Informed by an education received at the height of Soviet power, Molly Baier ’80 spent two years helping shape the Ukrainian legal system during the conversion to capitalism.
From 1997 to 1999, Baier took a break from her work as a bankruptcy attorney in San Francisco to live and work in the former Soviet Union.
"I never got to do my semester abroad when I was at Cornell. When I was at home on Christmas break my senior year, I saw the Soviet tanks roll into Afghanistan,” says Baier, who majored in Russian studies, politics, and philosophy. “So I went to law school. Spending some time over there was pretty much unfinished business.”
Baier was unusual in that she spoke Russian, had a working knowledge of the culture, and had experience in bankruptcy law, which, in the Ukraine, was lacking at best.
She worked as a legal advisor for the U.S. and British governments helping Ukrainians establish a more firm commercial law system. “The criminal law system was very well developed, but how to decide civil disputes was not,” she says.
Once her tour was over, Baier wasn’t ready to leave. So, she journeyed 12,000 miles, traversing the former Soviet Union “from end to end,” observing post-Communist life. Baier sent e-mails about the experience to friends, who all told her the same thing: you have to turn this into a book. The result was a humorous, informative travelogue called The Fire Escape is Locked for Your Safety.
The experience also resulted in a unique perspective on world events.
"One thing that struck me was that even though we had claimed victory that we had created a shiny new capitalist system, I had a sense it wasn’t penetrating very deeply,” she says. “So I went on this trip to see how much of it had been absorbed by the general population. And the answer is almost none.”
Molly Baier ’80 set aside her career for two years to assist Ukrainians in their transition to capitalism.