Attorney from Kazakhstan studies at W&M as Muskie Fellow

  • Fellow law studentVsevolod Ovcharenko is W&M's seventh Muskie Fellow in the last five years.

    Photo courtesy of the W&M Law School

    Fellow law student

Vsevolod Ovcharenko, a native of Kazakhstan, is spending the year in Williamsburg as a student in William & Mary Law School’s LL.M degree program, thanks to a fellowship from the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program. The program was established by Congress in 1992 and provides opportunities for graduate students and professionals from Eurasia to study in degree programs in the United States.

“We are delighted to have Vsevolod join the William & Mary community,” said Law School Dean Davison M. Douglas. “I congratulate him on his recognition as a Muskie Fellow and on the professional accomplishments he has already achieved in his legal career.”

Chancellor Professor of Law Ronald Rosenberg noted that selection as a Muskie Fellow “represents a major achievement with hundreds of applicants vying for the honor of being chosen. Over the last five years we have been fortunate to have seven Muskie Fellows join our LL.M. program. Vsevolod is our most recent Muskie Fellow and we are very pleased to have him as a member of the LL.M. Class of 2010.”  Rosenberg serves as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of the American Legal System Graduate Program and Foreign Exchanges at the Law School.

"The greatest advantage of this graduate program at William & Mary is that it is a very valuable supplement to the legal knowledge I already have," said Ovcharenko, who received his law degree from Kazakhstan’s Adilet Higher Law School. "After 10 years of legal experience, I am learning new concepts, and it helps me to compare civil codes vs. common law practices, and discover the rationale behind civil codes’ regulations. When I return home, my studies will have helped me to discover the best system of laws, the ones that are the most successful and those that will have the greatest chance of adherence. Adherence to the law is greatest when the laws comply with the sense of law of a people. I hope it will help turn people aside from the centuries-old practice of ‘an eye for an eye’."

During his career, he has provided legal support to non-governmental organizations, many funded by the U.S. The Almaty (Kazakhstan) Office of the International Center for Non-Profit Law (ICNL), where he worked prior to coming to William & Mary, helps USAID contractors and their employees operating in Kazakhstan understand requirements of local legislation and comply with its requirements. In addition, it offers legal assistance to drafters of legislation affecting the country’s not-for-profit organizations.

With 40 ethnic groups in Kazakhstan, each with its own language, traditions, and customary law, communication is key, Ovcharenko said.

"We help the ‘promoters of democracy’ by providing full information on local legislation, recommending local attorneys, CPAs, etc.," he said, "so that these contractors can comply with the local laws. I appreciate that U.S. tax dollars are being spent to help developing nations like mine, nations that have emerged from Communist regimes, to build a successful social and economic life."

An extreme factor of life in Kazakhstan and most other former Soviet republics is poverty, according to Ovcharenko.

"We want to promote the market economies but it means we must work harder," he said. "My work was to assist advocacy groups working toward changes in legislation; to equip them with the knowledge of best practices and give them the full picture of our nation going forward. ‘Best practice’ helps us avoid reinventing the wheel; we can see what other peoples, other nations have been through and how they have resolved it successfully. The greatest challenge for us is how to promote the best practices adopted in developed countries because, except for rare exceptions, most of the people don’t read or speak English, and they are reluctant to accept best practices information from the West. At ICNL, our role was to take the knowledge accrued by the developed world and convert it to local languages."

According to Ovcharenko, many new nations have no well-developed law vocabulary, so one can’t just translate laws from English or German into their languages. Often, terms and notions new to them require detailed explanations.

"It is essential that we as practitioners analyze and try to select those aspects which can be introduced to the local and already established legal systems. Such careful selection and adoption to local language helps to educate the stakeholders and heightens the chance that these best practices will be used to develop local legislations," Ovcharenko added.

"Let’s use governmental financing of NGOs as an example," he said. "At first, these legal suggestions were rejected by the government of Kazakhstan, but, since 2003, NGO projects have been funded increasingly and, this year, $10 million has been given by the government to establish practical relationships with NGOs. The government has begun to understand the value of the services of non-governmental organizations, and the services they provide for health care, rehabilitation, and education. Now that the private social sector is being built, the government is no longer the sole source of financial support.”

When Ovcharenko returns to Kazakhstan, he would like to continue working on legislative reforms affecting NGOs and wants to work to assure that Kazakhstan can continue to receive international assistance and that such assistance programs will continue to enjoy favorable treatment from Kazakh authorities.

"During the last 15 years," he said, "the new nation of Kazakhstan made a practical step away from its Soviet heritage. And I am proud that I have been a part of the fundamental process."

The Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program is named in honor of Edmund S. Muskie, who served as Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter and as a member of Maine’s House of Representatives, Governor of Maine, and U.S. Senator.