By Mark Reutter A professor from the UI College of Law is helping to guide the former Soviet Union into a market-based economy by working with other experts on a model commercial code. A noted specialist in Soviet law, Peter B. Maggs spent last year as a director of the Rule of Law Consortium, an alliance of 70 U.S. and European organizations committed to strengthening the legal institutions and laws that support a democratic, free-enterprise society. Maggs, who is fluent in Russian and has reading knowledge of most Slavic languages, helped legal authorities in the former Communist nation complete the first part of a model commercial code for the Commonwealth of Independent States. The 214-page document, which spells out procedures for business contracts, mortgages, intellectual property, land titling and other matters, will be used as the basis for recommendations to the 13 parliaments of the commonwealth states. "It is a huge technical task to draw up such a code for a country that has not had experience with a private market economy in 70 years, since Lenin's short-lived New Economic Policy," he said. Today's legal code is based on the assumption of government ownership of the land and a command- and-control economy directed by state planners. In late January, Maggs returned from a visit to Kyrgyzstan where he met with President Askar Akayev, who pledged his support for the project and promised to push the model code through parliament. Maggs also consulted with officials from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, who are negotiating a free-trade zone with Kyrgyzstan. The model code is one of three areas that the Rule of Law Consortium is concentrating its efforts. Maggs also is involved in a pilot project in Russia and Ukraine to help law schools and courts stay abreast of legal decisions and the publication of new laws. "Russian law schools couldn't get material reproduced fast enough and some schools and provincial courts did not physically have the documents they needed to function properly," he said. An e-mail system was established last year to provide weekly information about new statutes and court decisions. Despite the Russian army's brutal assault on Chechnya, Maggs remains upbeat about the prospects of the commonwealth states developing into a market-oriented, law-abiding society. "We should remember that in the 19th century, we were developing a legal and economic system while the cavalry was out massacring Indians. The Russian Federation would be more likely to crumble if troops had not gone into Chechnya, which had been taken over by rebels connected with organized crime." The Russian economy is doing better than generally reported, the UI professor explained, because of two factors: Traditional Communist statistics of economic performance underreport activity in the service sector ("services meant nothing to Communist state planners") and many citizens hide part of their income to avoid high income taxes. "Bribery and organized crime are obviously problems because they take money away from business," he said, "but again using the U.S. as an analogy, the rise of organized crime did not keep Chicago from growing rapidly." The most serious problem threatening economic stability is the declining living standard of citizens living in the provinces where state-run industries have collapsed. "In the cities, people are moving fairly well from jobs in declining goods production to jobs in the booming service economy," he said. "This is generally not true in rural districts where the job base was totally dominated by a single state-run industry." Maggs will fly March 20 to the University of Leiden, in Holland, where the Rule of Law Consortium will meet with a committee appointed by the interparliamentary assembly of the commonwealth states to go over a draft of the second part of the model code. Maggs will attend another meeting in St. Petersburg in April where the completed draft is expected to be presented to the interparliamentary assembly. "We hope that the completion and subsequent adoption of these codes will promote market-based reform and, in turn, increase the effectiveness of non-state actors in promoting legal reform and the use of the law to develop a democratic society," Maggs said. To expedite work, the UI professor has been engaged in translating sections of the draft from Russian to English, for distribution to other specialists. The consortium's activities are funded through a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development.