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Russians May Own Land
President Putin Signs Landownership Bill Passed by Both Houses of Parliament

reprinted from New York Property Rights Clearinghouse, Vol. 5, No. 1 (PRFA, Fall 2001)

Reversing generations of communism, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed into law on October 26 a historic bill that allows Russians to buy, own, and sell land. The law formalizes the right established in the constitution approved by Russian voters in 1993.

The law reverses the ban on private land ownership dating from the Bolsheviks. In Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, the first and most important measure he predicted to become generally acceptable as countries "advanced," was "abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes." In Russia, as everyone knows, this goal was so fully and brutally implemented that a person could not even own a corner fruit stand.

The Communists did not lightly accede to the victory in the lower house of parliament on September 20, when the bill to permit private ownership of land passed 250-137. They held demonstrations both outside and inside the parliament. According a report in the Los
Angeles Times
on September 21, after parliament leaders refused to reconsider the vote, Communist deputies rushed the speaker's podium demanding more debate and a revote, which was denied.

The law applies solely to urban and industrial land, not arable land, but is a watershed event. The law allows Russians to buy and sell individual garden plots, but reflects the reservations that many Russians have about ownership of farm land.

The new law generally treats foreigners and Russians equally, according to the Los Angeles Times. Investors have long complained that the obnoxious ban on land ownership was a barrier to economic development.

The New York Times reported in 1991 that Article 24 of the Declaration of Rights adopted by the Soviet Congress that September declared: "Every person enjoys property rights, including the right to own, use and dispose of property, both individually and jointly with other individuals. Ownership rights are guaranteed by law. The inalienable right to own property guarantees personal individual interests and freedoms."

It was widely reported in the fall of 1993 that even after the tumultuous upheaval of those days and growing wariness of change on the part of Russian people, the "right to own private property" in the new draft constitution stimulated people to look over the document with excitement.

"Against Russia's history of absolute monarchy and totalitarianism, it is the first charter to seriously proclaim the sanctity of human rights and private property," wrote Serge Schmemann in The New York Times in November 1993.

Ahead for Russia are monumental tasks. Perhaps first will be to establish land record offices in each jurisdiction analogous to the thousands of county clerks' offices in the United States where deeds are recorded following to procedures dating back to pre-Colonial English practice.

- Carol W. LaGrasse

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