Protection of the Family and Family Values in Russian Constitutional Law

When in October 2015 the World Congress of Families adopted its World Family Declaration 1, it did so remind us of the fact that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State,” as proclaimed in Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a truth echoed in many of the world’s national constitutions. Russia is no exception. Contemporary Russian constitutional law recognizes values like the family, marriage, maternity, and fatherhood as constitutionally important and subject to special protection. The road to such a status, however, was long and difficult. Throughout the twentieth century official Russian family policy took many turns.2 The markedly anti-family stance of the young Soviet state was succeeded by the somewhat pro-family policies of the late USSR, which nevertheless failed to decisively move in a true pro-family direction. Perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Union worsened the crisis of the Russian family, while simultaneously strengthening the destructive influence of anti-family international influences. The desire to find a new trajectory, one that would preserve all the positive aspects of Russia’s legacy, marked a gradual way out of this crisis. Among the values shared by all Russians, the family retains a place of huge significance. According to many surveys, most Russian citizens invariably cite “family” among their top priorities in life. The national conversation about the 2020 changes to the Constitution of the Russian Federation also illustrated that protecting the family remains pivotal for Russian society. This difficult path towards the revival of traditional Russian family values is reflected in the historical development of the protections offered to the family by the Russian Constitution. Demographic problems (2019-2020 saw a slight decrease in Russia’s population; 1996-2009 also saw a downward trend in this regard) also keep issues of family and birth rate in the attention of policymakers and citizens alike. Still, when it comes to the family, official Russian policy remains conflicted—an amalgam of family values traditional to its peoples; and various (and oftentimes incompatible) worldviews, ideologies, and approaches both historical and modern. The constitutional law of the Russian Federation reflects some of this confusion. While past decades saw Russia making serious headway toward better constitutional protection for the family, the journey is by no means complete. Russia still has much to do. The Family in Soviet Constitutions Early Soviet family policy was largely anti-family. Although Stalinist Russia experienced a slight move toward strengthening the family, this move was dressed as a transition from its earlier fight against “the bourgeois family” toward protecting and supporting “the socialistic family.” And while such a policy cannot, of course, be termed fully pro
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