Apr 302014


In this scene from “Vory v Zakone” (1988), the corrupt procurator looks quickly in his law book and then tells the would-be complainant, “Sorry, but unfortunately there is no help here.”  (Or something like that.  I cannot follow the full conversation.)  He’s obviously not a lawyer getting paid by the hour if he can make the determination that quickly, or maybe the Soviet laws were extremely clear and accessible if he could dispose of an issue that quickly.  But what really caught my attention was the book cover.   The title was clearly shown just before the procurator closed the book in a show of sad resignation, thus enabling me to google for it.  SOVIET-LAW-1980-1003251940_1

Here it is: Soviet Law and the Citizen.  You can buy your own set (there are two volumes) at ozon.ru.

One of my first reactions to the movie scene was to ask how people could respect the law if it has a book cover like that? That looks like a high school textbook from the 60s.

Soviet Law and the Citizen

Here is an earlier version of Soviet Law and the Citizen. It’s more dignified, but still…


If you want people to respect the law, it needs to be bound in books like this.  They lend gravitas and a sense of historical weight.

On the other hand, maybe historical weight is exactly what the Soviet government did not want, considering its type of revolutionary history.

I don’t know exactly what kind of effect the publisher of these laws was trying for, but one thing I’d wager is that any symbolism or connotation was intentional.  So much of our own court system is intended to make an impression on the people — the architecture, the spacing and positioning of the courtroom elements, the judicial robes.  It’s fun to look at Soviet movies (as well as photos in news articles about modern Russian court proceedings) and compare the two systems and speculate on what kind of effect each was intended to have on the participants.  Since there are quite a few Russian movies with court scenes, this could be the subject of several blog articles to come.





  • Natan Kumanov

    Soviet movies often give a feeling of lack of seriousness towards науки (the common word for sciences and scholarship), they often wander into штампы (I have no idea what is the English word, I mean common and superficial judgements employed with no criticism, and describing apparence rather than essence). Take the example of «Добряки» and «Большая перемена». Also you say the character is a corrupt officer who wants to pursue his own goal and nothing more. It seems that for Soviet film-makers psychological correctness (there is this common word for it, «психологическая достоверность») must have been a lot more important than respect to науки. So I’d draw no conclusions at all from the fact. The movie does not tell what was the real life; also, the real life does not tell anything about prerequisites for “respecting the law” (I must admit that in fact the law is respected very little by common people in Russia, it’s commonly supposed to be something unstructured, but that big fact has nothing to do with little facts of life or, the more so, with little facts of movies). In the USSR, movies were “about people” rather than “about reality”, that was a part of the cultural tradition stemming well into the 19th century. So the play and interplay of feelings of people, the immediate reception of the movie by the watchers were more important than getting right about facts or theories; sometimes it helped produce great movies, sometimes it makes a very bad impression (those 2 movies are examples for me).