Alexander Yakovlev helps ease
In the two years since he was last in residence at the law school, Alexander
Yakovlev has been helping to shape the future of his native Russia. As the
representative of Russian President Boris Yeltsin to the Federal Assembly,
Yakovlev found himself playing a major role in helping ease political tensions
within the newly formed government.
tensions in Russian government
"It was a very good two years in the official position, but I had a
good feeling twice: when I began and when I ended and returned to the academy,"
said Yakovlev with a smile. According to Thomas Remington of the political
science department, Yakovlev was responsible for easing much of the fierce
political confrontation that had led to the shelling of Russia's parliament
in October 1993.
One of Yakovlev's first tasks as Yeltsin's representative was to organize
a joint reconciliation committee to discuss establishment of a constitutional
court. Since political opponents were deadlocked over the issue, it fell
to Yakovlev to propose a solution: he called for representatives of both
sides to sit down together and discuss the issue face-to-face, then vote.
"It was so simple that no one was able to say anything against the
idea," said Yakovlev. "They were pressed to put aside their prejudices
and their sometimes very strong emotions." Eventually, the law establishing
Russia's constitutional court was passed by a two-thirds majority of the
Federal Assembly. "The constitutional court is already working, serving
as a kind of 'checks-and-balances' mechanism," Yakovlev said.
Yakovlev's open, direct approach to problem-solving seems integral to both
his personal and professional philosophies. "It's a very old but very
essential sociological truth: the broader the dissemination of information,
the fewer prejudices [and] one-sided decisions and [the] greater possibility
for cooperation. Information is the basis for cooperation."
As an example, Yakovlev cited Yeltsin's successful formation of a consolidated
body, consisting of the speakers from the upper and lower chambers of the
federal assembly and Yeltsin's own representative, which was established
to discuss possible new legislation. Cooperation between legislative and
executive branches is essential for Russia's future, said Yakovlev. "Without
separation of powers, no free government is possible, but without cooperation
between separated powers, no political authority can function at all."
While he was completing his high-profile political assignment, Yakovlev's
book on the emergence of Russian constitutionalism was published in English.
Striving for Law in a Lawless Land: Memoirs of a Russian Reformer (1995)
presents the socio-historical factors that shaped legal development in Russia,
including the role of former President Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika and
Yeltsin's efforts to build a law-based Russian state.
Now that Russia has established political freedoms, the country's next challenge
is to provide economic freedom for all its people. "All political freedoms
are now a reality for the first time in 2,000 years of Russian history,"
Yakovlev said. "So we have the basics of democracy, but that is only
a form for the substance of life. You are free, but for what? Real privatization
will be the key goal for the next several years. It means establishment
of the real middle class, the real kernel of democracy, which is now only
beginning to emerge.
"We must have a substantial number of people who are both politically
and economically free," Yakovlev continued. "Economic freedom
means you have property or you are earning enough to have a stake in the
political process. If you are simply without anything to lose or anything
to acquire, it is hard to expect that you will be constructive and active
in political life. We needed political stability for acquiring economic
freedom. What are political freedoms for? They are to guarantee your economic
rights. Freedom without bread sounds rather hollow, but bread without freedom
is only prison."
Yakovlev is teaching two courses this semester, one with Remington on the
politics of constitutional reform in Russia, and a course with Harold Berman,
Woodruff Professor of Law, on the transformation of the Russian state from
the early 19th through the 20th centuries. Yakovlev describes his teaching
approach as one of "integrative jurisprudence, making history a part
of the theory of law," because he believes that "history practically
never dies. It may be forgotten, but it influences people profoundly, perhaps
subconsciously, and expresses itself in their political behavior."
Even in Russia's unprecedented new political situation, said Yakovlev, "it
sometimes seems that political actors are playing a part that was written
long ago." When students look at the situation in Russia today, "they
are listening to the history of Russia. And when they see the analogy between
history and contemporary events, history becomes a living thing."
When he returns to Russia, Yakovlev will continue to serve as a member of
the Institute of State and Law in the Russian Academy of Sciences, but he
also is on the faculty of one of the country's new private law schools,
where the law of supply and demand means better salaries for professors.
He stresses that Russian and American students have much in common: both
are willing to pay good money for a quality education, and student reaction
is "universally positive if you tell them something that is interesting
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