“Many current problems in Russia would be solved if the constitution really worked”
This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Russian Federation’s constitution. We believe that many current problems in Russia would be solved if the constitution really worked. We decided that our website would pay special attention to it, by reminding readers of its various articles, recounting how it was created, and emphasizing how important it is to implement it.We wanted to create an advertising campaign around this, which of course would also be a kind of provocation. I had been reading the constitution and noticed that some of its articles are very strongly worded and could be dangerous for the authorities. For instance: “The supreme direct expression of the power of the people shall be referenda and free elections”. [Russia’s recent elections have been marred by allegations of fraud]. Or, “No one may usurp power in the Russian Federation. Seizure of power or usurping state authority shall be prosecuted under federal law. [In light of the fraud allegations, opposition activists in Russia consider President Vladimir Putin to have usurped power]. Or, “All people shall be equal before the law and the courts.” Many people in Russia believe that the courts are working selectively. So these quotations from our own constitution do indeed seem to challenge the system. It’s ironic, but it is so!“We were told the quotations ‘sounded extremist’”We chose ten quotations and planned to put them up in the centre of the city. We wanted the places we hung them to fit the content. For example, we decided to put “All people shall be equal before the law and the courts” near the prosecutor-general’s office. However, we soon found out that companies selling advertisement space did not want to display such sensitive content. Apparently, most of them did not want to risk their good relationships with local authorities. Many told us they felt the same thing we had felt when reading these quotations – that they saw in them a challenge to the authorities. They told us the quotations “sounded extremist”. [Editor’s Note: This self-censorship is not as paranoid as it may seem – RBC, a Russian business news portal, reported on Wednesday that anonymous sources in the Yekaterinburg police said that Znak.com could indeed be charged with engaging in “extremist activities.”]One banner that we had planned to hang near a university was at first rated by an ad agency as “18+” – evidently, they consider the constitution unfit for children. [In Russia, all media, including advertising, has to be rated and marked for specific ages. The rating is displayed at the bottom corner of billboards and banners.] However, they ended up changing it to “16+” in the end.So, we haven’t met with any direct censorship from the authorities – but plenty of self-censorship from advertising companies. A source of ours who was in a meeting at the office of the president’s regional representative heard our ad campaign called an “action of the opposition”. But in our opinion this action is not at all in opposition to the government; it’s a civil action. It could even be said that this is a pro-state action, since we’re strengthening the state by reminding people of what’s in our constitution.