1993 Russian constitutional crisis
The constitutional crisis of 1993 was a political stand-off between the Russian president and the Russian parliament that was resolved by using military force. The relations between the president and the parliament had been deteriorating for some time. The constitutional crisis reached a tipping point on September 21, 1993, when President Boris Yeltsin aimed to dissolve the country's legislature (the Congress of People's Deputies and itsSupreme Soviet), although the president did not have the power to dissolve the parliament according to the constitution. Yeltsin used the results of the referendum of April 1993 to justify his actions. In response, the parliament declared that the president's decision was null and void, impeached Yeltsin and proclaimed vice president Aleksandr Rutskoy to be acting president.
The situation deteriorated at the beginning of October. On October 3, demonstrators removed police cordons around the parliament and, urged by their leaders, took over the Mayor's offices and tried to storm the Ostankino television centre. The army, which had initially declared its neutrality, by Yeltsin's orders stormed the Supreme Soviet building in the early morning hours of October 4, and arrested the leaders of the resistance.
The ten-day conflict became the deadliest single event of street fighting in Moscow's history since the revolutions of 1917. According to government estimates, 187 people were killed and 437 wounded, while estimates from non-governmental sources put the death toll at as high as 2,000.
Yeltsin's consolidation of powerImmediate aftermath
On October 5, 1993, the newspaper Izvestiya published the open letter "Writers demand decisive actions of the government" to the government and President signed by 42 well-known Russian literati and hence called the Letter of Forty-Two. It was written in reaction to the events and contained the following seven demands:
- All kinds of сommunist and nationalist parties, fronts, and associations should be disbanded and banned by a decree of the President.
- All illegal paramilitary and a fortiori armed groups and associations should be identified and disbanded (with bringing them to criminal responsibility when it is bound by a law).
- Legislation providing for heavy sanctions for propaganda of fascism, chauvinism, racial hatred, for calls for violence and brutality should finally begin to work. Prosecutors, investigators, and judges patronizing such socially dangerous crimes should be immediately removed from their work.
- The organs of the press, which from day to day inspire hatred, call for violence and are, in our opinion, one of the main organizers and perpetrators of the tragedy (and potential perpetrators of a multitude of future tragedies), such as Den, Pravda, Sovetskaya Rossiya,Literaturnaya Rossiya (as well as the television program 600 Seconds) and a number of others, should be closed until the judicial proceedings start.
- The activities of bodies of the Soviet authority which refused to obey the legitimate authority of Russia should be suspended.
- We all together must prevent the trial of the organizers and participants of the bloody drama in Moscow from becoming similar to that shameful farce which is called "the trial of the Gang of Eight."
- Recognize not only the Congress of People's Deputies, the Supreme Council but also all bodies (including the Constitutional Court) formed by them as nonlegitimate.
In the weeks following the storming of the Russian White House, Yeltsin issued a barrage of presidential decrees intended to consolidate his position. On October 5, Yeltsin banned political leftist and nationalist organizations and newspapers like Den', Sovetskaya Rossiya and Pravda that had supported the parliament (they would later resume publishing). In an address to the nation on October 6, Yeltsin also called on those regional Soviets that had opposed him—by far the majority—to disband. Valery Zorkin, chairman of the Constitutional Court, was forced to resign. The chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions was also sacked. The anti-Yeltsin TV broadcast 600 Seconds of Alexander Nevzorov was ultimately closed down.
Yeltsin decreed, on October 12, that both houses of parliament would be elected in December. On October 15, he ordered that a popular referendum be held in December on a new constitution. Rutskoy and Khasbulatov were charged on October 15 with "organizing mass disorders" and imprisoned. On 23 February 1994 the State Duma amnestied all individuals involved in the events of September–October 1993. They were later released in 1994 when Yeltsin's position was sufficiently secure. In early 1995, the criminal proceedings were discontinued and were eventually placed into the archives
"Russia needs order," Yeltsin told the Russian people in a television broadcast in November in introducing his new draft of the constitution, which was to be put to a referendum on December 12. The new basic law would concentrate sweeping powers in the hands of the president. The bicameral legislature, to sit for only two years, was restricted in crucial areas. The president could choose the prime minister even if the parliament objected and could appoint the military leadership without parliamentary approval. He would head and appoint the members of a new, more powerful security council. If a vote of no confidence in the government was passed, the president would be enabled to keep it in office for three months and could dissolve the parliament if it repeated the vote. The president could veto any bill passed by a simple majority in the lower house, after which a two-thirds majority would be required for the legislation to be passed. The president could not be impeached for contravening the constitution. The central bank would become independent, but the president would need the approval of the State Duma to appoint the bank's governor, who would thereafter be independent of the parliament. At the time, most political observers regarded the draft constitution as shaped by and for Yeltsin and perhaps unlikely to survive him.
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