Discussion of the Draft [1977] Constitution, pt 2 (47.16)

«No 47 : 30 November 1977»

The third and fourth issues of the bulletin Concerning the Draft Constitution of the USSR (for issues 1 and 2 see CCE 46.18), include the letter by Mark Popovsky mentioned in CCE 46, another letter by Leonard Ternovsky, letters from Orion Kvachevsky, Larisa Bogoraz, Yury Grimm, Yury Sergeyev, Yevgeny Shapoval, Mikhail Zotov, Boris Altshuler and Georgy Vins, also letters from the Council of Baptist Churches (extracts), from 17 Baptists in the town of Timashevsk (Krasnodar Region) and a survey of letters from believers.

In criticising the draft Constitution, many authors draw on their experience of the way the 1936 Constitution was carried out (mass repression, suppression of dissent and other manifestations of the “personality cult” and ‘voluntarism’).

They consider that the draft constitution does not contain real guarantees against a repetition of this experience. In the opinion of many writers (L. Ternovsky, V. Sokirko, L. Bogoraz, O. Kvachevsky and Yu. Sergeyev), the draft differs from the 1936 Constitution in strengthening the State dictatorship at the expense of human rights. This tendency is borne out by the circumstances in which the new Constitution is to be adopted: “increased political repression, an anti-democratic means of replacing the head of State, accompanied by an unprecedented and exaggerated personality cult, and the absolute impossibility of criticising the proposed new constitution” (The Action Group to Unite Victims of Stalinist Repression).


In many of the letters the critical comments and suggestions mentioned in CCE 46 are repeated.

The authors suggest that the concept of freedom of conscience be broadened and more precisely defined to include not only questions of faith or disbelief but also political views.

They insist that the Constitution should affirm the obligation to observe the human rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenants on Human Rights.

The letters point out the absurdity and danger of Article 62 of the draft Constitution* which obliges every citizen to strengthen the authority of the State, and of the vaguely formulated concept of Treason to the motherland”, which could become a pretext for arbitrary action by the punitive organs.

One of the letters suggests that the Constitution should grant every official the right not to carry out clearly anti-Constitutional orders.


The fifth (and most recent) issue of the bulletin includes letters from E. Orlovsky, A. Malkhazyan, V. Yankov, V. Nekipelov and N. Strokata, a letter from the Kiev Evangelical Christian-Baptist congregation, a letter from Victor Sokirko to the compilers of the bulletin and a reply from the editors, also a satirical “Summary of the USSR Constitution” written by Alexander, Kirill and Pinkhos Podrabinek.

Orlovsky suggests many concrete amendments to the draft Constitution, though he writes, “I realize they have no chance of being accepted”.

Yankov points out the contradictions between many articles of the draft Constitution and the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference.

Malkhazyan, Nekipelov and Strokata consider the draft Constitution hopelessly bad and feel attempts to improve it are useless.

Sokirko expressed dissatisfaction with the compilers of the bulletin for including his letter in bulletin 2 in a shortened and changed form. In their reply the editors of the bulletin write:

“… In the majority of cases the usual editorial work of literary type was carried out, which happens in the press generally, whether it is censored or uncensored. The difference, alas, lies in the fact that in our circumstances the editor cannot meet the author.

“. . . The only change made out of non-literary considerations — and your main complaint! — was indeed your suggestion that the supreme power of the CPSU (or rather the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party) should be legalized in this country by means of countrywide elections to the Central Committee of the CPSU and the post of General-Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. Yes, we did exclude this suggestion, for the simple reason that it contradicted and rendered less valuable your other criticisms and all your other suggestions …”

Three statements, signed by 272 priests (almost all the priests of three Lithuanian dioceses) suggest that Article 52 should be changed to guarantee freedom “both of religious and of anti-religious propaganda”. The authors also consider it necessary to guarantee “the right of parents to bring up their children in accordance with their own conscience and convictions”.


Soviet newspapers, in writing about the discussion of the draft Constitution, do not as a rule give a sociological or statistical analysis of the letters they have received.

Some curious, though very meagre facts on this matter are provided in issue 9 (435) of Pravdist, dated 15 October, the newspaper of the Party and trade union committees of the Pravda newspaper publishers. N. Petrov, the deputy head of the publishing-house’s Constitutional Group, states in his article “The Treasure of Room 573” that he had read about 3000 letters, about one tenth of those that reached Pravda.

“I am still under the influence of the warm patriotism expressed in them. But I will say openly that something in these letters also worried me. Why were the authors of the overwhelming majority of letters people of advanced years? The traditional explanation is that pensioners have more time, but it seems a trifle too simple in such a case. Why was it that for almost a month after the beginning of the discussion we received no letters from collective farmers or workers on state farms? . . .

“Why were there so few letters from young people, and of these few, why were such a high proportion about records and jeans? In my opinion, there were too many letters dealing with measures to preserve public order. Are we not placing too much hope, figuratively speaking, on the ‘policeman’ and too little on ourselves?”