Former Judge Warns of Authoritarian Rule in Russia

THE former head of Russia's Constitutional Court has warned that Russia has become an ``authoritarian regime'' intolerant of dissent. He was suspended Wednesday by his colleagues for criticizing President Boris Yeltsin's draft constitution.

``What kind of law-governed state are we talking about when it is forbidden to criticize the constitution? This evokes both indignation and pain,'' an angry, bewildered Valery Zorkin said at a news conference yesterday.

``This means that the dreams we had in 1991 for a free Russia have been, and are, nothing but illusions,'' said Mr. Zorkin, who was suspended for breaching his impartiality. ``I think that the actions of judges who have embarked upon the path of supporting the authoritarian regime will remain an indelible scar on Russia's memory.''

Mr. Yeltsin has met with strong criticism since he clamped down on public criticism of his draft constitution, which will be put to a nationwide referendum on Dec. 12, the same day as parliamentary elections.

Last Friday, the Russian president told representatives of the 13 electoral blocs participating in the polls that they would lose air time on government-sponsored TV broadcasts if they blasted the draft in their campaigns.

On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shumeiko appealed to have the Communist Party and the centrist Democratic Party of Russia removed from the ballots because they criticized the constitution.

But the request was officially rejected yesterday by the Central Election Commission.

``Certain gentlemen from the government have already said it is impossible to criticize either the president or the constitution,'' Zorkin told reporters, referring to Mr. Shumeiko. ``But then one question arises: What kind of conditions are we living in and what remains of law and freedom under these conditions? An Orwellian trough at the Animal Farm?''

In an interview published Wednesday in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper), Zorkin said the constitution gave too much power to the presidency at the parliament's expense, a widely held criticism.

Zorkin had tried earlier this year to mediate between Yeltsin and the former Communist-dominated parliament on constitutional issues. But he eventually sided against the president, bitterly speaking out against him when he disbanded the parliament in September.

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