The peer reviewed journal Questions of Russian and International Law has decided to publish research papers by Ashton Zysltra, a recent graduate of School of International Affairs (SIA) and Jason Samuel, a third year law student at Penn State. Both Zysltra and Samuel studied with law and SIA professor William E. Butler, a scholar of Russian law and former Soviet legal systems.
Enthrallment with Russian Law
Zylstra said she chose the Russian Law Seminar to fulfill her second language requirement for the School of International Affairs curriculum. However, she decided to take the seminar mainly because her academic adviser, William Butler, was teaching the Russian law class. She submitted her paper on the legal aspects of the Arctic Greenpeace incident. When the Arctic Sunrise event took place a couple of weeks into the semester, she could not resist the temptation to dig deeper into the developing case. “The topic was an interesting one because it continued to develop while I was writing the paper,” she said.
According to Butler, “she chose a very challenging topic and did well with it, which is reflected in the fact that it was accepted to be published in a prestigious journal. It is always a pleasure to see the School of International Affairs students take an interest in international law.”
Zylstra said her favorite part about the seminar was learning about the development of law in Russian history and culture. She finds the transition to and from Soviet law captivating and the fact that no matter what topic was discussed during the class, one would always end up asking "Why?"
Her experience in Butler's course, along with other law courses, has stimulated her desire to pursue a degree in law. “I would love to become a politician someday, but for now, my goal is to work as an aide on The Hill (in Washington) or as a policy adviser,” she added.
Samuel focused his narrative on the Russo American Extradition Treaty. He says he chose this subject because no one had concretely discussed the topic earlier.
“The way the 1887 extradition treaty was explained, you would have thought this treaty was abrogated a long time ago. However, when I discovered that the treaty was never abrogated, I was quite excited to delve into a topic where what I was doing was pretty much all original research.”
Samuel was intrigued by the idea of a Russian law class.
“Vladimir Putin has essentially been in charge of that country since I was a little boy. Getting a chance to learn more about the country I grew up viewing as a foe was pretty compelling. Combine that with the Edward Snowden incident and the fact that professor William Butler is probably the leading Russian law scholar in the United States, and I was sold,” he said.
Samuel said he was particularly interested in the Russian government, especially their transition from the USSR to the current Russian Federation.
“How the government operates, how they control the media, how they gain the support of their citizens, that sort of thing fascinates me in a comparative way with the United States,” he said.