Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has suffered a rare interruption during a speech at the Kremlin to mark the 15th anniversary of the constitution. The heckler called constitutional amendments extending the presidential term “a disgrace”.
The president defended the changes: “The constitution is a fundamental document but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at the constitution through modern eyes, through the eyes of people who live in the 21st century,” said Medvedev. “My proposals, which have been backed by the Duma and the federal council, were aimed exactly at that.”
The heckler, a well-known opposition activist, was escorted out, despite protests by Medvedev, who said everyone had the right to express their positions. Outside, members of the opposition liberal Yabloko party were staging a demonstration against the constitutional reforms. “We don’t want lifelong leaders in Russia,” said one activist. “This is a first and major step in that direction. It’s a repeat of what we saw in the USSR, and will lead to the demise of Russia.”
Medvedev’s proposal to extend the presidential mandate from four to six years would be the first amendment to the constitution, which was adopted in a national referendum in 1993. Moves by former president Boris Yeltsin to change the constitution back then were met with stiff opposition. It was crushed in deadly street fights, described as the most violent since the October Revolution. Hundreds were killed. Two months later, Yeltstin’s new constitution was adopted.