Last month, I internetically stumbled upon The Moscow Times’ photostream, which features about one hundred pictures. They bring back memories.
Speaking of the Russkies, I decided over the weekend to learn more about past and present Russian governmental structures. I still cannot understand the Soviet system; it was ridiculously messy. Such was appropriate for scam politics in a state where there was no rule of law. The new constitutional order seems to follow the American regime somewhat, with a bicameral federal legislature, the Federal Assembly, consisting of the State Duma as the lower house and the Federation Council as the upper house. As far as I can tell, the members of the Duma are not elected to represent a particular district. Rather, the people vote for parties in a national election, and each party’s representation in the Duma depends on the proportion of votes that each party receives. The parties themselves choose which party members represent the party in the Duma. The Duma must start all legislation, which is like our House of Representatives insofar as all tax bills must begin in the House.
There are many shortcomings to the American system, but I find it superior to the Russian regime in a number of ways. The peculiar election system for the Duma does not allow for a connection between the voters and their representatives; for there are no candidates. There is also no need for parties to campaign or to be as responsive to each local region, as the election is national. Less populous regions must garner less attention than they do in the American system, where geographical representation in the federal government is assured even outside the Senate. Moreover, the Duma system puts much power in the hands of the parties’ elites. Such a system contrasts much with the American system, where “all politics is local.” Of course, there are many American critics of our provincial tendencies, but they are wrong. The quirkiness of the American system allows other factors such as personal acquaintance, character assessment, and local concerns to contend with and even to trump ideology, and I think that such makes for a healthier political regime, especially as democratic peoples are endemically susceptible to perverse ideological fevers.
The Federation Council is like our Senate in that each Russian federal subject sends two members to it. A federal subject is like an American State, though it can be a number of various entities with different degrees of autonomy. In this, the federal subject more closely resembles the localities in many States, where different types have different levels of power (a township as compared to a village or city in Ohio, for instance). Yet, each federal subject has an equal representation in the Federation Council. The Russian upper house also resembles the original (and better) American Senate in that its members are not elected by the voters but rather chosen by the federal subject’s government. The local legislature chooses one member, and the governor chooses the other. This seems like a good idea in that it gives power to local authorities who have an interest in keeping power decentralized, but Putin altered the balance when he pushed for the Russian President to be able to appoint governors. Since then, the president has chosen each governor. As each governor chooses one of his federal subject’s members in the Federation Council, half the council is indirectly subservient to the president. Clearly, such is a perversion of the Federation Council’s intended role, but it is an example of how Putin centralized political control during his presidency. He may have thought such necessary, though, to keep regions of non-Russian ethnicity from secession.
A significant difference between the Russian and American systems is that the Russian upper body cannot initiate any legislation. It may only affirm or veto the legislation of the Duma, but the Duma may override a veto with a two thirds vote. In this, the Russian system appears to resemble the British parliament after it emasculated the House of Lords. The upper house may only obstruct; it may not lead. I also read that a two thirds vote is needed to override a presidential veto, but I am not sure if that large majority is necessary in both houses or simply in the Duma.
I have a question for Russians or those knowledgeable in Russian. What is the difference between собор (sobor) and совет (soviet)? Both appear to mean meeting, council, or assembly. I know that an ecclesial council is a sobor and that it was a Земский собор—an assembly of all the land—that put the Romanovs in power after the Time of Troubles. Of course, we all know the use of soviet. Yet, is there a difference in meaning? The Federation Council is Совет Федерации (Sovet Federatsii), and the Federal Assembly appears to be a version of sobor, Федеральное Собрание (Federalnoye Sobraniye), though I am not sure.