Theses Doctoral

Laws in Conflict: Legacies of War and Legal Pluralism in Chechnya

Lazarev, Egor

This dissertation explores how the social and political consequences of armed conflict affect legal pluralism; specifically, the coexistence of Russian state law, Sharia, and customary law in Chechnya. The study draws on qualitative and quantitative data gathered during seven months of fieldwork in Chechnya. The data include over one hundred semistructured interviews with legal authorities and religious and traditional leaders; an original survey of the population; and a novel dataset of all civil and criminal cases heard in state courts.
First, the dissertation argues that armed conflict disrupted traditional social hierarchies in Chechnya, which paved the way for state penetration into Chechen society. The conflict particularly disrupted gender hierarchies. As a result of the highly gendered nature of the conflict, women in Chechnya became breadwinners in their families and gained experience in serving important social roles, most notably as interlocutors between communities and different armed groups. This change in women’s bargaining power within households and increase in their social status came into conflict with the patriarchal social order, which was based on men’s rigid interpretations of religious and customary norms. In response, women started utilizing the state legal system, a system that at least formally acknowledges gender equality, in contrast to customary law and Sharia. State law is corrupt, inefficient, slow, and its use is associated with community and family ostracism. Nevertheless, this dissertation shows that many Chechen women use and support state law.
Second, the dissertation establishes that the political context of the conflict moderates the effect of war on legal pluralism. The penetration of state law through disruption of social hierarchies is driven by the Second Chechen War (1999-2009). In contrast, communities that were exposed to violence during the First Chechen War (1994-1996) ultimately rejected Russian state law and rely predominantly on Sharia and customary law. In these communities, the structural effects of disrupted hierarchies were overpowered by alienation from the Russian state. The study explains this discrepancy by showing how communities victimized during the First War developed strong collective identities that filtered blame for the war.
Third, the dissertation shows that war-induced female empowerment in Chechnya faced a strong backlash from the Chechen government. The most notorious manifestations of the neotraditionalist policies of the Chechen government are the semiformal introduction of polygamy, support for the practice of honor killings, and a restrictive female dress code. Furthermore, the officials in charge of state law actively disrupt its functioning in gendered cases. The study finds that state officials in Chechnya are less supportive of state law than the average Chechen. This is the result of the incorporation of former rebels into the government, which is a structural legacy of the conflict. In addition, the dissertation argues that the Chechen regional government promotes legal pluralism and undermines state law strategically, as part of its coalition-building effort. The government allows men to keep control over their families, relying on custom and religion in exchange for their political loyalty.
Finally, the dissertation suggests that government promotion of legal pluralism is a political strategy that has several objectives: (1) it allows the government to borrow legitimacy from tradition and religion, which both have large appeal among the Chechen population; (2) it increases the government’s discretion and allows it to cherry-pick norms across alternative orders while avoiding regulations embedded in them; and (3) it gives the regional government additional leverage vis-à-vis the federal center by signaling to the Kremlin that it cannot rule Chechnya directly and that its local intermediaries are indispensable. Overall, the dissertation shows that legal pluralism is not just a reflection of ‘political culture’ or ‘weak state capacity,’ but rather is an inherently political phenomenon, an arena for the pursuit of interests by the government and individuals alike.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Frye, Timothy
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 2, 2018