Russia: In Quest for a European Identity

Senior Researcher Aaron Matta from the Hague Institute for Global Justice, together with Armen Mazmanyan, Director of the Apella Institute in Yerevan, contributed a chapter to the volume “Criticism of the European Court of Human Rights: Shifting the Convention System:  Counter-Dynamics at the National and EU Level” edited by Patricia Popelier, Koen Lemmens and Sarah Lambrecht.

For some time now, the European Court of Human Rights is under substantial pressure. From a case overload crisis it stumbled into a legitimacy crisis with regard to certain countries. This should be taken seriously, since scholars warn that institutions with eroding legitimacy risk demise or reform. The goal of this volume is to explore how widespread this critical attitude of the European Court of Human Rights really is. It also assesses to what extent such criticism is being translated in strategies at the political level or at the judicial level and brings about concrete changes in the dynamics between national and European fundamental rights protection. The book is topical and innovative, as these questions have so far remained largely unexplored, especially cross-nationally. Far from focusing exclusively on those voices that are currently raised so loud, conclusions are based on comparative in-depth reports, covering fifteen Contracting Parties and the EU.

The chapter contributed by Dr. Matta and Dr. Mazmanyan is entitled ‘Russia: In Quest for a European Identity’. In this chapter they argue that for Russia, its accession to the Council of Europe and to ECtHR’s jurisdiction is perhaps more a matter of identity and status than a normative position. This is an important point in our view. Ultimately, whether Russia is driven to stay within the ECtHR jurisdiction from considerations of its geopolitical identity or whether it wants to share the common values and standards with the rest of European community remains to be seen. What appears rather clear at this point is that politics drive this process more than any legalistic practices, be it geopolitics, identity politics or politics of memory. Normativity stays central to this process; the major question to pose here, though, is whose normativity? If so, Russia’s case may well be extraordinary, but it is in no way exceptional as its DNA is nothing else than what the most essential puzzles of the ECHR system is: its embedded conflict between the national and supra-national, local and the universal, and its perpetual quest for reconciling these.

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