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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Helping the Land Transform

Carol Leonard watched tears come to people's eyes in 1993 when a professional auctioneer in Nizhny Novgorod shouted out higher and higher bids for pieces of the Pravdinsky collective, the first farm to be privatized in Russia.


"I asked the people if they thought this was right, and if they thought it was fair," said Leonard, 50, an American scholar and economic historian who was working at the time as an agricultural adviser for the Russian Finance Ministry. "They said, 'Yes, it's fair. But this is the land. They're selling the land!'"


It was as if the people were watching almost a century of their philosophy and lifestyle being sold piecemeal, she said.


"That's when I knew the process of land reform was going to take a lot longer than I had thought," she added. "There was so much resistance to something I thought made so much sense."


Leonard, who has studied Russian agrarian reform for most of her career, believes private land ownership could only benefit Russia. It leads to better land usage, in her view, and allows credit arrangements whereby owners can take out loans using their property as collateral. "This is second nature to Americans or Europeans," Leonard said.


"But the land for [Russians] was something more," she added. "It was something that they had inherited and that belonged to no one, but everyone as a whole. It had an emotional value that was worth more. This country's development and history is in the land."


Leonard has spent much of her time securing grants and writing articles, redesigning the economic history agenda at Moscow State University, and running privatization training programs.


Now she is in Moscow for the 10th time researching and writing her second book, "The Road From Serfdom," a history of Russia's agrarian reform from 1860. The book, which she is writing with a grant from the National Council for Soviet and East European Studies, should be published next spring. Her first book, "Reform and Regicide," published in 1993, challenged academic views of Peter III as a tyrant and drunk.


Originally from Chicago, Leonard received her bachelor's degree in Russian Studies from the University of Minnesota and went on to earn a Masters degree and Ph.D. in History at Indiana University. It was through studying Russia and its history, she said, that she understood the most important factor in the country's development would lie in its agricultural transformation, and when and why it was or was not reformed.


"Was I successful or a failure in helping with reform? I don't know," she said. "All I know is that I was a part of history at a time that I consider to be exciting. But I also witnessed something very sad and something that has been taken as inevitable, the end of a philosophy."