While the Russian language is the language of the Russian Federation, each Republic can have its own state language.

(vii) Boundaries of no Subject can be changed without the consent of the concerned Subjects

4. Russian Federation as a Multi-national Society:

Article 3 lays down a fundamental principle which recognizes and accepts the multinational character of the Russian population. Each ethnic group enjoys cultural and linguistic freedom as well as an equal and honorable status as part of the Russian Federation.

5. Supremacy of the Constitution:

The Constitution of the Russian Federation is the supreme law of the land. Each Republic has its own constitution and every other Subject has its own charter. But the law is: “No provision of the constitution of a Republic as well as of the Charter of every other Subject can be in any way opposed to the Constitution of the Russian Federation”.

The Constitutional Court of Russia has the power to reject as void any law which is deemed to be violative of any provision of the federal constitution. Both the governmental bodies of the Russian Federation and the governments of the Subjects derive their powers from the Constitution of Russia. The judiciary acts as the guardian, protector and interpreter of the Constitution.

6. Division of Powers:

The Constitution of Russia affects a division of powers (Jurisdictions) between the Federation and the Subjects. It follows the US model in so far as it defines the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, the joint jurisdiction of the Federation and the Subjects, and leaves the residuary jurisdiction for the Subjects.

A. Jurisdiction or Powers of the Russian Federation:

Article 71 of the Constitution defines the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation.

It includes:

(i) The adoption and amendment of the Constitution of Russia and federal laws as well as supervision over these.

(ii) The federal structure and territory of the Russian Federation.

(iii) Regulation and protection of rights and liberties of the people.

(iv) Citizenship

(v) Regulation and protection of rights of national minorities.

(vi) Establishment of the system of federal bodies of legislative, executive and judicial powers, procedures and formation of bodies of state power.

(vii) Federal and state property and management;

(viii) Determination of basic principles of federal policy and federal programmes in the field of state structure, the economy, the environment and social, cultural and national development of Russian Federation,

(ix) Establishment of a legal framework for a single market, financial, monetary, credit and customs, regulation, emission of money and guidelines for price policy, federal economy, federal taxes, levies, federal funds for regional development.

(x) Federal power aids, nuclear energy, fissionable materials, federal transport, railways, information and communications, space activities.

(xi) Foreign policy and international relations, treaties, war and peace,

(xii) Foreign trade.

(xiii) Defence and security, defence production, determining procedures for sale and purchase of arms, ammunition, military hardware and other equipment, production of fissionable materials, toxic substances, narcotics and procedures for their use.

(xiv) State borders, territorial waters, air space, exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of Russia,

(xv) Law courts, prosecutor’s office, legal procedures, legal regulation of intellectual property.

(xvi) Conflict of federal laws.

(xvii) Metrological service, standards, models, metric system, time measurement acodesy and cartography, names of geographical objects, official statistics and accounting.

(xviii) State decorations and honorary titles of the Russian Federation.

(xix) Federal state service

B. Joint Jurisdiction or Powers of the Federation and the Subjects:

The joint jurisdiction of Russian Federation and the Subjects of the Russian Federation includes, as Art 72 lays down:

(i) Ensuring compliance of the constitutions and laws of the republics, charters, laws and other regulatory legal acts of the other Subjects, and the federal laws;

(ii) Protection of rights and freedoms, ethnic minorities, ensuring legality, law and order, public safety, border zone requirements.

(iii) Issues of the possession, use and management of land, mineral resources, water and other natural resources.

(iv) Delimitation of state property.

(v) Management of natural resources, protection of the environment and ecological safety, specially protected reserves, protection of historical and cultural monuments.

(vi) General questions of upbringing, education, science, culture, physical culture and sports.

(vii) Coordination of health services, protection of family, motherhood, fatherhood and childhood, social protection including social security.

(viii) Implementing measures to combat catastrophes, natural disasters, epidemics and eliminating consequences there of.

(ix) Establishment of general guidelines for taxation and other levies.

(x) Administration, administrative procedures, labour family, housing, land, water and forestry legislation, legislation on the sub-surface and environmental protection.

(xi) Cadres of judiciary and law enforcement agencies, the bar, notaries;

(xii) Protection of the original environment and traditional way of life of small ethnic communities.

(xiii) Establishment of general guidelines for the organisation of the systems of bodies of state power and local self-government.

(xiv) Coordination of the international and external economic relations of the Subjects of Russian Federation, compliance with the international treaties of the Russian Federation.

The provisions of this Article apply to all the Subjects of Russian Federation.

C. Jurisdiction or Powers of the Subjects (Provinces/Units) of Russian Federation:

The jurisdiction/powers which are neither in the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation nor in the joint jurisdiction, belong to the Subjects of the Russian Federation. In other words, the Constitution defines the sphere of the powers of the federal government, the concurrent powers of the Federation and the Subjects and leaves the residuary powers/jurisdiction to the Subjects.

The Constitution also lays down that there is to be no customs barriers, duties, levies or any other barrier for free movement of goods, services or financial means in whole of the territory of Russia. However, necessary restrictions in the interest of public life, health, safety, culture and environment can be made only under a federal law.

The laws of the Russian Federation alone can regulate currency and coinage, lay down condition for state loans, and regulate banking and the functions of the Central Bank of Russian Federation. The Constitution of Russia clearly defines the jurisdictions of the Federation and the Subjects.

7. Dual Administration:

The Constitution of Russia provides for a dual Administration. Each citizen obeys the federal laws, and pays federal taxes. Along with it, he obeys the Subject laws and pays the taxes of the Subject in which he resides/works.

Russian Federal government enjoys powers over matters falling in its jurisdiction and each Subject enjoys autonomy in its internal administration. However, no law of a Subject can in any way violate any federal law. If it happens, the Constitutional Court can reject the concerned law of the Subject as unconstitutional.

However, within the territory of a Subject if any of its legal and regulatory act is in conflict with a federal regulatory act, the former continues its operation. Each Subject determines the structures and functions of its governmental bodies.

8. Bicameral Federal Assembly:

The Constitution provides for a bi-cameral federal legislature and designates it as the Federal Assembly. It consists of two houses: The Federation Council and the State Duma. Each subject of the Russian Federation sends two deputies (representatives) to the Federation Council (One Deputy each is sent by the legislative and executive authorities of a Subject), which constitutes the upper house of the Russian Federal Assembly.

It is representative of the Subjects of Russian Federation. It has the power to approve decisions of the federal government as relate to the subjects of Russian Federation. The State Duma represents all the people of Russia and it is the lower house of the Federal Assembly.

9. Single Citizenship:

Though a truly federal Constitution, the Russian Federation does not provide for a system of dual citizenship. Each citizen enjoys a single, common and equal citizenship of Russia.

10. Independent Judiciary with a Special Constitutional Role:

Like a truly federal constitution, the Constitution of Russian Federation establishes an independent judiciary with the power to interpret the constitution as well as to settle all disputes between the Russian Federation and the Subjects of Russia. The Constitutional Court of Russian Federation is the apex level court and has the jurisdiction to settle Federal-Subjects disputes. It has the responsibility to act as the guardian, protector, and interpreter of the Constitution.

It has the power to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution of Russian Federation by rejecting every Federal or Subject Law which is held to be may violative of any provision of the Constitution. The above discussed ten features clearly reflect the federal character of the Russian Federation. The Constitution, even while declaring that the names Russian Federation and Russia enjoy equal constitutional validity, in its text uses only the term “Constitution of the Russian Federation”. It has been done to stress the federal character of the Russian State.

Russia is indeed a federal polity consisting of several different classes of federating units which are called the Subjects of the Russian Federation.

The operation of the Constitution of Russian Federation since its birth in 1993 has, however, reflected that the Russian federal system is also characterised by the presence of a strong and powerful central/federal government. The Constitution defines and finally determines the status of each Subject of the Federation. Federal laws enjoy primacy over the laws of the Subjects.

Several features, other than the one laid down by the Constitution, stand determined by federal laws. The jurisdiction of the Russian Federation is broader than the jurisdiction available to the Subjects.

However along with it, the Constitution of Russian Federation assures internal autonomy of the Subjects. Each republic enjoys the freedom to adopt and use its own languages and its people enjoy cultural and religious freedom. Each subject establishes its own bodies of state power.

Further, through a network of inter-state associations, in which the Russian Federation can participate, an attempt has been made to make federalism a harmonious, cooperative and constructive federalism.

Russian Federation is indeed a federal state with several salient features:

The presence of several types of Subjects within it makes the working of this federation quite unique. A sincere attempt is now being made to work it as a truly functioning federal system. The unreality of federalism, which was the basic feature of the federation under the constitution of the erstwhile USSR, was in a big way responsible for the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This lesson has brought home the necessity of working the Russian Federation on effective federal lines.

The Chechnya problem again calls for instilling a sense of autonomy, equality and active participation among the Subjects of Russian Federation. The federal government of Russia is fully aware of this need. It augurs well for the future health of federalism in the Russian Federation.

Submitted by : Dr. Apoorva, Category : Russia