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Varieties of legal dualism: making sense of the role of law in contemporary Russia


Hendley, Kathryn (2011). Varieties of legal dualism: making sense of the role of law in contemporary Russia. Wisconsin International Law Journal, 29(2), 233-262.


Dualism is a reality of most legal systems. Few legal systems are able to live up to the letter of the law consistently. During the Soviet era, the dualistic nature of the legal system was particularly evident. While courts enforced the law in mundane cases, judges routinely sidestepped the law when it proved politically inconvenient. In recent decades, the Russian political leadership has adopted rhetoric that endorses the "rule of law," but has proven incapable of weaning itself from dualism. This article explores two different types of dualism. The first type of dualism is grounded in the political manipulation of the courts by the powerful. The second type of dualism is grounded in informal connections that act to give some advantages over others. By listening carefully to how ordinary Russians talk about law, the article argues that these connections or blat have a more profound effect on their behavior than do the occasional case in which powerful actors intervene to dictate the outcome. The analysis suggests that Russians prefer to
resolve their problems informally and that they do not shy away from quasi-legal methods. The simplicity of informal methods is understandably appealing. At a deeper level, Russians' reluctance to engage with the formal legal system is driven by their recognition that Russian officialdom continues to regard law as malleable and capable of being trumped by politics. At the same time, the research reveals that some Russians are willing to challenge officialdom to live up to its legal obligations. Whether such behavior will prove to be quixotic or the beginning of a change in legal culture remains to be seen.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Wisconsin International Law Journal


Hendley, Kathryn