Civil rights

Civil rights (громадські права; hormadski prava). Liberties granted by a state to its inhabitants that usually are guaranteed by the constitution. Before the Revolution of 1917 civil rights on Ukrainian territories were defined by the legislation of those foreign states that ruled Ukraine. In the Russian Empire civil rights were very limited. In Austria-Hungary after the Revolution of 1848–9 in the Habsburg monarchy, and particularly from 1861, the principal individual and political freedoms were recognized, but the principles of universality and equality were not fully implemented.

The Constitution of the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR), adopted on 29 April 1918, guaranteed the following individual freedoms: inviolability of the person and his/her home (excluding sentenced criminals), privacy of correspondence, and freedom of residency. It also guaranteed the following political rights: the right to direct and indirect participation in elections, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, and the right to strike. All Ukrainian National Republic citizens over 20 years of age, regardless of sex, enjoyed these rights fully, while all residents of the UNR possessed most of these rights. The temporary constitution of the Hetman government preserved in essence the individual and political freedoms, adding to them a guarantee of private property. The government permitted political opposition. Under the Directory of the Ukrainian National Republic the basic civil liberties were secure in spite of the state of war. The same was true in the Western Province of the Ukrainian National Republic.

Civil rights were formally established in the Constitution of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. At first only the ‘toiling elements’ possessed these rights, but after 1936 all citizens did so. The fundamental rights of a citizen included the right to work, leisure, education, and old-age security; inviolability of the person and his/her home; and the political rights of free speech, press, association, and demonstration. However, all these rights, which had been set forth in the 1937 Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR (articles 98–109), usually had only a theoretical and propagandistic value.

The new constitution of the USSR (1977) and of the Ukrainian SSR (1978) dealt with civil rights at greater length and in more detail (part II, ‘The State and the Individual,’ chapters 5–6, articles 31–67, of the Ukrainian constitution). The two constitutions were identical on this subject. Prompted by international declarations and treaties to which the USSR and the Ukrainian SSR were signatories and by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union program of 1961, the framers of the new constitutions added certain rights that had not appeared in the previous constitutions: the right to living quarters, participation in government and community affairs, enjoyment of culture, privacy of correspondence, legal defense, grievances against officials, proposals to and criticism of the government, the raising of a family, freedom of scientific and scholarly research, and artistic creativity. The article on the right to health protection was supplemented. Freedom of conscience was interpreted as freedom of religious worship and was treated on a par with the right to disseminate atheistic propaganda, while excluding the right to engage in religious propaganda (article 50).

Political rights such as freedom of speech, the press, association, and assembly (article 48) were poorly articulated and dismissed with generalities. The enjoyment of civil rights and liberties was subordinated to ‘the higher interests of society and the state, the rights of other citizens ...,’ that is, these rights existed on paper but were not enjoyed in practice.

The new constitution set forth the duties of the citizen as well as his/her rights: the duty to work, to protect socialist property, to defend the interests of the Soviet state, to serve in the armed forces, to promote ‘friendship among nations,’ to inculcate Soviet patriotism in children, and to protect the environment and historical monuments.

The discrepancy between Soviet theory and practice prompted many Soviet citizens, including Ukrainians, to struggle for the full implementation of the civil rights declared in the constitution and in international accords. Although this movement attracted much attention outside the Soviet Union, it did not protect its members from being severely persecuted by the Soviet government. (See Dissident movement.)

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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