chapter  13
5 Pages

The female face of the criminal world

Russian rural life before the October Revolution was rooted in the Orthodox tradition, and thus made a clear distinction between a sin and a crime. That distinction did not necessarily follow the criminal code or support the opinions and practices of the judges and criminal prosecutors. But a Russian village continued to function according to its own norms and shied away from prosecuting for sins that were not seen as crimes. The label of a sin was used for everything that went against God, namely work during religious holidays, the use of profanities, petty theft, and a child born out of wedlock. Crime, on the other hand, included murder, major theft, robbery, and some fist fights. But every deed in the countryside was first assigned a moral judgment. The moral verdict of the entire village community was often the most respected and feared judgment. Regardless of the criminal code, or even the severity of the crime and legal punishment, the community could justify and explain away even a murder when the community saw a legitimate explanation for it, or could condemn a person to ostracism for a sin that was not punished by law. This community judgment was final and irrevocable, and many rural residents feared such judgment more than any legal sanctions. The reputation of the family was hard to maintain but easy to lose, and condemnable stories could taint such a reputation for generations to come.