Impeachment Happens

Boris did more than Bill, but Monica wasn’t in the picture.

New York Times 19 December 1998

Impeachment Also Is Proceeding, in a Convoluted Way, in Russia

By Michael Wines

MOSCOW — If Russians are perplexed by the prospective impeachment of President
Clinton over his testimony about extramarital sex — and they are, to a man
and woman — perhaps they can be forgiven. Their own Parliament, you see,
is trying to impeach President Boris Yeltsin over accusations of genocide,
treason and abetting murder. And almost no one gives it a second thought.
Indeed, most people expect that the impeachment will still be lumbering down
the constitutional garden path when Yeltsin wraps up his second term and
leaves office in 2000.

Such is the yawning divide between impeachments, U.S. and Russian-style.
One is saturnalia; the other Saturn, ungodly big and going in circles. One
is convulsing a nation; the other is so somnolent that legislators have been
known to snooze through investigative hearings. One is extraordinarily partisan,
but rooted, at least in part, in the democratic axiom that no one is above
the law. Actually, so is the other.

“The most important result of the committee’s work is not whether we have
considered evidence of a crime in presidential acts,” Yelena Mizulina, the
deputy chairwoman of the impeachment committee in Russia’s lower legislative
chamber, the Duma, said in an interview this week. “It’s that for the first
time, a constitutional precedent is created.

“Those who occupy this post in the future will know that no matter how
sophisticated the process is, it is quite realistic. They will have to control
their actions.” Sophisticated is not the word most people might attach to
the proceedings, Ms. Mizulina readily admits.

The Communist Party and its allies on the far right (in Russia, the Communists
are right-wingers, not leftists) inspired and have managed the impeachment
from its start in May.

Most accusations against Yeltsin read like a party manifesto: that he committed
treason by signing the accord that dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991; that
he stage-managed the decline of Russia’s ragtag military forces; that he
abetted murder when his troops put down an armed rebellion by the Communist-led
Parliament in 1993; that he committed genocide by allowing living standards,
and the average Russian’s life span, to decline.

While many legislators resent Yeltsin’s forceful quelling of the 1993 Parliament
rebellion, not even the Communists who dominate the impeachment commission
have seen fit to charge the president with manslaughter. Independent analysts
dismiss the other charges as confections whipped up to give the Communists
a platform for denouncing the Yeltsin government.

Denounce they have, in regular Monday sessions that began in June and are
supposed to end soon, but probably will not. Yeltsin has been called a clueless
military strategist, a deserter of constitutional principle and a pawn of
NATO and the United States.

The panel’s most flagrant hothead, the Communist legislator Viktor Ilyukhin,
stunned many last week by declaring, during hearings on the genocide charge,
that fewer Russians would have perished under Yeltsin’s rule had the president
not surrounded himself with Jewish advisers.

The final accusation — that Yeltsin exceeded his powers by waging a costly,
failed war in Chechnya — resonates more broadly across Parliament. Ms. Mazulina,
a member of the pro-democracy, centrist Yabloko Party, supports the accusation.
Were it to reach the floor in Parliament, it might even be adopted.

But for a raft of political and legal reasons, that seems unlikely. In the
United States, President Clinton’s impeachment would take a rapid, straight
path to a Senate trial presided over by the chief justice. Not so in Russia:
a vote in the Duma to impeach would first require a two-thirds majority of
the chamber’s 450 legislators. It would then have to pass muster in the nation’s
Supreme Court and its Constitutional Court. Only then would impeachment proceed
to the more moderate upper legislative chamber, the Federation Council.

Most believe that will never happen. “You should read the Russian Constitution
to realize that we will not have to deal with this matter,” the chamber’s
Speaker, Yegor Stroyev, said last month. Moreover, all of this assumes that
the Duma genuinely wants to impeach Yeltsin, as the Communists insist. Most
experts say the party is content simply to flog Yeltsin in public hearings
and hope the economy continues to sour.

“They want to undermine presidential authority while waiting for 2000, when
they’ll win in elections because the situation will continue to deteriorate,”
Sergei Karaganov, a political analyst and head of the Moscow-based Institute
of Europe, said in an interview.

Ms. Mazulina said that tactic would explain why the impeachment panel has
spent months looking into “ridiculous” charges like genocide and why, now
that its official work is approaching a close, some members want to tack
on a new charge blaming Yeltsin for this year’s economic collapse.

The tortuous process explains why Ms. Mazulina and some analysts express
admiration for America’s quick and comparatively clean method of presidential
removal, even as they assert that removing a Russian president for concealing
adultery is unimaginable.

Well, almost unimaginable. In denouncing the United States for its attack
on Iraq, the Communist Party leader, Gennadi Zyuganov, sputtered on Thursday
that the bombings are inextricably tied “with the Yeltsin impeachment, with
his relations with a certain lady.”

Zyuganov stopped, then smiled. “Clinton, of course. Clinton,” he corrected
himself.

San Jose Mercury December 19, 1998

Impeachment acts in U.S. and Russia a study in contrasts

By Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW — The president’s enemies have been waiting a long time for their
chance to bring him down. In recent weeks, lawmakers have held lengthy
impeachment hearings that seek to hold him accountable for a variety of sins.
They regularly drag out charges from the president’s past that call into
question his morality and behavior. Harsh rhetoric attacking his character
rings through the halls and hearing rooms.

But for President Boris Yeltsin — unlike his friend, President Clinton —
the impeachment hearings that have dragged on for months in the Russian
parliament are a mere political sideshow. While the two presidents both face
impeachment proceedings, the circumstances in which each finds himself are
quite different.

The kind of behavior that got Clinton in trouble might well improve Russians’
opinion of their feeble, 67-year-old president by suggesting a vigor that
they haven’t seen in their leader in years. The Communist-inspired impeachment
charges seek to hold Yeltsin responsible for Russia’s greatest calamities:
its economic collapse, the disastrous mid-1990s war in the breakaway republic
of Chechnya, the sharp rise in the rate of crime, and the equally startling
decline in the country’s population.

“The Communists are stepping up their anti-Yeltsin hysteria, trying to draw
parallels and screaming that if in America the president can be impeached
for a mere trifle, Yeltsin should surely be impeached for the serious crimes
attributed to him,” said Victor I. Borisyuk, a political analyst and former
Yeltsin adviser.

The efforts of Yeltsin’s foes to impeach him, however, are handicapped by
the fact that they must operate under a constitution — written by Yeltsin
himself five years ago — that makes it nearly impossible for parliament
to remove a president from office.

Some deputies in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, predict that Russia’s
impeachment hearings will still be running in 2000, when the next presidential
elections are scheduled. So far, a Duma committee has approved three articles
of impeachment, charging that Yeltsin:

instigated the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union; illegally used force against
parliament in 1993 when it resisted his order dissolving the body; and mounted
the unsuccessful war in Chechnya that claimed as many as 80,000 lives from
December 1994 to August 1996.

This week, Communist Duma Deputy Victor I. Ilyukhin used the hearings as
a forum to accuse Yeltsin of “genocide” against his own people. Evidence
for the genocide theory includes the fact that Russia’s population has fallen
from nearly 149 million to 146.5 million in the past five years, while the
average life expectancy of Russian men has plummeted to 57 years.

Russian political analysts predict that in the end, neither impeachment drive
will lead to the removal of a president, but they note that the efforts offer
a contrast between the countries’ political systems.

Boston Globe 20 December 1998

Russians look at US political scene with amusement, envy Communists charge
Yeltsin with dire crimes

By David Filipov

MOSCOW – As the US Congress impeached President Clinton on charges of lying
under oath and obstruction of justice yesterday, Russians reacted with a
mixture of disbelief, envy, and humor. Like Clinton, their president, Boris
N. Yeltsin, is also being investigated by Russian lawmakers for potentially
impeachable offenses. But many Russians have trouble understanding what Clinton
did so wrong that he deserves to lose his job.

To see why, it helps to compare the accusations against the two presidents.
While Clinton is charged with witness tampering and lying under oath, Yeltsin
faces charges of treason, genocide, and illegal use of military force. But
few Russians believe Yeltsin will be forced from the presidency.

While both cases have caused controversy and ugly partisan political battles,
the impeachment procedure designed by the founding fathers is fairly
straightforward: A vote in the House, a vote in the Senate. Russia’s 1993
constitution, tailored to meet Yeltsin’s requirements after he crushed Parliament
with tanks, makes it extremely complicated to remove the president from office.

If the panel recommends impeachment, two-thirds of the Duma must approve
the motion for it to go to the Supreme Court, whose judges have mostly been
nominated under Yeltsin. Then the motion goes to the Constitutional Court.
If the judges approve the accusation, two-thirds of the 189-seat upper house
must vote in favor for Yeltsin to lose his job. “It is clear this impeachment
is going nowhere,” ultranationalist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky said last
week.

But beyond procedural barriers, there is a deeper issue that reflects Russians’
longstanding, and well-justified, distrust of their leaders. No one here
really expects good government, and no one expects their leaders to be good.
That goes especially for the aging, unpopular Yeltsin, whose health has been
so bad in recent years that many people have stopped feeling anger toward
a man who, they feel, has often let them down. They are just waiting for
him to die. “Let’s give the Americans our president and we’ll take theirs,”
went one joke that made the rounds. “We’ll guarantee that Yeltsin won’t
be able to cheat on his wife.”

Yesterday, some Muscovites picked up on that theme in answer to questions
about the US impeachment. “If I found out Yeltsin had a mistress, I’d take
that as a sign he is indeed alive and well,” said Andrei Kudrin, a Moscow
TV producer. “If he lied about it under oath and tried to stop an investigation,
I’d take that as a sign that he was his usual self.”

The impeachment panel set up by the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian
Parliament, is investigating Yeltsin on charges that he committed treason
by instigating the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The panel says he illegally
used force when he ordered the military assault on Parliament in 1993 that
claimed more than 150 lives. The panel says that Yeltsin instigated the war
in Chechnya in 1994 that claimed more than 100,000 lives. And last week,
the panel looked into whether Yeltsin committed genocide by his economic
policies that some lawmakers say led to the deaths of 4 million Russians.

Except for Chechnya, these charges are almost exclusively the property of
the Communists who dominate the Duma. Knowing that they cannot force Yeltsin
out of power, the Communists have chosen to use the impeachment proceedings
as a place to air their complaints, analysts say. Last week, the impeachment
took an ugly turn when a senior Communist, Viktor Ilyukhin, suggested that
Russia’s population would not have declined by 4 million people over the
seven years of Yeltsin’s presidency if he had not employed so many Jewish
advisers.

“The proceedings have turned into a discussion club for the hatemongers,”
said Masha Gessen, chief correspondent of the liberal magazine Itogi. “Instead
of serving the rule of law, this is making a warped joke out of it.” That
leads to another problem. While US congressmen yesterday often debated the
intent of the founding fathers, in Russia, there is no consensus on who the
founding fathers are. Should they include Communist-era heroes?

The Duma recently voted to restore the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder
of the secret police that became the KGB. Yesterday, a school in the Urals
city of Chelyabinsk put up a monument to Josef Stalin, whose Great Terror
purges caused 20 million Soviet deaths.

Yeltsin is so weak now, the issue is not how to oust him, but the race to
replace him. His presidency ends in the year 2000, but candidates have begun
campaigning, just in case Yeltsin cannot complete his term. Yesterday, one
of the potential front-runners, Mayor Yury Luzhkov of Moscow, appealed to
Russians to unite behind his new movement, Fatherland. Speaking to a congress
of more than 1,000 supporters, Luzhkov called for a stronger military and
a stronger state role in the economy.

As for the radical market reforms advocated by Yeltsin’s governments from
1992 until Russia’s economic crash last August, Luzhkov remarked: “The
experiment is over.” A delegate to Luzhkov’s congress, Yury Kon, said it
was right to impeach Yeltsin, but impossible. He expressed respect for the
US system but not its decision yesterday.

“America has good laws, but I feel sorry for Clinton,” Kon said. “He’s
not a bad president.”

Moscow Times January 19, 1999

CONFESSIONS OF A RUSSOPHILE: Laughs Over the Lubyanka?

By Jean MacKenzie

The U.S. impeachment spectacle would be painful to watch under any circumstances.
But combine American political hypocrisy with Russian smirking cynicism and
the whole mess becomes pretty close to unbearable.

I don’t mind the tasteless sexual jokes – Russian commentators have not come
up with anything worse than what you can find on a random Jay Leno show.
I don’t even mind the NTV reporter who blandly inserted into what was meant
to be a news story the “fact” that the most serious charge against U.S. President
Bill Clinton – lying “just once” to the grand jury about his sex life – was
laughable.

I suppose when your own president is under investigation for genocide and
the economic ruin of an entire country, a bit of red-blooded, good ol’ boy
high jinks and an “aw, shucks” unwillingness to fess up can be dismissed
as pretty insignificant. But I draw the line at this week’s “Kukly” – the
political satire puppet show that ranges from brilliant to way beyond dreadful.
It begins with Clinton, locked in a very Soviet-like prison, being summoned
from his cell by a warden who looks suspiciously like Viktor Anpilov, the
rabid ultra-Communist. The prisoner is called simply “41” and attempts by
a bewildered Clinton to say that he is not just “41” but the 41st president
of the United States, are met with stony silence – as well they should be,
since Clinton is the 42nd president, not the 41st.

In any event, poor old 41 is taken off to be interrogated, by a standard
bad cop-worse cop pair composed of the two Gennadys – mild-mannered Seleznyov
and the harsher Zyuganov, both, of course, Communists. What follows is a
long bit of silliness, beginning with the prisoner’s name. Russian comedians
have had a field day with Clinton, finally settling on “Klin Blinton,” a
variation that has people rolling in the aisles.

The first name, “Klin” is the Russian word for “wedge,” with its various
Freudian overtones, while the surname is based on “blin” – which in theory
just means pancake, but is the standard euphemism for a naughty word that
means “whore” and is used where English speakers normally utter their own
favorite four-letter expletive.

I suppose it is marginally amusing to have Blinton forced to sign a confession
to unlawful carnal knowledge of female figures from Monica Lewinsky to the
queen of England, with even a hint of nasty doings with the Statue of Liberty.
But just as Blinton is about to be shot in a musty Lubyanka basement, Clinton
wakes up, clutching a copy of “The Gulag Archipelago” to his chest.

I find it more than a bit troubling that Russians can have such a good time
with the Stalinist Terror. I know that, in this case, it is just part of
an ongoing war between the communists and the media, but it hints at a much
deeper problem. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians have
been tying themselves in ideological knots trying to foist 80 years of mistakes
off on a small group of Bolsheviks.

But Russia, after all, was not invaded by little red martians in 1917. They
were taken over by an idea – an idea that took hold, grew, and bore poisonous
fruit. There were millions of victims, but there were also millions of
executioners, from guards in the extensive labor-camp system to neighbors
who wrote denunciations either because they feared for their own safety or
because they had a greedy eye on the next-door apartment.

The kind of national soul-searching and repentance, however imperfect, that
Germany underwent after the war is conspicuously absent here. Try to imagine
a German television show making chuckles out of, say, an American Jew dozing
over a copy of “Mein Kampf” and dreaming of Auschwitz.

I don’t see a way for Russia to move forward until it has spent some time
trying to understand what mix of fear, envy and anger allowed it to create
the communist regime. A quick look at Russia’s “democratization” process,
along with the wholesale crony banditry that passed for privatization should
convince even the casual observer that this country is doomed to repeat its
past until it comes to terms with it.

This point of view has made me terribly unpopular at parties. Russian friends
begin shouting before my first sentence is out of my mouth. “I have nothing
to repent!” is the most common response. “I was not a communist, I was a
victim, like everybody else.”

Maybe that’s the problem: A nation of victims in unlikely to come up with
much in the way of solutions.