Conservatism in Russia and Sovereignty in Human Rights

In: Review of Central and East European Law
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  • 1 The National Research University Higher School of Economics, Faculty of Law, St. Petersburg Campus
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This article examines the correlation between the concepts of sovereignty, human rights, and democracy in Russian legal and political debate, analyzing this correlation in the context of Russian philosophical discourse. It argues that sovereignty often is used as a powerful argument which allows the setting aside of international humanitarian standards and the formal constitutional guarantees of human rights. This conflict between sovereignty and human rights also recurs in other countries, and many legal scholars are demanding the revision or even abandonment of the concept of sovereignty. In Russia, this conflict is aggravated by some characteristic features of the traditional mentality frequently favoring statism and collective interests over individual ones, and by the state building a ‘power vertical’ subordinating regional and other particularistic interests to the central power. These features and policies are studied in the context of the Slavophile-Westernizer philosophical divide. This divide reveals the pros and contras put forward by the Russian supporters of the isolationist (conservative) policy throughout contemporary history—especially in the sovereignty debates in recent years. The 1993 Russian Constitution contains many declaratory statements about human rights and democracy, but their formulations are vague and, thus far, have had little concrete effect in court battles where the application of international humanitarian law from time to time has been counterbalanced by the concerns of the protection of sovereignty. These concerns coincide with isolationist and authoritarian policies, which in 2006 led to their amalgamation in the concept of ‘sovereign democracy’. This concept is considered in this article to be a recurrence of the Russian conservative tradition. Even though the concept in its literal meaning has been abandoned by its author and supporters, most of its ideas remain on the cusp of the official political discourse which reproduces the pivotal axes of Russian political philosophy of the XIX century.

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