On 25 May 1989, the first legislature worthy of the name met in the Kremlin. Few political events of this century aroused more interest and anticipation than the opening session of the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR. The expectations for the new legislature were not to be realized, however. Within months of its formation, the Congress--and the smaller parliament, or Supreme Soviet, elected from within it--began voluntarily to transfer legislative authority to the executive. Following the abortive coup of August 1991, the Congress of People's Deputies effectively disbanded itself, leaving as its successors a restructured and emasculated parliament as well as a state council, which was a fused executive-legislative institution comprised of the heads of the republics. These institutions were in turn eliminated when the Soviet state collapsed in December 1991. Perhaps the final page in the history of the Soviet legislature was written on 17 March 1992 in a dimly lit state farm outside of Moscow, when a rump of the USSR Congress of People's Deputies met in a futile attempt to revive the institution, and with it the USSR. 1
The impediments to the development of legislative power had been formidable in the final years of the Soviet era. Executive institutions gave up the prerogatives of rule only grudgingly. Legislators themselves remained ambivalent, and sometimes openly hostile, to the rise of powerful representative institutions in a period of mounting social and economic crisis. And the population, initially entranced by the novelty of open parliamentary debate, seemed to tire of the tortuous and arcane procedures of the legislature. 2 Both longstanding political tradition and the policy imperatives of the moment cried out for the firm hand of the executive.
Yet it would be inappropriate to conclude that this legislative experiment failed. As the pages below make clear, the last years of Soviet rule recast executive-legislative relations in the country. The idea and practice of executive