Everyday Law in Russia

Everyday Law in Russia

Kathryn Hendley

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9781501705243

Publisher: Cornell University Press


This book challenges the prevailing common wisdom that Russians cannot rely on their law and that Russian courts are hopelessly politicized and corrupt. While acknowledging the persistence of verdicts dictated by the Kremlin in politically charged cases, the text explores how ordinary Russian citizens experience law. Relying on extensive observational research in Russia's new justice-of-the-peace courts as well as analysis of a series of focus groups, the book documents Russians' complicated attitudes regarding law. It shows that Russian judges pay close attention to the law in mundane disputes, which account for the vast majority of the cases brought to the Russian courts. Any reluctance on the part of ordinary Russian citizens to use the courts is driven primarily by their fear of the time and cost—measured in both financial and emotional terms—of the judicial process. Like their American counterparts, Russians grow more willing to pursue disputes as the social distance between them and their opponents increases; Russians are loath to sue friends and neighbors, but are less reluctant when it comes to strangers or acquaintances. The book concludes that the “rule of law” rubric is ill suited to Russia and other authoritarian polities where law matters most—but not all—of the time.