Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 143

The Monitor’s correspondent in Saratov Oblast reports that the Russian High Court has set August 13 as the date on which it will consider an appeal by Russia’s prosecutor general for the region’s pioneering land law to be struck down. The law–the first in Russia to allow the unrestricted sale of land–was adopted in November 1997. The prosecutor general argues that Saratov Oblast has no right to legislate on an issue of federal importance. Saratov counters that it has been forced to act because the Russian parliament has dragged its feet and refused to pass legislation recognizing the citizenry’s constitutional right to own (and therefore freely to buy and sell) land.

The prosecutor general is believed to be eager to get Saratov’s law struck down in order to deter other regions from taking the law into their own hands. Meanwhile, there is no sign of relaxation in the deadlock at federal level over the issue. In the spring, both houses of the Russian parliament approved a draft land code that explicitly ruled out the free sale of agricultural land. On June 4, Yeltsin returned the bill to parliament, arguing that it was unconstitutional. This was the second time Yeltsin had refused to sign such a bill into law. On July 15, Yeltsin submitted a counterdraft of his own to the Duma. Parliament threw it out the very next day. (Itar-Tass, July 16) On July 9, moreover, the Federation Council approved a bill on mortgages that had been adopted by the State Duma on June 10. The bill would establish a framework for granting mortgages and give financial institutions the right to seize assets from debtors who default on loans. It would also give a big boost to the development of a housing market in Russia. In defiance of Yeltsin’s advice, however, the bill banned the mortgaging of plots of agricultural land. (Itar-Tass, July 9)

Yeltsin might have been expected to veto the mortgage bill, like the land code, on constitutional grounds. Recently, however, there have been rumors that he had offered to sign the land code in return for Duma approval for the government’s austerity measures, on which the latest IMF loan depends. Our correspondent reports that these rumors have alarmed the authorities in Saratov. On July 22, they appealed to Yeltsin not to sign the land code into law. And, in a rare display of interregional solidarity, Tatarstan and Samara Oblast, both of which have adopted their own land codes permitting the free sale of agricultural land, joined their voices to Saratov’s and seconded its appeal to Yeltsin.