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Misapplication of International Legal Norms in Socially Abnormal Situations


Misapplication of International Legal Norms in Socially Abnormal Situations
2. Current situation
3. 'Civil Society'
4. Equivalent Western challenges
5. Preoccupation with a legal perspective
6. Unrecognized cultural assumptions
7. Ballet for the Bear?
8. Conclusions

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Learnings from a seminar on 'State and Civil Society'
organized by the Council of Europe at the Russian Public Policy Center
Moscow, December 1994

1. Introduction

Russia is geographically the largest country in the world. Culturally it could be said to encompass the greatest range of ethnic and language groups. From a social and political perspective it has undergone the greatest range of traumatic transformations over the past 70 years, whether or not these are seen as a daring social experiment that was less than successful.

Russian social scientists are emphatic in pointing out that the law has traditionally been understood there in ways that are poorly recognized in the West. Even in the 19th century laws were only considered as indications of ideals that could possibly guide subsequent policies and their implementation. It was never recognized that they should necessarily do so as in the West. During the Communist period, many of the laws (including the Constitution) were respectful of principles of democracy and human rights, but no one expected them to be taken literally. Legislation in that context can be better understood as an act of public relations rather than as a commitment to action according to particular principles.