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Perestroika and the Procuracy: The Changing Role of the Prosecutor's Office in the Former USSR

NCJ Number
G B Smith
Date Published
15 pages
In the political, social, and economic turmoil that characterizes the former Soviet Union, the prosecutor's office faces dramatic challenges as it tries to adjust to a new order and a society under pressure to base its criminal justice system on the rule of law recognized by the West.
The policies of glasnost, perestroika, and democratization have posed a serious challenge to the role of the Procuracy; following the attempted August 1991 coup, the very existence of this premier institution of the Soviet legal establishment has been threatened. Founded in 1722, the role of the Procuracy has changed dramatically under Bolshevik rule, the regime of Josef Stalin, and the era of legal reform following Stalin. From 1955 to 1968, the office was primarily concerned with individual citizens' grievances, but in 1969, the emphasis shifted to the protection of the State's economic interests. The Procuracy was late in responding to the reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev. By the time the central government placed a heavy emphasis on developing the "rule of law State," the Procuracy was widely perceived as an organ of State coercion and was the target of public mistrust. The events of the coup, particularly the devolution of authority to the republics, threaten to redefine drastically the role and functions of the Russian Procuracy, probably by limiting the office to criminal prosecutions in court.