Public Policy and Law in Russia-In Search of a Unified Legal and Political Space: Essays in Honor of Donald D. Barry (Law in Eastern Europe)

By Trochev, Alexei | Demokratizatsiya, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Public Policy and Law in Russia-In Search of a Unified Legal and Political Space: Essays in Honor of Donald D. Barry (Law in Eastern Europe)


Trochev, Alexei, Demokratizatsiya


Public Policy and Law in Russia-In Search of a Unified Legal and Political Space: Essays in Honor of Donald D. Barry (Law in Eastern Europe), ed. Robert Sharlet and Ferdinand J. M. Feldbrugge. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 2005. 332 pp. $162.00 cloth.

Public Policy and Law in Russia makes a compelling case: legislating in Putin's Russia is a difficult bargaining process that is fraught with clashes among various interests that struggle and compromise. Written by law professors, political scientists, and criminologists from North America, Western Europe, and Russia, this volume examines how the law worked and failed to work during Putin's first term in office. By focusing on both high-profile cases and the everyday workings of the legal system, this collection of essays provides a balanced assessment of key legal dynamics in Putin's Russia. Like in many edited volumes, the chapters in this book are discrete, both empirically and methodologically. Editors could have done a better job in linking the chapters, particularly the several chapters dealing with federalist reforms and changes in the criminal procedure. It is difficult to critique all fourteen chapters in a review, so I will focus on the three important themes running through this collection.

The first contribution of Public Policy and Law in Russia focuses on both the domestic and international aspects of restoring legal order in Russia. National-level comparative studies of legal reforms must account for the influence of international pressure and opportunities resulting in a certain institutional arrangement. All postcommunist countries routinely send their draft legislation for approval to international organizations, such as the Council of Europe (CoE). Thus, studying the politics of law at the national level clearly demonstrates the power struggles of central elites and the demands imposed by international bodies. The chapters by Ferdinand Feldbrugge, John Quigley, and Louise Shelley explore this interplay between domestic and international factors in postcommunist constitution making, Russia's war on terror, and the struggle against human trafficking.

What is more valuable is that the authors analyze both the supply of legal institutions at the top (constitutional systems of separation of powers, federalist reforms, new codes of criminal procedure, land reforms, and bills on religious rights and human trafficking) and the demand for law from the bottom (administrative justice, business litigation, reform of the bar at the local level, and local self-governance). Thus, it enables the readers to trace the patterns of the indigenous, "grassroots" demand for law, and the use of law in general. More important, it provides a nuanced picture of the power of law and the limits of law to achieve or block social change in a semidemocratic society. Although some believe that Russian politics is particularly messy, several chapters in this book clearly demonstrate that political actors and individual litigants engage in strategic behavior to enhance their power. This includes federal and regional leaders (chapters by Ger van der Berg, Robert Sharlet, and Gordon Smith), business people (chapter by Kathryn Hendley), lawyers (chapter by Eugene Huskey), law-enforcement officials (chapter by Stanislaw Pomorski), or ordinary Russians when they choose to sue the state (chapter by Peter Solomon) or to govern themselves at the local level (chapter by Nikolai Petro). Taken together, the authors agree that law in Russia does make a difference, both in the upper echelons of power and in the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.

Finally, by focusing on Putin's efforts to rebuild the foundations of Russian statehood, this book speaks to the crucial questions of national unity and effective governance as necessary prerequisites for democratization. To put it simply, democratization is impossible without a broad consensus on the borders of that state and on the nature of the political community within that state.

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