Degradation Of Russian Judicial System Causing Russians To Take Law Into Their Own Hands – OpEd


Most people associate the degradation of the Russian legal system only with outrageous charges and sentences to high-profile defendants, but there is anther aspect that is possibly even more serious, Aleksandr Podrabinek says. It occurs when Russians can’t count on courts to protect them, take things into their own hands, and then are punished.

Two recent cases – a clash between farmers in Rostov over pasture land that led to violence and a soldier in the Transbaikal who in protecting himself from abuse killed eight – call attention to this problem that affects far more Russians than do other kinds of legal degradation, the longtime human rights activist says (

“The civilized path of resolving such disputes,” he continues, is in the courts and the judiciall system more generally. “But who believes” that is possible in Russia?  “In the majority of such cases, a decision by a judge depends on a call from an influential person or on bribe given to the judge for handing down the necessary verdict.”

“Who would turn to such a judge?”

According to Podrabinek, “distrust in the courts and law” almost invariably generates a response which can “led to tragic consequences” as in the 1870s when revolutionary Vera Zasulich shot St. Petersburg mayor Fyodor Trepov because she could not get justice in the city’s courts. 

“With disturbing inevitability, similar situations are being repeated in our time,” the rights activist and commentator says, citing the case of the Primorsky partisans as an example, and pointing out that the failure of the legal system to deliver justice has the effect of leading to ever more occasions that infuriate and thus radicalize the population.

“One act of illegality gives birth to another,” he says. And stopping this “conveyor belt of illegality is very difficult and the longer it functions, the more difficult that becomes.” Russians have concluded that it is hopeless to turn to the courts, and ever more of them are taking justice into their own hands.

In any particular case, “one can argue for a long time whether this is good or bad, but one can’t dispute the obvious fact that when the law is silent, the border between justice and criminality becomes invisible and sometimes disappears altogether.”

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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