Staunton, February 17 – Russian officials have ignored a 2004 law requiring them to respond to appeals lodged by demonstrators, but now some protesters and their lawyers are using the courts to force at least some government agencies to respond, a development that some say opens the way to a new relationship between the Russian state and Rusian society.
On the “Osobaya bukhva” portal yesterday, journalist Vladimir Titov notes that it is widely believed that “’meetings do not decide anything,’” but he points out that according to the terms of the 2004 act, that is not the case. And he adds that some protesters are now invoking that law (www.specletter.com/obcshestvo/2013-02-16/bezotvetstvennye-mitingi.html).
Elena Lukyanova, Dmitry Bykov and Sergey Parkhomenko, the organizers of a February 4, 2012, action, have gone to court to try to force the Moscow mayor’s office, the Central Electoral Commission and the Investigation Committee to respond to their meetings demands for action.
They and their lawyers cite the June 19, 2004 law, “On assemblies, meetings, demonstrations, marches and picketings” (The relevant text can be found at base.garant.ru/12135831/3/) that specifies that officials must respond to demands for answers by those who take part in such meetings.
The February 4 meeting asked for the immediate release of all political prisoners, new elections, the retirement of certain officials, and investigations of the falsifications of charges against opposition figures, among other things. And its organizers send these demands to the relevant government agencies.
Those agencies ignored both the appeals and the provisions of the 2004 law, Titov continues, and consequently, the three brought civil suits in the Basman district court of Moscow. In their testimony, officials said they had done all they were required to do, but the court has now ruled against them. When the text of that ruling is released, those who brought the suit plan to try to seek its enforcement.
This decision, the “Osobaya bukhva” journalist says, has enormous value as precedent. “For the first time in Russia, the organizers of a meeting have demanded from the organs of the authorities at least a formal answer to their demands on the basis of the provisions of existing laws.”
Lawyer Elena Lukyanova told him, he reports, that officials “did not know” what they were required to do in response to appeals, but now they will have to come up with some procedure, and even if it does not completely satisfy the appellants, that development alone constitutes progress.
What is taking place, she suggested, is the development of “an etiquette of communications.” And “sooner or later the government will have to deal with what is taking place in the streets because this is no longer outside their windows but inside their offices.” And they will then be forced to recognize that “’we are no the opposition; we are your employers.”
In addition, Lukyanova continued, “the relationship of society to the state is changing” because of this breakthrough. “People are ceasing to conceive it as a ‘sacred given before which all must go to their knees.’ Government bureaucrats are hired managers who live on tax monies.” And because that is so, if the taxpayers are unhappy, “they can change ‘managers.’”
Lukyanova said that more and more Russians will come to recognize that “the government is not the representative of God on earth” but rather a servant of the people. And she said she and her colleagues would do everything to promote this by actively seeking the enforcement of the court’s decision about their appeals to the authorities.