Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Russia, Crime, and the Moral Educative Function of Law

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Russia, Crime, and the Moral Educative Function of Law

Article excerpt

Political leaders, legal scholars, law enforcement officials, and foreign advisors cite the lack of a body of criminal law relevant to the new society as a major factor contributing to the crime problem in the Russian Federation today. Observations of the behavior of average citizens, however, suggest a deeper, more society-wide problem--a lack of support among law-abiding citizens for criminal law and the legal system. Some social scientists have asserted that criminal law is not directed solely toward the criminal or potential criminal, but also performs a moral educative function, sending a message to the law-abiding. The precise message and the significance of this function, however, vary among societies. This article explores the relationship between the moral educative function of criminal law and the law-abiding in post-Soviet Russia.

Imagine living in a city where everyday life is an adventure involving confrontations with, and observations of, minor violations of law and order. Sidewalks are not only for pedestrians, but, as needed, for automobiles and small trucks as well. When the streets have bottlenecks or are inconvenient, sidewalks become roads. When parking is unavailable, sidewalks become parking lots. Drivers not only do not yield to pedestrians, but they run red lights, even when small children are passengers. For the average citizen, being killed by a car driven by another citizen is more likely than being felled by a Mafia bullet. Then again, pedestrians do not yield to traffic. Public transportation--trolleys, buses, and trams--is packed with people; pushing and shoving are commonplace with grandmothers often the worst offenders. While this scenario could depict many urban areas, this situation in Russia suggests that "lack of order" is a social phenomenon in need of explanation.

From September 1994 through January 1995, such was my daily life in Yaroslavl, Russia, a city of 700,000 people established in 1010, approximately 150 miles northeast of Moscow. Living as a participant-observer, I viewed city life through the eyes of a political scientist, a criminologist, and a foreigner. Major Mafia figures, shootouts, or the serious crime problems reported in the U.S. press were not evident. What was apparent in behavior and heard in common conversation was a less-brazen but more widespread lack of, or weakened, respect for law, or perhaps more precisely, an ambivalence toward law. That is not to say that individuals are immoral, amoral, or more likely to commit crimes than individuals in other societies; rather, this is a societal phenomenon involving attitudes toward the institutions of law in the midst of major social upheaval. With the overthrow of the keystone of the society--communism and the Communist Party--all associated institutions are now subjects for scrutiny, challenge, and/or change.

Drawing on the legal socialization literature, research on the Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet crime and criminal law, and a case study of one Russian city, in this article I examine and attempt to explain the relationship between the lawabiding, crime, and criminal law in contemporary Russian society. I have approached the problem not as an area specialist, but more as an anthropologist, trying to understand a seeming common disrespect or at least ambivalence toward law and to avoid my own cultural biases. Although Yaroslavl may not be representative of other Russian cities, recent literature indicates that the behavior observed there is not uncommon.(1) Having posited an explanation for the present situation, I will consider the implications of this relationship for the development of criminal law and criminal justice in the Russian Federation.

Criminal Law, Its Moral Educative Function, and the Law-Abiding: A Theoretical Perspective

Why do law-abiding citizens obey the laws of any society? The answer, as developed in the social science literature, is complex. …

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