Medvedev Appeals to Fellow Lawyers

ReutersMedvedev and Association of Russian Lawyers president Oleg Kutafin reading documents at the group's convention at the House of Unions on Tuesday.
Dmitry Medvedev, the prohibitive favorite to replace incumbent Vladimir Putin after the presidential election in March, called on fellow lawyers on Tuesday to take a more prominent role in society and to battle the "legal nihilism" he says grips the country.

Medvedev, a lawyer by training, spoke at a convention of the Association of Russian Lawyers, where he is chairman of the board of trustees.

After the two-hour gathering, the more than 480 delegates present offered their unanimous endorsement of Medvedev's candidacy, with Federal Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin, who is the association's chairman, saying the group would communicate its decision to the public.

"As citizens, we have every right to support him and make our position known to the voters," Stepashin told reporters.

While members insisted that their organization was not political in nature, Stepashin described the decision to throw its support behind Medvedev's candidacy as "completely natural and obvious."

The association was established in December 2005, one month after Medvedev was named first deputy prime minister, the job widely viewed to have been his springboard to the top of the political ladder.

A question of whether the timing of the group's creation was a coincidence or calculated to lend legitimacy to Medvedev's campaign appeared to put Stepashin on the defensive.

"The association was created two years ago. I don't think even Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] had a clue Medvedev would become president," he said.

Putin himself is part of the association and holds membership card No. 1, Stepashin said.

Veniamin Yakovlev, co-chairman of the group and legal aid to Putin, participated in the merger of two smaller lawyers unions to form the association -- an event he described Tuesday as an "objective necessity."

Medvedev clearly felt at home at the gathering, reverting to technical jargon regularly during his 15-minute opening address.

"A lawyer in every society carries out a special mission," he said. "The lawyer's task is to be closer to the real, everyday needs of our citizens."

Medvedev praised the recent adoption of Part Four of the Civil Code, but added that improvements in a number of areas, including land usage and intellectual property, are still needed.

Medvedev also praised Monday's launch of a new legal channel dubbed Zakon TV, or "Law TV," a 24-hour channel that will initially reach the airwaves with help from NTV television. NTV is part of Gazprom Media, a media arm of gas giant Gazprom, which is chaired by Medvedev.

Tuesday's address was his second major speech since he was officially registered as a candidate for the March 2 presidential vote. He delivered the first a week ago at a meeting of the Civic Forum, an event organized by the Public Chamber.

Those on hand for Tuesday's event packed a huge Soviet-era hall in the House of Unions, decked out with traditional white drapes, tall columns, enormous chandeliers and red carpets. The empty seats that appeared after his address bore witness to the fact that many of the attendees came only to hear Medvedev, leaving promptly after he finished.

Speaker after speaker who followed Medvedev praised him, saying the legal community should rally around the candidate to become a more powerful force in society.

"The association can and must become an extremely influential organization," said Mikhail Barshchevsky, celebrity lawyer and leader of the Civil Force party. Barshchevsky was one of the four functionaries involved in the official choice of Medvedev as candidate.

Tuesday's convention provided a glimpse of the ambitions of many legal officials who would like to see at least some shift away from a current balance of power tilted heavily in favor of the so-called siloviki and former KGB members.

Some clearly hope such a shift is already under way.

"The configuration of a triangle formed by the state, business and society is changing before our eyes," Stepashin told the audience, adding that it was important that lawyers help define social spheres that should be free of excessive state involvement.

With his election seeming all but ensured, allegiance to and support for values likely to be embraced by Medvedev have come firmly into vogue.

Just as constructions like "power vertical" became the catch phrases during Putin's presidency, the "legal nihilism" phrase Medvedev used first at the Civic Forum event has already carved out a spot for itself in the political lexicon.

Delegate after delegate Tuesday spoke of the need to fight "legal nihilism" and improve law enforcement practices.

Andrei Yatskin, the government's representative in the Federal Council, said the phrase is more than a matter of fashion.

"It's not just in vogue," he added. "It describes a real problem."

n Medvedev's headquarters said Tuesday that his campaign platform would be announced as soon as the campaign officially begins.

"Dmitry Medvedev's campaign platform will be released in the near future," said Vyacheslav Volodin, the secretary of United Russia's General Council. Interfax reported. "This will come as soon as campaign ads are permitted, after Feb. 2."