Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Constitutional Experts in Demand

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Constitutional Experts in Demand

Article excerpt

IN the rapidly changing world order, there's a growing market for something very American: a democratic constitution that works.

Ultimately it will take more than ideas on paper to make a democracy, but those who can explain the concepts behind the United States Constitution - the world's oldest - are in demand in places like the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe.

"There is more constitution-making going on now than perhaps any time since World War II. Suddenly it became a cottage industry. These last two years since the remarkable weeks of the winter of 1989 have taken Americans {legal experts} on the road perhaps without parallel," says A. E. Dick Howard, a University of Virginia law professor who has been an adviser to constitution-making in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.

Legal experts doing this advising describe a process that is at times exhilarating, frustrating, and explosive.

Broad and noble notions of human rights are quickly embraced, but people breathing freely for the first time want to spell out in detail what freedom means, say legal experts. Sometimes that can be more confining - and confusing - than intended.

The 142-article Russian draft constitution, for example, recognizes recreation and paid vacation as "human rights."

And a draft of the Ukrainian constitution allowed that mayors would be democratically elected locally. Then it stated that mayors would be representatives of the president.

As constitutions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are shaping up, each nation is using an amalgam of US and European models as an overlay to the culture of the country doing the drafting.

Hungary's near-total revision of its Constitution has borrowed much from the German transition from dictatorship to democracy, explains Peter Paczolay, chief counselor of Hungary's constitutional court who is studying the principles of judicial review here as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. …

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