I am glad to announce that the AALS Committee on Special Programs selected my proposal as a “Hot Topics” panel for the 2012 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. next month. The program is called: “The Dictatorship of Law: The Khodorkovsky Case, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law in Russia.” William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, will chair a panel that includes Kim Lane Scheppele (the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton), Bruce Bean (Michigan State University), Christopher Bruner (Washington and Lee University), Alexei Trochev (Nazarbayev University) and me. The program will begin at 10:30 on Friday morning, January 6.
Below is a description of the panel, which will occur (as perhaps a “hot topic” should) between two central events on the Russian calendar: the surprising results of yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Russia and presidential elections scheduled for March 4 that (at least until yesterday) everyone was saying would be certain to return now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the presidency currently held by his protégé, Dmitrii Medvedev.
During his first campaign for President of Russia in February 2000, Vladimir Putin defined democracy as a “dictatorship of law.” This was meant to signal a shift away from the perceived lawlessness of his immediate predecessor’s governance, and to feed the nostalgia for Soviet-era stability. As Putin starts his gambit to return to the Russian presidency, this panel examines which half of that slogan will dominate the other. Recent developments in the most well-known case in the courts of both Russia and the Council of Europe present an opportunity to do so at a pivotal moment not only in that case but for the future of the rule of law in Russia.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the CEO of the Yukos Oil Company and the richest man in Russia when in 2003 he and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were arrested and charged with crimes connected to Yukos, Russia’s most profitable and well-known private corporation. They were convicted of fraud, causing property damage by deceit or breach of trust, and tax evasion and sentenced to eight years in prison. Yukos was seized and sold to state-controlled companies. In December 2010, as their sentences drew to a close, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were convicted by another court of embezzlement and money-laundering, charges arising out of the same time period and concerning the same corporate activities that were the basis for the first conviction. On the eve of that verdict, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin informed a nationwide television audience that “a thief should sit in jail,” a reference to a well-known Soviet mini-series that would have been quite familiar to viewers (the quote continues: “… and people don’t care how I put him away.”). In midsummer 2011, a Russian court upheld the verdict, extending the defendants’ sentences until 2016.
A bit more on the tension this case embodies for Russian law and human rights after the break …