The article examines the historical experience of preserving the territorial
integrity of the state through the adoption of criminal laws. This is done using the example
of two such attempts in the history of the Russian state (by the Provisional Government
after the February Revolution of 1917 and during Gorbachev’s perestroika in connection
with the decision of the union republics of the Baltic states to gain state independence).
In both cases legislators passed strict criminal laws, which, however, proved unable to
prevent violation of the territorial integrity of the state. For example, under the Provisional
Government criminal liability was increased for violent encroachments on changing
the existing state system in Russia or “to tear away any part of it from Russia” (the
perpetrators were even subjected to life or urgent hard labor). The second experience,
also unsuccessful, dates back to the spring of 1990, when the Baltic republics (Lithuania,
Latvia and Estonia) declared their state independence. The extraordinary Third Congress
of People’s Deputies of the USSR immediately reacted to this, recognizing these decisions
as invalid as contrary to the Constitution of the USSR. The all-Union power, recorded in
the decisions of the congresses of people’s deputies, almost openly announced to the
republics that their withdrawal from the USSR was impossible and they had nothing to hope
for in this sense. So, in an interview for Soviet and French television in November 1990, the
President of the USSR, recognizing that the Constitution of the USSR provides for the right
to self-determination up to the secession of a republic and referring to the existence of a
special mechanism for this exit, at the same time said that he had come to the conclusion,
the country cannot be divided. The outcome of this legislative “fight” is known and dates
back to December 1991.
What should a legislator learn from these historical lessons? Most importantly: he
must firmly grasp that there are certain limits to the possibilities of criminal law to achieve
political and socio-economic goals.
Keywords: criminal law; social functions of the criminal law; territorial integrity of the state
Professor of the Department of Criminal Law and Criminology of the All-Russian State University of Justice (RLA of the Ministry of Justice of Russia), Moscow, Russian Federation, Dsc. in Law, Professor, Honored Scientist of the Russian Federation, Laureate of the National Prize for Literature of Law.
, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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