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The Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire: the Phenomenon of Autocratic Legality

This article is devoted to the Digest of the Laws of the Russian Empire – an embodiment of the operative legal system in late imperial Russia. Even though the Digest contained the law in force, and thus should be studied as a crucial source on Russian (legal) history, its meaning has been often overlooked. The reason for that is a remarkable difference between the original texts of laws adopted by the legislator, and their published form in the Digest. This difference came from the necessary editing procedures when every new piece of legislation was included in the existing system of the Digest. This strange feature of legal procedure when two different versions of a particular law – the original one and the one codified in the Digest – both remained in force should be considered as a part of official autocratic legality in late imperial Russia. Even though it may seem inefficient and irrational, the practice of obligatory codification of laws in the Digest existed for a rather long time – from 1835 until 1917. My research aims to find possible explanations for the Digest’s prolonged existence in the context of political and legal culture of late imperial Russia. What did Russian ‘official legality’ actually mean on the levels of theory and action?