Stalin, Fascists and Freedom

The texts assigned for Friday’s class portray the changing views, which the Soviet Union held towards Germany and other Western nations. While the Hitler-Stalin Pact suggests a mutual understanding between the two leaders (and, by extension, their nations), the later documents paint a far different view of a ‘fascist’ Germany.

In Stalin’s speech in February 1946, he seems to align the Soviet Union with the Western world in a coalition against fascism, and describes the USSR (and other countries involved in the coalition) as freedom-loving. To most Westerners, this would appear contradictory: freedom is only seen in a capitalistic, democratic context, indicating that socialism and communism are inherently freedom-less.

Stalin’s response to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech shows a shift in Stalin’s thinking, as Stalin compares Churchill to Hitler and accuses Churchill of creating an English racial theory, somewhat similar to Hitler’s racial theory. This was a drastic shift, occurring in only a little over a month (Stalin’s response was published in Pravda in March 1946).

In general, these shifts in allies and the definition of ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ don’t seem uncommon for the Soviet Union. The massive arrests during the time period, in addition to the Great Purges within the Communist Party, seem indicative of this trend.

Post-Mongol Law

One point that stood out in post-Mongol law was the emphasis placed on the equality of all men. Unlike the Pravda Russkaia, in which societal rank was deeply important, the Novgorod Judicial Charter specifically articulates that the archbishop is to judge everyone equally, regardless of if they are a boyar or a poor man. Additionally, if a party is guilty of slander, the Grand Prince is to take 10 rubles from the guilty party if he is a poor man, and 50 rubles if he is a rich man. This consideration of a guilty party’s means is not evident in the Pravda Russkaia, in which the same amount is paid for a crime regardless of the guilty party’s economic class. Also, in post-mongol law, the boyars do not appear to be valued more highly than poor men. For example, the societal rank of the victim of a crime does not appear to be taken into consideration when deciding the punishment. If someone robs a boyar’s house, the punishment appears to be the same as the punishment for robbing a poor man’s house.

The phrase, “kiss the cross”, is repeated multiple times in post-mongol law, indicating that the Church has a large influence in legal proceedings. It appears that kissing the cross is a way to ensure that a man speaks the truth and acts honestly in court. Kissing the cross perhaps serves as a reminder that God is present in every court proceeding and it is He who makes the final decision, not the judge alone.

Although “kissing the cross” was mentioned frequently, there was no reference to priests in post-Mongol law. Did priests have any role in court proceedings?

Who served as a judge? Was he connected to the Church at all?

How did the Orthodox Church fit into post-Mongol law?



The Iroslav Statutes

In addition Pravda Russkaia law code, the Iroslav Statutes were also written at approximately the same time period in the 11th century. The Iroslav Statues, however, focus more on offences dealing with social issues, particularly those that involve women in some fashion.  These laws thus help determine how prominent a role in society gender played was well as sexual behavior among men and women, as well as societies social values.

With a vast majority of these statutes dealing with women, a number of conclusion can be drawn about their place in society.  It can immediately be determined that women of no power, i.e. peasants and slaves, were not deemed very valuable to the general populace.  Statute 3 states that in a boyar’s wife is raped, then the offender must pay 5 grivnas.  If the woman is not related to a boyar, then the punishment is only 1 grivna.  This shows how little women were valued, as even a woman of stature had a meager fine of 5 grivnas.  However, statute 4 states that a boyar must pay a massive 300 grivnas for “throwing out his wife” (50).  Comparatively, if a peasant man does the same crime, he must only pay 1 grivna.

Religion also played a sizable role in the creation of these statutes.  The largest statute, by far, is that describing the reasons in which a man may divorce his wife (but not a wife from her husband).  These 6 causes are heavily influenced by Christianity including the wife “goes to the pagan dances either in the day or at night” (53).  Another statute that in driven by religion is statute 48, which states priests, nuns, and monks may not be publicly intoxicated.

There are a number of interesting similarities and differences between the Iroslav Statutes and the Pravda Russkaia.  One similarity is that of the specific mentioning of arson, which carries a rather substantial fine in both documents.  Another similarity is that of the usage of almost exclusively fines for the reparations of the crimes.  Both of these also utilize the grivna currency.  One interesting difference with the fines however, is that the Iroslav explicitly states that a portion of the fine is to be paid to the metropolitan.  This state fine is exclusive to the Iroslav Statutes, as it is not stated whether all, some, or no amount of money is to be paid to the state within the Pravda Russkaia.

Kievan Rus’ & Pravda Russkaia

The Pravda Russkaia, or the law code of Kievan Rus’, has a very interesting and unique mixture of possible offenses and punishments, some of which are logical, while others are not.  For example, Point 9 states that “If someone unsheathes a sword, but does not strike anyone,then he pays 1 grivna.”  This offense is somewhat similar to laws about carrying a weapon with out a permit.  Another example is point 12, which states that “if someone rides on someone else’s horse, not having asked him for permission, then he is to provide three grivnas.”  This law is similar to that of auto theft.  These laws shows that the Kievan Ru’s “state” had some idea of what was right and wrong, even showing similarities to modern statutes.

Additionally to these logical laws, the laws also show signs of a modern judicial system. Some of the crimes explicitly state that a witness must be found if there was one present.  This third party individual would aid in solving the dispute, as well as helping determine if someone is guilty or innocent.

However, some of these laws have penalties that do not fit the crime.  For example, article 7 says that one must pay 3 grivnas for cutting of a man’s finger, but must pay four times that amount for cutting a man’s mustache, which is stated in article 8.  While it is understandable that cutting a man’s beard be an offense in a culture where a beard and/or mustache is sacred, cutting a finger off could potentially kill a man due to infection, as well as severely hinder him and his ability to do labor.  Another odd punishment is that of article one, which states that one must pay 40 grivnas, which is the same exact amount for cutting a man’s arm off, even if it does not kill him.

Overall, Kievan Rus’ code of law is much more  advanced than I originally had thought it would be, despite some odd penalties and punishments for crimes.

Gender in Rus Society

After having compared the  Pravda Russkaia with the Statute of Iaroslav, their treatment towards the subject of gender, women in particular, is not only apparent but different from each other as well. Specifically speaking, although both texts clearly state that women within society are more heavily governed, the methods which each text states are different.

Through out the Statute of Iaroslav the text clearly and consistently focuses on women in terms of sexuality. The text in particular focuses on laws around subjects including marriage, divorce, adultery, and cheating. Yet for the Pravda Russkaia, on the other hand, places more focus towards overall worth.

Furthermore when looking more closely to each document, in terms of  within Rus society, there was a surprisingly limited amount of information focusing on homosexuals. In the Statute of Iaroslav, in particular, the closest mention to any form of homosexual activity is found at the 28th law stating “If two brother engage in intercourse with one woman [they are to pay] the Metropolitan 30 grivnas; and take the woman into convent.” Other than this neither the statute or Pravda Russkaia made any attempt in mentioning the subject of homosexuals, which leads me to wonder if, during this time, the idea of homosexuality was so uncommon to the society that there was no need for laws to be made?

Observations on Rus Society

Having looked at the Правда Русская (Pravda Russkaia) and compared it to Iaroslav’s Statute I think that the change in the documents can tell us a lot about life in early Rus as well as the different roles that men and women played in their society. In my opinion the biggest change between the two legal codes is the shift in importance from material possessions to family as well as sexual values. In the Pravda Russkaia most of the laws are jumbled around with little regard for organization, however the central theme seems to be property and its value; however, in Iaroslav’s statute we can see Christian values starting to emerge as there are many laws pertaining to marriage and adultery in particular. These include rules about when and how people can get divorced as well as several clauses that talk about incest or sexual relations with other non Christians, actions which were both condemned.

Another aspect of this document that I think is important to look at is the role of women in Rus society. Generally when looking through history I expect to find women having very little power as compared to men. However, in Iaroslav’s Statue I saw several things that led me to believe that women held some power in early Rus. One law in particular that comes to mind is…

“if a girl does not wish to marry,[and] then the father and mother give her [in marriage] by force, and if the girl causes [harm] to herself, than the father and mother are guilty before the Metropolitan, and they are to pay the losses. Likewise with a young man [who does not wish to marry].”

Not only does this law seem to protect women from marriages they may not want, it also does something that I think is equally important. In the end of the clause it says that this practice is the same with both males and females who do not wish to marry. This leads me to believe that the people of Rus may have valued female contribution more than other societies of the time.

Lastly I also noticed that there was nothing in this legal code regarding homosexuality. I found it interesting that nothing was said, as this seems to be a very consistent topic in so dubbed “Christian nations”. The absence of this subject leads me to wonder whether or not this issue was important in Rus society or if it was a social taboo that was intentionally not included.