The Law on Land, adopted on November 12 by the Saratov Oblast Duma, entered into force yesterday, the Monitor’s correspondent in the region reports. The law expressly permits, for the first time in Russian history, the free purchase and sale of land, including agricultural land.
The law, which gives substance to the constitutionally guaranteed right to land ownership, has been adopted in defiance of Russia’s Communist-dominated State Duma. President Yeltsin is determined that land liberalization will be his legacy for posterity, but the Duma has repeatedly opposed the efforts of his government to create a market in farmland. At the end of June, the Federation Council rejected a draft land code outlawing the sale of agricultural land which the Duma had passed in the first reading. The Duma mustered a large enough majority to override the upper house and went on to adopt the code in the second and third readings; in September, the Duma also overrode President Yeltsin’s veto. Yeltsin refused to sign the bill passed over his veto, claiming the Duma’s vote was fraudulent because more ballots were cast (304) than deputies were present in the chamber (184). (Deputies often vote for absent colleagues, and Yeltsin has not challenged the practice on other occasions, but technically its use is not legitimate.) Yeltsin accordingly returned the land code to the Duma. Last week, Yeltsin signed a decree permitting the sale of land in cities and towns. This decree does not affect agricultural land, but aides are reportedly drafting a follow-up measure that will.
The land issue will head the agenda on December 11 when the president meets with opposition and other political leaders at the first of a promised series of roundtables. Meanwhile, the Saratov law offers a way of legislating piecemeal and by the back door. It creates a precedent likely to be followed in other liberalizing regions such as neighboring Samara Oblast and the Republic of Tatarstan. The enthusiasm of a core group of strong regional leaders promises all-important support for Yeltsin’s position and means that the Federation Council is likely to continue to side with the president to head off fresh attempts by the Duma to put restrictions on property rights.
Meanwhile, three State Duma committees have challenged Saratov’s right to legislate on the land issue which, they say, falls outside the competence of a provincial legislature. Saratov governor Dmitry Ayatskov has rejected the complaints, pointing out that the constitution assigns control and use of land to the competence of the republics and regions. It could be that the issue will eventually be referred to the Constitutional Court for a ruling. Though the court is, judging by past practice, likely to support Yeltsin’s position, the issue could take years to resolve. Meanwhile, regions such as Saratov and Samara seem set to press ahead under their own steam, contributing to the further differentiation and autonomy of Russia’s regions. Ayatskov hopes that Saratov’s pioneering position will attract strong investment to his region, further differentiating Russia’s regions into "winners" and "losers."
Main Independent Newspaper Banned in Belarus.