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 Tver-A New Generation of Law Students

The road from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Use map to navigate documentary.
301 miles into our journey, we reach the picturesque city of Tver—a provincial hub with exquisitely restored 18th century buildings painted in pastels of green, pink, and blue. There's a good new hotel, and a boulevard named after Radishchev. No wonder, for it was in Tver that Radishchev wrote one of his most impassioned passages—a plea for what he called "the priceless gift of liberty." For Radishchev, the law was "a divinity," which, if impartially and humanistically applied, would guarantee truth and justice.

There's a large university in Tver, and law is now the most popular program. A student-run law clinic offers free consultations.

On this particular morning, an elderly Russian gets advice on how to pursue his pension claims in court. The idea of community service is new—supported by American grants—and the students get invaluable experience.

But Ivan Baranov, one of the law students, suggests that Western influence can also erode Russian ideals.

"In Soviet times," he says, "children should ask that I want to be cosmonaut. But nowadays we hear that we want to be a criminal. Children telling us we want to be a criminal because the criminals are the rich people. The system of values changed. It has really changed because, influence from the West, we got not the best. We got all the bad."

Two hundred years ago, Radishchev wrote that the law was unable or unwilling to protect Russians citizens, forcing them to take it into their own hands. Sergei Vasiliev, a third-year law student, says this remains true now.

"As for police and prosecutors," Vasiliev says, "I can say for sure that people don't respect them, because they think the police and prosecutors only follow the interests of high officials and of the government. And sometimes they think they take bribes."

Professor Ludmilla Mikhailova doesn't have much good to say about the judiciary either. She is enthusiastic about this new generation of law students, but, as long as Soviet-era judges fill the bench, she says, there is little hope for real change, because they are poorly trained, ill-paid, and without any support.

"Judges don't even have enough money to obtain copies of new laws being issued," she says, explaining the gravity of the situation. "There are no stenographers in the courts, just a secretary who takes notes. She can easily miss key details, or what she writes can be completely inaccurate."

Given this resounding condemnation, the obvious question is: Why are so many young people in law school? Unlike Radishchev who eventually committed suicide in despair over Russia's inability to reform, Vasiliev is an optimist.

"I want people to respect the law," he says, "and I think in the future they'll understand the usage of law is necessary in their life, and they can protect their interests only by respecting the law."

The challenge of dragging this country into the 21st century is most poignant in the villages and farms that Alexander Radishchev would immediately recognize.


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