Given the near-ubiquity of Ukraine and Russia, along with the attendant complicated history and politics that run deep between them, in the news over the past weeks and months, it would seem that it would be a good time to do a brief blog post on available resources for legal research former Soviet CIS (Commenwealth of Independent States) states.
The ongoing Russian invasion of Crimea almost seems to read like a fact pattern for an international law or international relations exam. Multiple violated treaties, violations of international conventions, trumped-up justifications for invasion and so on – not to mention the Cold War and Great Game rhetoric and power struggles that just won’t seem to die. Which, of course, means that it is a fascinating situation to watch unfold, as the Guardian’s daily live updates of the situation have proven. Thankfully, the human cost has, at the time of this writing, been mercifully modest. On a personal note, my wife grew up in Crimea and my in-laws still reside there, so it is something that has struck a resonant chord – not to mention tremendous nervousness.
As the Ukrainian crisis has amply demonstrated, the rule of law – along with the accompanying legal frameworks – is hardly robust in many parts of the former Soviet Union. This makes legal research problematic, as the law does not necessarily represent the way the legal system actually works – “dualism” is a long-standing tradition in Russian law.
Our hard copy collection of materials on this area is modest, although we do have a handful. The leading English-language scholar of Russian and former Soviet law is William Butler, from whom we have quite a few texts that he either wrote or translated. Two that are particularly notable right now are International Law: A Russian Introduction and a largely Russian text on comparative law, Foundations of Comparative Law, which includes an essay entitled “Place of Ukraine on the legal map of the world”. Another author whose work is worth consulting is Igor Kavass, whose bibliographies of Soviet and early post-Soviet Russian law are exhaustive.
The usual suspects in terms of databases and eResources are also a rich source of secondary material, and there are also some specialized resources that are useful as well. HeinOnline’s World Constitutions Illustrated is an excellent source of, as the name suggests, world constitutions, both current and historical. There are also selected articles, commentaries, and bibliographies. The turmoil of Russia’s 20th century history is highlighted by the list of constitutions in 1917, 1918 (twice), 1923/24, 1925, 1936, 1937, 1947, 1977, 1978, and 1993.
Another fantastic resource is the Foreign Law Guide, which is a regularly updated source of both primary and secondary information on foreign legal systems. There is often legal history, commentary, and a selection of the best sources on myriad areas of the law in many countries. Not everything is readily available, but where possible they will link to online resources.
As always, if you are stuck or looking for places to start, you can come by and speak with a librarian. We’re here to help!