Humboldtians in Focus

A Minister Turned Fellow

By Uschi Heidel

The Georgian law scholar Lado Chanturia used to be Minister of Justice and Supreme Constitutional Court Judge of his country. But he swapped his career as a politician and democratic reformer in judge's robes for a research fellowship in Germany.

Was it all Sherlock Holmes' fault? Even if evidence has since faded, the master detective of British crime fiction appears to be responsible for Lado Chanturia's already becoming addicted to law as a youth. Of course, the world of crime was entirely different from what this Georgian was to discover at the university later on.However, the course he opted for there proved to be even more exciting. Lado Chanturia became a Professor of Law, Minister of Justice and, ultimately, President of Georgia's Supreme Court. His effort to promote the reform of the legal system in his home country following the disintegration of the Soviet Union remained unparalleled and was characterised by steadfastness, vigour and calmness.

"Now it's time for me to recharge my batteries," says the Humboldt Fellow with a smile as he sits in a Bremen restaurant, and he is not referring to calorie intake. By "recharging", this tall, black-haired man means delving into activities again with the same energy reserves he had in Georgia, only that this time he is working at Hamburg's Max Planck Institute for Foreign Private and Private International Law. That is where he is stilling his hunger for new spiritual food. "Now, my most urgent task is to write good books on law for my country and other post-Soviet states. There is still a terrific lot to do in this respect." As if Lado Chanturia, who is a mere 42 years old, hadn't already achieved so much. Friendly inquisitiveness sparkling from his dark eyes and thirst for action again and again bring this Georgian to new shores.

Already during his studies in Tbilisi and his doctorate in Moscow, he was eager to "break all bounds". "When reading Roman Law, I realised that the existing legal system was in need of reform." The opportunity for him to participate in this process himself came more quickly than he would have expected. As a Law Fellow of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) he was involved in research for his qualification for a teaching career in higher education (the German "Habilitation") in Göttingen when Georgia was about to plunge into civil war. "Then Shevardnadze rang me up and asked me if I wanted to become Minister of Justice," Lado Chanturia remarks almost casually. The President did not know the then 29-year-old personally, but his jurisprudence studies had met with acclaim in Georgia. Lado Chanturia turned down this offer.Without coquetry, he explains: "I first of all wanted to prepare myself for Georgia's future, above all for the forthcoming reform of the legal system, and to this end, I required further specialist knowledge." Shortly afterwards, together with Bremen Law Professor Rolf Knieper and supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), he developed a new legal system for Georgia that was strongly oriented on Germany's system.

Judges put to the test

The challenges were enormous. Soviet law had to be abolished, and a modern framework had to be put in place. For four years, the law scholar worked on the Georgian Civil Code, which was passed by Parliament in 1997. He designed the Law on Entrepreneurs which was published in Georgian, Russian and German language. "Of course the issue was not merely that of developing new laws but also of enforcing them. This requires well-trained jurists, reliable courts and a working department of public prosecution," Lado Chanturia explains. When he became Minister of Justice in 1998, he introduced examinations for judges, which not only earned him new friends.After all, most of the candidates had already been judges in Soviet days, and only a handful of them passed the new tests. Also, he made use of his many contacts and sent Georgian jurists to German courts for a few weeks. "There, they experienced modern day-to-day work in court," says Lado Chanturia, pointing to the Bremen District Court.

The Humboldt Fellow feels completely contented in the Hanseatic city with his wife Dali, a dentist, and his children Georgi (10) and Nutsa (5). Now a Werder Bremen fan, he takes pleasure in pointing out the city's narrow alleys.He appreciates Bremen's straightforwardness as well as its prices, which are significantly lower than in Hamburg, where he has to commute to nearly every day by train. "I work in two interesting cities, and I make use of the trips to get down to reading." Goethe, Grass, Lenz, Judith Hermann - he says he wouldn't survive without belletristic.

“I first of all wanted to prepare myself for Georgia's future, above all for the forthcoming reform of the legal system, and to this end, I required further specialist knowledge.”

Lado Chanturia had been Minister of Justice for two years when he was given the opportunity to become President of the Supreme Court of Georgia. It did not take him long to think this over, and Parliament unanimously elected him for ten years in 1999. Four years later, the Georgian state, now based on the rule of law, nailed its colours to the mast. In November 2003, the Supreme Court annulled part of the controversial parliamentary elections. "That was a good feeling," remembers Lado Chanturia, who acted as a neutral middleman during the "Revolution of the Roses".

Law can change mentalities

"Thanks to its neutrality and modernity, this court now serves as a model for the region," he says proudly. In his period of office, 25,000 pages of decisions were made, and they are accessible to everyone. Such transparency was unknown in the old legal system. Lado Chanturia has opened up doors.He invited Georgian artists to exhibit their work in the court, which attracted many citizens to the building. He received popular fellow countrymen such as actors and sportspeople as well as presidents of foreign courts of justice, scholars and international politicians. Two stacks of photos portray a man who understands how to build a dense network with charm, vitality and inner calmness. "Georgia has no other option but to turn to Europe." He is aware of the grave social and economic problems, corruption and the geopolitically precarious location of a country the size of Bavaria. But resigning or activism are unknown to him. He displays a calm attitude in opting for long-term engagement. "Law has the power to generate culture, and it can change mentalities. This is a process that takes several years and requires patience."

He intends to actively participate in this process - in his own way. His resignation as Supreme Court President in the summer of 2004 fits in with this. "I did all I could, I needed a break." What is behind this break is the approval of a Humboldt Research Fellowship that Lado Chanturia had already applied for in 2003, just in time before he reached the age limit of 40 years. "To me, this fellowship is the highest reward, for I am above all a scholar."He was very happy to join Professor Klaus Hopt, whom he had got to know during a Max Planck Scholarship in 1996, at the Hamburg Max Planck Institute for Foreign Private and Private International Law. To him, this institute is the "Harvard of Law".

Once he has written his comparative law study on modern management and liability regulations in stock companies, Lado Chanturia will return to Georgia, where he has been Professor at the University of Tbilisi since 1995. It goes without saying that the advisor to the current State President is not only going to be active on the campus even though his response to any queries regarding this is to smile and state: "I am not sure about that yet."

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Lado Chanturia Lado Chanturia 

Lado Chanturia, born in Jvari, Georgia. Studied law at the State University of Tbilisi. Doctorate at the Moscow Institute of Legislation und Comparative Law. Professor at the Law Department of the State University of Tbilisi. Minister of Justice of Georgia. President of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Humboldt Fellow at the Hamburg Max Planck Institute for Foreign Private and Private International Law. Also: Advisor to Georgia's State President Michail Saakaschwili.

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