A Comparative Perspective on the Concept of Ownership in Russian Law: From the Svod Zakonov to the 1994 Civil Code

Murray RAFF, Anna Taitslin

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The modern European unitary conception of ownership emerged from the dissolution of feudalism and achievement of a deeper understanding of Roman law to become an ideal of property law in the European Civil-Law tradition. Prior to its dissolution European feudalism represented hierarchies of legal tenure in land, such as the division of land ownership between dominus directus (direct owner) and dominus utilis (beneficial owner) and overlapping hierarchies of social class descending from monarchy and aristocracy to bonded serfdom. Support for the resolution of divided land ownership and victory for the unitary concept of ownership was found in the Roman law tradition. The dissolution of feudal hierarchies took different historical courses in the legal traditions that we now identify as the French, German, Common-Law and Russian legal systems and with great local variation even within those emergent traditions. The unitary concept of ownership is found today in the French and German Civil Codes and is for practical purposes reflected in the prevalence of the common-law tenure of freehold. In Russia the systemized digest of the laws of the Russian Empire, the Svod Zakonov of 1832, provided no civil-law notion of divided ownership or perpetual rights. In the Soviet era exclusive state ownership of land and the means of production was also viewed as unitary, which raised serious questions about how state agencies and enterprises could engage in transactions with their assets and products. Venediktov's celebrated doctrine of the right of operative management, codified in the Civil Code of the rsfr of 1964, provided legal recognition of de facto proprietary rights for state enterprises. This introduced a form of divided ownership 'on the ground' despite the dogma of unitary state ownership. This reality further manifested itself in widespread division of ownership between land and buildings. The Civil Code of the Russian Federation of 1994 retained and even extended some of these solutions that relied on split or divided ownership. This might have been a pragmatic way forward in the early 1990s, however twenty years later the demands of a modern sophisticated legal system require a policy trajectory back toward a modern European unitary conception of ownership. The Russian Civil Code thus should be extended in this direction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-341
Number of pages79
JournalReview of Central and East European Law
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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