The beginning of the end or the end of the end?

Today, July 1, 2020, is the last day when Russian citizens can vote for or against the suggested by the government amendments to our constitution. Even though the Russian government and especially our evil genius started gaining power and dropped the hammer a long time ago, today may become the last day of the country as I’ve known and loved it.

The process of changing the constitution is not new to political history, but such a significant reinforcement of the president’s seals is a relatively rare event in the contemporary world. Even though Russia formally is a democracy, in reality, it hasn’t been one for many years. And now it is pretty much the end of the constitutional rule for my home country, and it's really sad, as the amendments take away the last barriers that were controlling Putin’s thirst for power.

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The changes were presented to the government by Vladimir Putin – who is in his fourth term and 17th year of presidency – back in January. The government turned the suggestion into a bylaw and invited the citizens to partake in a plebiscite on changes to the constitution.

There are 206 amendments altogether and people can either accept or deny all of them as a package. Russian Echo of Moscow’s author Maxim Katz grouped amendments into three types.  

The first and the most important group includes amendments that strengthen Putin’s power and allow him to remain the Russian president pretty much until the end of his days unless he decides to resign or loses elections, in which case the amendments will guarantee his immunity and protect him from the court.  The peculiar part of the story is how the amendments are worded. Not just any Russian president, but only the current one will have a chance to claim the position for six times and will have his previous presidencies turned back to zero. So if accepted, the amendments will mean that if he decides so, Putin will run for president again in 2024, after his fourth term is over, and in 2030 for another six years. By the end of the sixth term, he will be 84 years old and will have a 32-year record as a president.

The amendments also give Putin more power over the prime minister and the government allowing him to pretty much control it and affect how it’s formed even more. So in case there is a strong leader growing in the next proximity, nothing will prevent the president from getting rid off potential competition ahead of time.  

The second group of amendments is populist. I don’t see them changing anything in real life, but they looked awesome on billboards all over the country. “Let’s keep the family values” (an amendment that formulates marriage as a union between a man and a woman, which was in the constitution before but now probably will result in even more aggression against the LGBT community), “Affordable healthcare for people” (healthcare, including dental and eye care, is free for citizens), “Let’s protect the memory of ancestors” (the “historic truth” now cannot be re-written) and many more. These amendments are mainly what people are supposed to vote for, even though in reality nothing is being changed in this part.

The third group included some minor corrections in wording, which didn’t actually change anything at all and probably were made just to increase the number of proposed amendments and make the entire process more confusing. As Ella Pamfilova, the chairperson of the Central Election Commission of Russia said, there were so many corrected articles that no bulletin could fit them, and the public was just asked to vote for or against “the amendments.”

I didn’t make it to voting stations in Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto, but most people who partook in the plebiscite and were willing to share their decision with me voted against this magic package.

Nevertheless, I'm pretty sure that tomorrow or the day after the world will hear that about 90 per cent of Russian people (or maybe a bit less, Putin’s support rates sank big time during the pandemic, so even his PR-team may consider it bad tone to announce such a high number) happily supported the suggested changes.

By the way, the updated Constitution of the Russian Federation already could be found in stores in Russia as early as June 16.

Will the amendments and what they mean to the country’s development eventually lead Russia to the new Iron curtain era? I don't know. But it's heartbreaking to see my country losing the last barrier to the KGB. 

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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