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The director of the Sakarov Museum defends a controversial art exhibit as a protest ensues To understand the roll of the state in art, one must, at least on some level, understand the legislation of the state. 

We have included below a translated excerpt from the "Foundation Legislation of the Russian Federation Concerning Culture," which reads like a sort of Cultural Bill of Rights. However, it's differences from the American Bill of Rights could not be more pronounced. The bill is written to be weak, so that practically any other law can supersede the rights it espouses. The document can only be considered a diplomatic piece of legislation meant to provide a sort of ideal philosophy that institutions like the Ministry of Culture (whom this document most affects) should espouse. 

Despite its weakness, however, the bill's existence is interesting and it is therefore provided for students who might be interested in using it to develop thoughts or papers about Russia and for teachers interested in starting discussions about Russia in their classrooms. 

A few questions the bill might raise for students (those not extraordinarily well versed in language, law, etc) are listed below.  After them, the translated document is attached. 

1.  Linguistics.  Legalese is always a little strange to a layman, but the document does demonstrate how Russian often prefers what would seem to English speakers as longer, more cumbersome forms.  Take for example the repeated use of the phrase "results of cultural activity" (результаты творческой деятельности).  Many English speakers would ask why the document couldn't just say "art" (искусство) as the longer variant in English is really no more precise since "cultural" and even "activity" can be just as hard to define as "art."

A related phenomenon is that English documents, translated from Russian, tend to be 10-30% shorter than their originals.  A more general question to ask would be: "Can this tendency towards what seems to be linguistic 'bulkiness' tell us something about the 'Russian mentality?'"

2.  Art.  At least one historical reason for why this bill was drafted is obvious: it rejects the censorship that Russia lived under throughout tsarist and soviet times.  However, given that document's weakness, what can we say about the current political status of artists?  To see how questions of art (in theatre) were handled during Soviet times, see this article

Does your country do enough to protect the cultural rights of its people?  Should, for example, America adopt a Cultural Bill of Rights?  Why or why not?

Looking at the linguistic section above – what can this document and the linguistic phenomena of Russian tell us about how Russians might express themselves in art? 

3.  Politics and Law.  Most of this bill sounds good in theory.  For example, Article 13 states that all people have a right to a humanities education, regardless of age.  However, it does not guarantee it for free, nor does other legislation.  The Russian Constitution already guarantees the educational rights of individuals, so why would Article 13 need to be written?

Most articles end with the stipulation "as allowed by the laws of the Russian Federation."  This means that, at any time, these rights can be superseded by other legislation.  For example, Article 14 guarantees "property rights in the field of culture."  Presumably, this must mean that private people have the right to own cultural artifacts.  However, the founding documents of a subsection of the Ministry of Culture, the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography, specifically give it the right to "transfer to itself" any property it deems to be of cultural value and says nothing of just compensation.  Is this eminent domain of the agency in direct conflict with the right stated here? How do you think this law could be argued in a Russian court of law?

Many Chechens do not believe they have cultural autonomyMost interesting, however, is likely the last section which is supposed to guarantee the cultural rights, including the right to cultural autonomy, of the various peoples living within the Russian Federation.  Why do you think people who support Chechen independence do not point to this document more?  What other weakness and infractions of this document can you point to? 

Translation notes:  an exact translation has not always been sought, but rather one which provides the clearest understanding of what is meant.  The original document can be found in whole, in Russian at .

Translation, with glosses, provided by the School of Russian and Asian Studies -
Questions or comments about this article?  Contact the author.

Foundation Legislation of the Russian Federation Concerning Culture
Passed: 1992; Amended 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.


II. The Rights and Freedoms of Individuals in the Field of Culture

Article 8. The Inalienability of the Right of Every Person to Cultural Activity

In the Russian Federation, cultural activity is the inalienable right of each citizen, irrespective of national or social origin, language, sex, residence, property status, education, profession, or political, religious, or other beliefs, or other circumstances.

Article 9. Human Rights are Given Precedence over the Rights of the State, Organizations, and Groups

Human rights in the field of cultural activity are given priority over the rights of the state and its structures, public and national movements, political parties, ethnic communities, professed ethnic groups, religious organizations, and professional and other associations. 

Article 10. The Right to Creative Activity

Each person has the right to all kinds of creative activity in conformity with his/her interests and abilities.

These human rights to creative activity apply to both professionals and nonprofessionals in the field.  

Professional and nonprofessional creative workers have the right to intellectual property, to protect trade secrets, to enjoy the results of their work, and to state support both in the fields of copyright and rights related to it. 

Article 11. The Right to Personal Cultural Originality

Each person has the right to a free choice of moral, aesthetic, and other values, with the protection of the state to cultural originality.

Article 12. The Right to Access Cultural Values

Each person has the right to access cultural values in state libraries, museums, archival funds, and in other collections in all areas of cultural activity. Restrictions on this right in accordance with the rights of privacy or special methods of handling (note: probably referring to cultural artifacts too delicate to handle) are established by the legislation of the Russian Federation.

All persons under eighteen years of age have the right to visit museums free-of-charge once a month.

Article 13. The Right to be Educated in the Humanities and Arts

Each person, regardless of age, has the right to an education in the humanities and arts, according to the legislation of the Russian Federation on education.

Article 14. Property Rights in the Field of Culture

Each person has property rights in the field of culture. These property rights extend to all items of historical and cultural value, to collections, to buildings and constructions, as well as the organizations, establishments, undertakings and other items.

The purchase and conditions for possessing and using property in the field of culture shall be regulated by the legislation of the Russian Federation.

Article 15. The Right to Create Organizations, Establishments, and Projects in the Field of Culture

Citizens have the right to create organizations, establishments, and projects for the manufacture, duplication, and distribution of cultural values as allowed by the legislation of the Russian Federation.

Article 16. The Right to Create Public Associations in the Field of Culture

Citizens have the right to create associations, creative unions, guilds or other cultural associations as allowed by the legislation on public associations.  (Note: A public association in Russia is a registered legal entity.  The "organizations, establishments and projects" described in Article 15 may exist independently of the government without registration, but do not have the same rights as registered entities to hold bank accounts, accept donations, etc.)

Article 17. The Right to Take the Results of Creative Activity Abroad

Citizens have the right to take the results of creative activity abroad with the purpose of exhibiting or selling it as allowed by the legislation of the Russian Federation.

Article 18. The Right to Cultural Activity in Foreign Countries

Citizens of the Russian Federation have the right to carry out cultural activity in foreign countries, to create cultural organizations on the territory of other states so long as it does not contradict the legislation of these states.

Article 19. The Rights of Foreign Citizens and Persons Without Citizenship in the Field of Culture

Foreign citizens and persons without citizenship have the same rights as the citizens of the Russian Federation in the sphere of cultural activity. Special conditions for the cultural activity of foreign citizens and persons without citizenship within the Russian Federation shall be established only by federal law.

The Rights and Freedoms of People of Various Ethnic Communities in the Field of Culture

Article 20. The Right to Preserve and Develop The Unique Cultural-National Identities of Peoples and Various Ethnic Communities

The peoples and various ethnicities of the Russian Federation have the right to preserve and develop their unique cultural-national identities, and to protect, restore, and preserve their ancient cultural-historical homes.

Policies on preserving, creating, and disseminating the cultural values of the indigenous nationalities, whose names are given to the national-state formations, shall not damage the cultures of other peoples and ethnic communities living on the given territories.

Article 21. The Right to Cultural-National Autonomy

The Russian Federation guarantees the right all ethnic communities, compactly living outside of nation-state formations or not having statehood, to cultural-national autonomy.

Cultural-national autonomy means that specified ethnic communities have the right to freely realize their cultural originality by creating, on the basis of the will of the population, or under the initiative of individual citizens of the national cultural centers, national societies and friendly associations. (Note: "Friendly associations" - in Russian "землячества" - are essentially organizations, often of people of different nationalities, formed to encourage goodwill in a community).

The national cultural centers, national societies, and friendly associations have the right:

To develop and present plans to preserve and develop their national culture to the government and regional authorities;

To arrange festivals, exhibitions and other similar actions;

To promote the study of local folklore, to protect their national, historical, and cultural monuments, and to create ethnographic and other museums;

To create national clubs, studios and collections of art, to organize libraries, organizations and workshops for studying their national language, and to create national, regional, and other associations.

The national cultural centers, national societies, and friendly associations, and also national and regional associations of these centers, societies and friendly associations shall have the rights of legal persons and shall be registered in conformity with that status.  (Note: this means that the centers must apply for and be entered to the state registry of associations in order to have the right to exist.)

The rights to realizing cultural-national autonomy by one ethnic community shall not damage those of another national community. 

Article 22. State Protection for Cultures of Small Ethnic Communities

The Russian Federation guarantees protection for small ethnic communities within the Russian Federation in preserving and restoring their cultural-national uniqueness by means of special protective measure and by special social and economic programs stimulating social, economic, ecological, national, and cultural development.

Article 23. Cultural-National Organizations of Russians outside the Russian Federation

The Russian Federation carries out moral, organizational, and material support for cultural-national centers, national societies, friendly associations, associations, educational, and other organizations of Russians outside the Russian Federation, and takes measures to conclude interstate agreements in this area.

Article 24. The Cultural-National Organizations of Other States in the Russian Federation

The Russian Federation, on the basis of interstate agreements, defines the conditions of support by foreign countries of the cultural-national centers, national societies, friendly associations, associations, educational and other organizations of culture of those nationalities living in the Russian Federation, and guarantees legal protection to specified organizations. 


Questions or comments about this article?  Contact the author.

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