No Comment — March 17, 2011, 8:47 am

A Culture of Legal Nihilism

Last year, two Russian oligarchs, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, both nearing the end of lengthy jail terms on corruption charges, were tried and convicted a second time. Observers of the Russian business scene largely agreed that Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had been engaged in shady business practices. They seemed to have done no worse than many of the nation’s other oligarchs, but Khodorkovsky had done something unforgivable: he had sharply criticized Putin and mounted a political campaign against him. The second trial drew harsh criticism around the world from journalists and political leaders. Secretary of State Clinton leveled an unusually harsh charge at the Russian government over the trial, saying it raised “serious questions about selective prosecution—and about the rule of law being overshadowed by political considerations.”

Last month, Russia’s legal community was rocked by a dramatic disclosure when an aide to the judge who presided over the Khodorkovsky-Lebedev trial disclosed in an interview with Gazeta.ru that the judge had been forced to issue a judgment that was not his own:

When you have these sorts of political cases, these things where someone has given an order, they are targeted in advance toward a specific result. And if you refuse that means you’re out of your court. And that’s that. I can tell you that the entire judicial community understands very well that this case has been ordered, that this trial has been ordered.

In an interview with Russian television’s Channel One, the judge involved quickly denied his assistant’s accusations. But the accusations are being widely accepted. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev:

I fully trust her [the judge’s aide]. People can’t stand it anymore – she saw what was happening with her own eyes. This fact should make up a subject of investigation. There’s no weaseling your way out when you find yourselves in a situation like that. The most assured road to salvation is to tell everything the way it really was.

When lawyer Dmitri Medvedev stood as the establishment’s candidate for the Russian presidency in 2008, he presented a well-honed and passionate critique of the struggle for the rule of law in his homeland. Russia had a “culture of legal nihilism that in its cynicism has no equal anywhere on the European continent,” he said. “We need to understand clearly: if we want to become a civilized state, first of all we need to become a lawful one.” He spelled out what this meant in considerable detail, starting with an overhaul of legal education, better guarantees for the independence of judges, and a more powerful media. Even many of those who had their reservations about Medvedev were taken by this particular criticism and the apparent earnestness with which it was delivered. Now Russia is presented with the most vivid demonstration of its culture of legal nihilism to appear in recent memory, and it happened on President Medvedev’s watch and serving his ostensible interests.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2016

Mad Magazines

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Killer Bunny in the Sky

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bird in a Cage

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hidden Rivers of Brooklyn

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Save Our Public Universities

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Rogue Agency

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Save Our Public Universities·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Whether and how we educate people is still a direct reflection of the degree of freedom we expect them to have, or want them to have.”
Photograph (crop) by Thomas Allen
Article
New Movies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Force Awakens criticizes American imperialism while also celebrating the revolutionary spirit that founded this country. When the movie needs to bridge the two points of view, it shifts to aerial combat, a default setting that mirrors the war on terror all too well.”
Still © Lucasfilm
Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.

Number of people who attended the World Grits Festival, held in St. George, South Carolina, last spring:

60,000

The brown bears of Greece continued chewing through telephone poles.

In Peru, a 51-year-old activist became the first former sex worker to run for the national legislature. “I’m going to put order,” she said, “in that big brothel which is Congress.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today