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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Triumph of the Absurd?

I know one reporter who has amassed a unique collection of photographs. For many years during business trips he took pictures of the monuments to Lenin that are so abundantly scattered over-all the cities and towns of the former Soviet Union.


Such a patriotic hobby would, one might have thought, have delighted the Communist leadership. But this enthusiast never dared to show his collection. He knew full well that his endeavor would be looked upon as a provocation, as malicious subversion. Thousands of images of the great leader collected together would be interpreted as a caustic comment on the fact in this whole enormous country nothing except monuments can grow.


For 70 years, no matter what storms were raging over the land, the Soviet government stubbornly erected monuments to Lenin - standing and sitting, with a cap and without, bald and with curls.


Looked at from the "civilized" world, Russia often comes across as a country of the absurd. Even if the era of stone idols has receded, the absence of common sense is clearly felt in other areas. For example, the constitutional and governmental crisis in which Russia is now engaged.


Even the persuasive victory of President Boris Yeltsin in the referendum and the support he received from a significant majority of voting Russians has been unable to deliver the country from chaos and absurdity. We see this in the way the Constitutional Assembly has been conducted: Instead of a moderate, measured approach, we have threats, scandals, everything but a general brawl.


The recent May Day demonstration, with 600 wounded and one dead, is also testimony to this absurdity. A street battle was provoked by the conservatives during a demonstration that was supposed to be devoted to the solidarity of all strata of society.


The parliament lost the April referendum by a wide margin. But the leaders of its conservative majority and speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov himself openly say that the results of a general vote have no influence on their policies. It would seem to be a clear contradiction: the people's deputies do not want to listen to the people.


The point is that in the West, politicians express the interests of the people, the will of one or another social group. In Russia, where the social structure of the society is still taking shape, the majority of elected deputies are just demagogues, who forget their promises as easily as they make them. The Supreme Soviet, in blocking the new constitution, is just defending its corporate interests, and its own power. The deputies have become ordinary bureaucrats, who make decisions on a simple principal: what is good for the Supreme Soviet is good for the country.


It is a paradox that, in spite of his victory, Yeltsin must turn to the politically bankrupt Supreme Soviet for approval in his attempts to lead the country out the realm of the absurd. The deputies have no real political platform, but they understand that the main threat to their power and individual prosperity comes from Yeltsin's reforms. So they are guided by another very simple principle: What is bad for Yeltsin is good. It is no wonder that they seem to welcome famine and plague.


Another paradox is the fact that in their struggle against the president the deputies are using the existing constitution as their trump card. This is, again, absurd. It would seem that adherence to the law and the Constitution is the supreme democratic act. This is the way it is in the West, but not in Russia. Over 200 years ago the Russian poet Gavriil Derzhavin, remarked bitterly: "In Russia only legislators read the laws, and only lunatics obey them". All of the Soviet Constitutions were written, not for the people or even for the executive branch, but as camouflage, as a false front for the world. Of course, Soviet power itself was a false front, behind which Party structures ruled the country.


The Supreme Soviet is now hiding behind this fictitious constitution as if it were a fig leaf. It is typical that the representational organs have other similarities to Party structures: they wish to have the maximum amount of power with the minimum amount of responsibility.


The deputies want to issue commands, they want the privileges of the executive branch, but they do not want to bear responsibility for their actions. We have already seen what a dead end this can lead to.


Russia looked to the referendum, and then the Constitutional Assembly, as a way out of the long-standing political crisis. But almost every day brings a new stage of this crisis. This absurd battle is becoming ever fiercer in the Russian leadership. These fruitless discussions can only inspire those who do not care that with every day these vital political transformations are delayed, Russia sinks deeper into economic turmoil.


The danger of the Constitutional Assembly, called by the proponents of reform, is that it will open one of the legal ways to remove the conservatives from power. The main characteristics of the constitution prepared by the president's staff are an acknowledgement of all the rights of private property, a strong executive and a bicameral legislature based on the American model. The pro-Communist Supreme Soviet will have no place in this system, and, like a wounded animal, it is desperately fighting for survival.


Every day brings new examples of a total disregard for common sense in Russia. The people's deputies, the most loyal proponents of the absurd, are trying to solve problems that they themselves created.


Sergei Leskov covers science and technology for Izvestia.