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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Constitution: Delicate Task For Russia

Twenty years from now, the power struggle between President Boris Yeltsin and his opponents in parliament probably will be forgotten.


But the Russia that is formed by the new charter that the Constitutional Assembly starts to write on Saturday will have impact on its people and the world well into the 21st century. The Constitutional Assembly brings the promise of a new future for post-Communist Russia. There are great hopes that the power struggle between president and parliament will finally be resolved.


Yet as politicians and lawmakers gather in Moscow, their minds are on something potentially of much more consequence than the battle at the top.


The leaders of Russia's republics, regions, territories, and autonomous regions are bringing to Moscow demands for a new order. The heirs to many of the lands that have, over the centuries, been swept up first into the Russian, then the Soviet empires are now telling Moscow they want to -- and plan to -- go their own way.


This was to be expected as a consequence of the breakup of the Soviet empire. Under the command system of the past 70 years, the provinces -- not to mention the former Soviet republics -- could not make a move without checking with Moscow first.


Yevgeny Komarov, the governor of the Murmansk region, probably put it best when he said earlier this week that he could not even install a public toilet without a signature from a Moscow bureaucrat first.


Now the republics and regions say they want complete control over their money supply, taxes, resources, and land. They want their independence and as little to do with Moscow as possible.


This means defining a completely new relationship between Russia and its 88 regions and republics, one which threatens to redraw the country's map. The republic of Chechnya has already declared it is seceding from the Russian Federation, and other republics have hinted they may do the same.


Lenin, trying to transform the Russian empire into a peaceful nation of Soviets in 1917, sought to be the first to relax the tight authoritarian hold on the nation. His "Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples of Russia" proclaimed equality, sovereignty, and the right to self-determination -- including secession. He hoped that workers would unite the provinces in a peaceful union.


Instead, taking advantage of a rare opportunity, they seceded, and a well-intended experiment ended in bloody war.


The architects of Russia's new constitution must strive to construct a power-sharing relationship with the republics and regions that satisfies demands for autonomy while keeping the country together. This promises to be quite a challenge.