Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law

(2000) JLP 45: 71-76


Folk Law in the System of Power of Central Asian States and the Legal Status of the Russian-Speaking Population


Olga Brusina




Over centuries the folk laws of central Asian peoples appeared extremely stable because of their combination of flexibility and inner conservatism. Under Tsarist rule in Turkistan the Slavonic settlers lived separately from the native population, each group having its own independent structures of local administration. Under Soviet rule, despite the official propaganda of internationalism, ethnic communities retained their autonomy.


The destruction of the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union was accompanied by a wave of ethno-nationalist sentiment, and social life in the new states of Central Asia has been built upon revived and modernized forms of customary laws and traditional social relations. The circumstances of civil war, and the weakening of the state and its economy have led to the revival of traditional community-clan institutions, to which people turn for survival. Some official functions have been transferred to folk-law institutions. The ruling structures of the state are based on the appointment of leaders on the grounds of clan affiliation. Although the Constitutions and statutes of the states of Central Asia declare democratic principles, in practice and by popular consent social life is constructed on the basis of traditional patterns and modernization of tradition. Outside observers and Russian residents, members of the Russian diaspora, are often not aware of these realities, and are generally excluded from traditional institutions and the modern institutions which are tacitly structured on these traditional bases.