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Sometimes the Soviet legal system resembles an elephant that has taken care to blind its observers. Soviet lawyers and law teachers, inhibited by training, interest, or caution, tend to turn out celebratory declamation; emigrés cherish the particular truth of their own grievances; Western correspondents hit and run; foreign jurists do justice to special injustices or produce descriptive summaries of Soviet texts that have emerged through filters of concealment, omission, exaggeration, and circumlocution. Yet the elephant is a whole animal and is on the move, and every now and then a naturalist comes along who strives to convey a notion of the shape and motion of the whole living animal.
The latest, and one of the most interesting, of these is Olimpiad Solomonovich Ioffe. For a good many years, until the late 1970’s, he occupied the chair of civil law at the University of Leningrad; he had few peers in the influence and respect he commanded throughout the academic legal community in the Soviet Union. When, however, he refused to refuse to execute a document facilitating his daughter’s application to emigrate, he was de facto removed from his teaching position. Later, after more than a little delay and hindrance, he himself emigrated, and at length resumed his interrupted career. He has taught or studied at Harvard, Boston University, and now, regularly, at the University of Connecticut, and he has written, among other things, articles on legal regulation of the Soviet economy and parallels between Roman and Soviet law, as well as a treatise on Soviet law with Professor Peter Maggs. With his latest work Professor Ioffe has set out a comprehensive, condensed, rebarbative, provocative map of Soviet legal and public affairs.
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