Constitution Day Marked with Mock Funerals, Arrests

Memorial for the Constitution. Source: Kasparov.ruActivists marked the sixteenth anniversary of Russia’s constitution throughout Moscow on Saturday‚Äôs Constitution Day, some in a rather non-traditional manner, reports

One demonstration at Prechistinskiye Gates took the form of a funeral memorial, with participants lighting candles and laying flowers at the base of a copy of the nation’s governing document.

The demonstration was jointly organized by the United Civil Front, Oborona, and the movement We. Together with a number of other activists, the group held placards enumerated the articles of the constitution that they believe no longer function. Another placard declared “In Russia, human rights are observed on three counts – the right to be silent, the right to endure, and the right to die.”

Roman Dobrokhotov, leader of the movement We, explained the reasoning behind the form of the protest. “Today we want to commemorate the constitution of the Russian Federation; since its birth we have observed the asymmetries of government authorities, and those have lead to its sudden death,” he said.

Dobrokhotov went on to say that the constitution has been subjected to “political incest” since 2000, the beginning of Putin’s first term as president.

Boris Nemtsov, a former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the opposition Solidarity movement, said that authorities aim “to trample and annihilate the constitution and to strip citizens of all rights.” He added that censorship and alienation from the electoral process was harming the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens.

“Unfortunately, the majority of citizens feel that they have no power to contend with this. But there are nevertheless people in this country who are prepared to fight for freedom,” Nemtsov said.

Towards the end of the demonstration, participants laid a funeral wreath at the foot of the constitution while the national hymn played in the background. It concluded with a moment of silence, and the proceeding arrest of Dobrokhotov by law enforcement agents.

Activists running from plain-clothes police on December 12, 2009. Source: Kasparov.ruSolidarity activists held another demonstration outside the doors of the presidential administrative building in central Moscow. Approximately fifty people took part in the unsanctioned protest, holding placards with letters that together spelled out “Observe the constitution!”

A few minutes after the start of the demonstration, a number of men in plain clothes, believed to be officers from the Federal Guard Service, ran out of the building and began to aggressively detain the protestors.

While most of the activists managed to escape, six were detained, and the men confiscated a number of cameras and videos.

According to a survey released on Thursday, respect among Russians for the constitution has doubled over the past seven years. The number of Russians who feel that the constitution is unimportant and not respected fell to 21 percent from 40 percent in 2002, and those who feel that it should be amended only in extremely rare circumstances rose from to 47 percent from 35 percent in 2000.

The constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted through a popular referendum on December 12, 1993. The most recent amendment to the document was incorporated approximately a year ago by President Dmitri Medvedev, lengthening the presidential term from four years to six.