INTRODUCTION The German concept of Rechtsstaat, or the law-based state (pravovoe gosudarstvo, in its Russian rendering), served for seven decades, from the 1850s to 1917, as a vigorous ideal in the Russian liberal struggle for the transformation of the tsarist autocratic state into a constitutional one.1 Promoted initially in the legal thought and practice of the zemstvo (local self-government), it later became the banner of the struggle for reform. It was prominent in the public debate of 1900-1906, during which such crucial issues as civil rights, the need for a parliamentary system and the crusade against the arbitrariness of a police state were advanced. Moreover, it was the goal of the ongoing struggle during the semi-constitutional empire of 1907-1917.2

This essay discusses the most unusual case of the application of the Rechtsstaat ideal in the Russian milieu — in the Khivan khanate, a Russian protectorate in Central Asia from 1873 — and its elaboration into a full-fledged legal-administrative program in 1917. The idea of applying the Rechtsstaat approach in a colonial setting was proposed by the Russians in July-August 1917 as an emergency response to the challenge of indigenous democratic activists, who had proclaimed their intentions of building a constitutional state. The activists in Khiva were the political grouping led by Huseyn Bek, who had seized power from the hands of the despotic khan in April 1917 and drafted a manifesto, whose central aim was to transfer power from the khan to the people and to create a representative government elected by popular franchise. The interaction of the Khivan and Russian visions of constitutionalism may be regarded as a hidden dialogue between the Russian Provisional Government and the Khivan democracy.