A case of crime and punishment

October 13, 1995

The death penalty is on trial in Rostov on Don and novelist Feodor Dostoevsky, who once faced a firing squad, is in the witness box.

The mock trial, complete with black-robed presiding judge, opposing legal teams, clerks and students performing the parts of their characters, is played out before an invited jury and audience in the main hall of Rostov's Law Lycee, a private college which prepares students for university.

Director Konstantin Krakowski, an expert on human rights and lecturer in law at Rostov State University, is a passionate believer in the need to develop a new generation of young Russian lawyers who understand western civil, criminal and commercial legal codes as a foundation for creating a new legal framework.

The basis for this, he says, is a thorough grasp of the concepts of the rule and application of common law and statute in binding together complex democracies where individual rights have to be balanced against social duties.

He is a founder-member of the Network for Democracy - a two-year project established in Rostov by the British-based Citizenship Foundation, which aims to "develop in citizens the capacity for reasoned decision-making" as a tool for social cohesion. The charitable foundation is already active in schools and colleges in Britain and its materials are in use in a number of east European countries.

The Rostov project, which was launched in London last November, is intended to become a model for Russia, where links are already established with the law department of Moscow University, political economists at St Petersburg University and human rights organisations.

In Rostov the network links teacher trainers, academics, judges and others from the judicial system as a means of supporting the development of cultural-specific programmes based on the civics methodology the foundation has found useful in Britain and elsewhere. Through workshops, lectures and role playing, such as the moral and legal dilemmas provoked by an examination of the death penalty, the foundation hopes to stimulate critical debate and questioning of issues.

Mr Krakowski, who runs the Law Lycee with a mixture of city funding and private fees - the 100 students pay 70,000 roubles a month (Pounds 10), with concessions for the less well off - aims to offer a grounding in law at a level between A level and first-year degree.

Russian interpretations of role-playing and flexible teaching or learning methods - exploring what it means to have rights and duties; how living within a law based society creates both opportunities and barriers - can differ widely. Learning to respect the fact that some of the "communitarian" aspects of the old Communist regime might be usefully integrated into the emerging democracy, where perhaps the fiercest free-market individualism yet witnessed is dominant, is a powerful lesson for participants.

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