Monday, September 23, 2019

Restoring a Legal Culture in Russia Requires Restitution, Savvin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 19 – The Soviet system destroyed the legal consciousness of the Russian people, creating the unfortunate situation that continues to this day. But it will be impossible to create a successful society without its restoration, and that task will be impossible without restitution, Dimitry Savvin says.

            Lenin was quite open about his plans to destroy the culture of law that had existed at the end of the imperial period, the editor of the conservative Riga-based Harbin portal says.  The dictatorship of the proletariat, the Bolshevik leader insisted, was a power now restricted by any laws (

            The proletariat and the party that acted in its name could thus do whatever its power allowed it to do, an approach too rule that meant no one in Soviet times took seriously “the rights and freedoms guaranteed by all Soviet constitutions.” Those were decorations; the real power was in the informal instructions that the party gave out and acted upon.

            “As a result, among the multitude of traumas inherited by the present-day residents of the Russian Federation and other neo-Soviet states from the era of classical communism one can point to the practically complete lack of legal consciousness,” not only among the ruled but among the rulers as well.

            Many of the conflicts Moscow has now with the rest of the world, Savvin continues, arise precisely because “the ruling stratum of the Russian Federation does not give any important to legal agreements and procedures and instead tries to solve all issues ‘by understandings” rather than legal principles.

            Such “’understandings’ being the simplest and most primitive form of customary law which arose in the criminal milieu have easily penetrated into all strata of society and filed the legal vacuum that had been formed there” by Soviet policies. Indeed, Russians today “often do not know the most elementary things: what is a constitution or the division of powers?”

            At one level, this ignorance doesn’t get in their way because they “live not by laws … but ‘by understandings.” But “such a system, completely suitable for an underdeveloped tribal community is completely unsuitable for a more advanced social system” which needs laws and legal culture to function.

            To change this will not be easy, Savvin suggests, but “the first goal must be the reverse the Leninist paradigm” and ensure that power does not give anyone the right to do something but that law gives that power. Society must come to recognize that law is not some paper, that law is a power independent of circumstances.

            That requires, the Russian conservative writer says, “the restoration of political succession from historical Russian statehood” and “the return of illegally taken property, that is, restitution.”  Indeed, Savvin insists, “the latter in practice may turn out to be even more important” than lustration or anything else – and it thus must be discussed.

            Many will respond that restitution in Russia, however valuable it might be, would be impossible to carry out. It has been hard enough in Eastern Europe where communist power existed for a much shorter period.  And it would be “a hundred times” harder in Russia. But even if that is the case, that argument doesn’t vitiate its importance.

            If it can’t be carried out “in the classical way” of directly returning property to those from whom it was taken or their descendants, Savvin continues, there is an alternative: compensation based on the calculation of the value of what as taken and a payment to the heirs in one form or another by the state.

            That has sometimes been used in the case of the Moscow Patriarchate, he points out; it needs to be extended to society as a whole. Russians need to see that that which was stolen from them will be returned because that is what law requires even if “’understandings’” suggest there is no such requirement.

            Obviously, all this must be discussed, Savvin says; but restitution if carried out will “immediately be able to solve three problems: first, it will demonstrate to Russian society that “Law is not a fiction but a real force which remains so” over time and regardless of changes in politics or society.

            Second, such restitution will create “a firm foundation for the formation of a new national middle class.” And third, it will even be the basis for privatizing “monstrous” state corporations like Russian Railways and Gazprom, structures that show their ineffectiveness on a daily basis and that must be broken apart to be transformed.

            “Everyone who really wants to see Russia a free and legal state must today engage in a conversation not about whether restitution or lustration are needed or not but rather about how they can most effectively be realized,” the conservative Russian thinker says. If that doesn’t happen, “we will remain in the framework of a neo-Soviet system.”

            Such a fate means, Savvin concludes, that “after a temporary liberalization in the form of Perestroika 2.0, there will come a time of Putin 2.0” once again.

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