Interview with John Brannen Wednesday, Dec 18 2013 

On December 13, John Brannen published a longer article where he cites some of the comments I sent to him. The interview, which is available here, appeared in The News, the newspaper of New Glasgow. Here is an excerpt:

Russia, EU watch as Eastern European country sees protests erupt in Kiev

NEW GLASGOW – Philip Krakowski of New Glasgow remembers the stories his parents would tell him of life back in Poland.

Under a harsh Communist regime and the watchful eyes of the Soviet Union, his educated parents, originally from Poznan, sought a better life elsewhere. With the help of the Canadian embassy in West Germany they filed as political refugees, and immigrated to Canada and settled in Halifax…

According to Dr. Lavinia Stan, a political science professor at St. Francis Xavier University, this tug-of-war between the EU and Russia is nothing new.

“Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and especially with the Eastern enlargement of the European Union, Ukraine and the western republics of the former Soviet Union have been caught in between the European Union and Russia,” she said. “There are significant segments of their population that believe that rapprochement with either the EU or Russia is best for the republic.”

Several former Soviet republics, such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have already become EU members. Others, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, have opted to stay in Russia’s orbit. The toppling of a statue of Lenin in Kiev, while symbolic, shows the great divisions that exist between the people and politicians of Ukraine.

“Ukraine stands thus by itself, remaining a Russian outpost at the edge of the EU… the protests also show that the people have a voice, and the political project they envisage for their country contradicts the one supported by their politicians,” said Stan.

Recently, Yanukovych indicated he would revisit the earlier decision to reject the EU after promises of more aid came from the 28-country bloc. A positive move, said Stan.

“But the underlying issues of representation, accountability, reform will continue to be there as long as the Ukrainian democracy remains unstable.”

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Interview with Andrzej Stankiewicz, in Polish Thursday, Dec 12 2013 

During the Warsaw conference I talked to Andrzej Stankiewicz. He published the interview today, in Polish, in the Tygodnik Powszechny journal, which contained a number of other articles on the conference and its topic, transitional justice in post-communist Europe. The interview, available here, is titled “My albo ono”. I trust Andrzej, since I cannot read or speak Polish.

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Other photos from the conference:

Lavinia Stan

Lavinia Stan

Lavinia Stan

Lavinia Stan

Lavinia Stan

Lavinia Stan

Legal Frames of Memory Conference, Warsaw, November 2013 Monday, Nov 25 2013 

The Genealogies of Memory Project was kind enough to invite us to their November 2013 conference in Warsaw. The following is my talk, which builds on Lavinia Stan, “Civil Society and Post-Communist Transitional Justice in Romania,” in Transitional Justice and Civil Society in the Balkans, ed. by Olivera Simic and Zala Volcic (Australia: Springer, 2013), pp. 17-31.

 

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Civil Society and Post-Communist Transitional Justice: The Romanian Case

 

In 2003, David Backer lamented the “under-appreciated role of non-state actors” in transitional justice.[i] Ten years later, his observation still applies to research on Romania, which remains state-centered. My talk maps the groups that have impacted the country’s reckoning with the communist past, explains which programs they affected the most, and draws general conclusions about their contribution to transitional justice in post-communist settings.

1. Civil Society Groups Involved in Transitional Justice

Three categories of groups are relevant for our discussion. The first category includes nation-wide associations of former victims who support comprehensive transitional justice. The Association of Former Political Prisoners in Romania, created in 1990, gathers political prisoners and deportees. The smaller Association of Former Political Prisoners and Anti-communist Fighters represents communist-era political prisoners with ties to the inter-war fascist Iron Guard who were imprisoned, tortured or killed by the Securitate. The Association of Owners of Property Abusively Confiscated by the State, set up in 1999 in Bucharest, includes property owners seeking property restitution and fair compensation.[ii]

Other groups are present locally, in Craiova (the Association of Owners Abusively Deprived of Their Property, Former Deportees and Refugees), Rm. Valcea (the Association of Victims of the Bolshevik Communist System and Its Legacy), or Bucharest (the Association for Private Property Owners and the Community of Legitimate Owners and Descendants in Romania). The French Association for Defending Property Rights in Romania and the German Restitution in Romania represent owners living abroad.[iii] Add the Gheorghe Ursu Foundation, set up by relatives of an engineer murdered in 1986, the Ion Gavrilă Ogoranu Foundation, named after the leader of the Făgăraş anti-communist fighters, and the ICAR Foundation, which provides medical rehabilitation for victims.

Transitional justice has also been advocated by organizations uniting victims of the 1989 revolution, which remain preoccupied with finding the truth about those events, unveiling the involvement of post-communist leaders, and securing financial benefits for their members. The best known such group is the Association 21 December 1989, set up in 1990 in Bucharest.

This category further comprises religious communities that faced persecution, property confiscation, and surveillance at the hands of the communists. In the 1950s, many Orthodox were imprisoned. Afterwards, the Church was monitored by the Securitate, which recruited some of its priests as secret agents.[iv] In 1948, the state dismantled the Greek Catholic Church, imprisoned its bishops, and transferred its property to the Orthodox Church.

The second category includes intellectuals, who support lustration, truth telling and access to secret files, but generally reject efforts to unveil collaborators from among their members and parties close to them. While small and elitist in view, the Timişoara Society, the Civil Alliance, and the Group for Social Dialogue have proposed some of the most coherent remembrance programs advanced by the Romanian civil society.

The third category is inimical to transitional justice. It includes the tenants who occupied confiscated dwellings with the authorities’ permission before and after 1989. Some tenants were poor workers who moved to town to work in new industrial factories, but many others were privileged nomenklatura members renting dwellings from the state at low rents not reflecting their market value. The Association of Tenants Living in Nationalized Dwellings has branches throughout Romania. The Association of Tenants Who Acquired Ownership through Law 112/1995 represents tenants who bought the confiscated dwelling in which they lived.[v]

Tenants and secret agents were not the only ones to benefit from the communist infringement of other people’s rights. Since 2003, the Motherland and Honour Solidarity Foundation protects the interests of former Securitate officers and post-communist intelligence agents.[vi] Former communist decision-makers have been reluctant to create associations because they could face public condemnation as a result and after 1989 retained enough political clout to advance their personal interests through the existing parties. Communist perpetrators have gained a public voice as members of parties successor to the Communist Party and the Communist Youth League: the Social Democrats, the Democrats, and the Greater Romania Party.

2. Transitional Justice Methods

Let me now turn to the second point I want to make today, and outline the contribution of civil society to judicial and non-judicial transitional justice programs.

Lustration

            The civil society has promoted lustration without being able to convince political elites to implement it. In 1990, the Timişoara Society called for banning communist decision-makers from running in general elections. The Society has understood lustration as an accusation-based process. Almost all associations representing victims and intellectuals have shared this view.

            In 1993 senator Ticu Dumitrescu, leader of the Association of Former Political Prisoners, presented Parliament with a motion on secret agents that amounted to a lustration proposal.[vii] The motion had no effect,[viii] so Dumitrescu then asked public officials unveiled as former agents to renounce their posts. Parliament ultimately stripped that proposal of its lustration stipulations.[ix]

Inspired by Bulgarian efforts, in 2006 Romanian journalists launched a Clean Voices campaign to identify secret agents in mass media. The civil society then called on spies to unveil their ties to intelligence services, and convinced the Chamber of Deputies to organize a public debate on lustration in 2006. Representatives of ten groups – including the Timişoara Society, the Civic Alliance, and the Association of Former Political Prisoners – stated their position in that debate, but Parliament opted for confession-based lustration.[x]

Court trials

            Since 1989, civil society actors have called for the prosecution of former prison guards, Securitate officers, and party leaders, and collected information to indict communist criminals. Press campaigns, street protests, and roundtable talks have been used to promote trials. By 2012, the Association of Former Political Prisoners, the Ursu Foundation, and the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes submitted 27 complaints to military prosecutors against Securitate officers, heads of detention centers, and prison guards. No court trials ensued.[xi] Few perpetrators are alive today and the surviving ones are old, so their prosecution is improbable.

            The courts’ reluctance to recognize communist abuses as crimes against humanity, and the civil society’s support for a generic ‘Trial of Communism’, explain the scarcity of trials against communist perpetrators. Preference for an all-encompassing ‘Trial of Communism’ was first voiced in 1990 by the Civic Alliance, which asked for “a trial of the leftist ideology of communism.”[xii] The call had little legal value, since abstract concepts like ideology or regime cannot be put on trial. The preference for the ‘Trial of Communism’ as opposed to specific cases has stemmed from the civil society representatives’ lack of legal expertise.[xiii]

Access to secret files

Access to secret files was the brainchild of Dumitrescu, who convinced Parliament to legislate it by drawing support from the Association of Former Political Prisoners, the Group for Social Dialogue, and other victims’ groups. In 1997, the Senate restricted Dumitrescu’s original lustration proposal so that files were made public only if their contents did not endanger national security; the leadership of the file custodian (the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives) was no longer independent from the government; and the archives remained housed with the institutions that produced them and wanted to keep them under lock to cover their links to the dictatorship. These amendments enraged the civil society groups, which called on deputies to consider Dumitrescu’s original draft, as they believed that the amendments made it impossible for the truth about communism ever to be known. While ignored, the petition showed that civil society actors could come together in support of a transitional justice project, if they wanted.

The presidential history commission

            Undoubtedly, the civil society scored its greatest success in 2006, when it convinced President Traian Băsescu to create the Presidential Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, the so-called Tismăneanu Commission. Weeks before Romania’s accession to the European Union on 1 January 2007, Băsescu condemned the communist regime in front of Parliament and on the basis of the Commission’s final report, which detailed the mechanisms of repression in communist Romania, the ties between the Securitate and the Communist Party, and the continuity between the Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceauşescu regimes.[xiv]

            The Commission was created in response to civil society calls to renew the political elite by legislating lustration. Under pressure from victims groups, Băsescu declared that he could not support lustration without first condemning the communist regime as criminal and repressive, since collaborators just obeyed an internationally recognized regime and the laws of that time. Only the exposure of the regime’s repressive character could lay down the moral ground for a blanket policy like lustration. To condemn communism, Băsescu needed a scientific report on the crimes written by experts. The presidential commission included representatives of the Association of Former Political Prisoners and the Group for Social Dialogue.

The citizen’s opinion tribunal

Frustrated with the judiciary’s unwillingness to organize a Nuremberg-type trial, in September 2006 civil society groups organized an opinion tribunal in Cluj-Napoca. The tribunal included nine former victims, one councillor each for the prosecution and the defense, and 150 audience members who acted as jurors. Charged with genocide and crimes against humanity (including premeditated murder, extermination, forced deportation, arrests, torture, disappearances, and ethnic and religious persecution), the communist regime was found guilty of all charges after the opinion tribunal discussed a summary of its human rights abuses.[xv]

The opinion tribunal had little echo inside and outside Romania, and was ignored by the general public, the political elite, and the press. The public was reluctant to support a ‘Trial of Communism’ that indirectly implicated the four million ordinary party members, and former victims argued that the post-communist state — the legal successor to the communist state that perpetrated the crimes — should acknowledge responsibility through its judiciary. But the courts have ignored these demands, pointing to the statute of limitations applicable to those cases.

Victims’ and intellectual groups challenged the legitimacy of the opinion tribunal, calling instead for a ‘Trial of Communism” in the courts of law. In 2003, the ICAR Foundation asked the government to acknowledge the “communist Holocaust,” apologize to victims, and admit that the Securitate was a political police.[xvi] President Iliescu and the Social Democrat government ignored the request. After the 2004 elections, ICAR convinced President Basescu of the power of an official apology addressed to victims and the Romanian society at large, and coming from the country’s top state dignitary. Băsescu agreed to deliver the apology, after the Commission documented the crimes. The apology, however, never came, being replaced by a condemnation.

Property restitution

            Since 1989, organizations of initial owners (most notably the Association of Owners of Property Abusively Confiscated by the State) have asked for the return of the property they lost or for fair compensation, when restitution in kind was not possible. They have opposed the tenants who rent confiscated dwellings from the state. All these groups have tried to influence public policy through street protests, open letters, and press campaigns.

In 2000, the Association of Tenants Living in Nationalized Dwellings convinced Parliament to accept as valid the contracts through which tenants bought nationalized dwellings from the state. As such, Law 10/2001 prohibited the return of homes bought by tenants in ‘good faith.’ The Association of Owners of Property Abusively Confiscated by the State warned that all tenants knew that the houses had been illegally confiscated, and addressed an open letter to Parliament, but its plea for property restitution remained unanswered.[xvii] The Association also monitors the activity of the Property Fund, set up in 2005 to provide compensation to owners, and the cases lodged by Romanian owners with the European Court for Human Rights.

Property restitution also extended to church property, including that transferred in 1948 from the Greek Catholics to the Orthodox Church.[xviii] Since 1989, the two churches have engaged in high-profile public campaigns for restitution (in the case of the Greek Catholics) or against it (in the case of the Orthodox). At the pressure of the Orthodox, in the early 1990s the government denied the Greek Catholics their right to seek justice through the courts. In turn, the Greek Catholics approached the European Court of Human Rights, which recognized the infringement of their rights and obliged the Romanian state to allow the courts to hear cases of Greek Catholic church restitution starting 2006. As it commands the loyalty of 86 percent of the population, the Orthodox Church remains an important civil society actor shaping the politics of the past.

Memorialization

            In the absence of a museum dedicated to the victims of communism, the Sighet Memorial remains Romania’s most significant memorialization project. Created in 1993 by the Civic Academy, the Memorial includes the Museum located in the Sighet prison and the International Center for the Study of Communism in Bucharest, which seek “to revise the country’s history falsified by the communist regime.”[xix] Besides oral history programs, the Memorial organizes summer schools for pre-university teachers and students, publishes a scholarly journal, and commemorates a Day of Memory, dedicated to those who suffered in communist prisons.

            Victims groups have also funded memorials. The Association of Former Political Prisoners erected hundreds of monuments, crosses, and commemorative plaques throughout Romania to mark the site of former political prisons or murders of anticommunist fighters, remember the struggle of anti-communist heroes, or celebrate the people’s opposition to the dictatorship. Given the reluctance of post-communist governments to honour victims and condemn perpetrators, these efforts to mark memory sites remain of utmost importance.[xx]

3. General Observations in Lieu of Conclusions

Let me now make some general observations about the role of civil society in transitional justice. Some apply to other countries as well; others are relevant only to Romania. For lack of time, I will just list these observations, without providing full demonstrations.

1. There is a wide diversity of groups interested in transitional justice, and not all of them support reckoning, a fact insufficiently recognized by scholars and practitioners. Inimical groups are formidable opponents when organized as institutional interest groups working within and having privileged ties to the government (like those gathering intelligence agents).

2. The need to address multiple abusive pasts creates competition within the civil society. The victims of the 1989 revolution, those of Ceausescu, and those of Gheorghiu-Dej’s “deep repression” have competed more than collaborated with each other. Their contradictory agendas have delegitimized transitional justice, instilled “memory fatigue” in the public, and provided arguments for governments to do as little as possible in coming to terms with the recent pasts.

3. In Romania, victims’ organizations have generally enjoyed strong leadership but faced crippling financial difficulties, even when anti-communist parties formed the government. Groups created around pre-communist leaders could draw on their expertise, but were disadvantaged by the leaders’ old age and health problems acquired in communist prisons. Lack of finances has partly been addressed by enthusiastic volunteer work.

4. Victims set up civil society groups earlier than perpetrators because perpetrators were represented in the first post-communist governments that blocked reckoning. It was only later, when public debates on the need to honour victims and identify perpetrators unfolded and anti-communist parties won elections, that civil society actors inimical to transitional justice appeared. The reproduction of communist elites gave perpetrators representation in state structures, and obliged victims to organize as part of the civil society. This “state perpetrators”/”non-state victims” dichotomy has remained almost unchanged since 1989.

5. Overall state actors have blocked and civil society actors have supported redress. Civil society groups have been listened to and their projects have been supported only when parties and governments have anticipated possible electoral gains. These groups were abandoned, ignored or even silenced when their demands for justice threatened the careers of powerful political gatekeepers, or the policy priorities, legitimacy and popularity of the ruling party.

6. Civil society groups have promoted mostly non-judicial, and often local, reckoning processes of limited impact. The wavering and self-interested position of the intellectuals and the dishonesty of civil society actors who hid their own former collaboration also explain why the Romanian reckoning has been politicized and delegitimized in the eyes of the public.[xxi]

The challenge facing the pro-transitional justice civil society groups in Romania is to find common ground, a common voice and a common platform to promote various methods, processes and practices of coming to terms with the past as new generations with no direct experience with the communist regime and its crimes come on the political stage. This implies more concerted action, a redesigned agenda and tool kit, and the political acumen needed to bring the public and the political elite behind the larger de-communization project.

Notes:


[i] David Backer, “Civil society and transitional justice: possibilities, patterns and prospects,” Journal of Human Rights 2(3) 2003: 297-313.

[ii] Asociaţia Foştilor Deţinuţi Politici din România, Asociaţia Foştilor Deţinuţi Politici şi Luptători Anticomunişti, and Asociaţia Proprietarilor Deposedaţi Abuziv de Stat.

[iii] Asociaţia Persoanelor Deposedate Abuziv, Foştilor Deportaţi Refugiaţi din România; Asociaţia pentru Proprietate Privată; Comunitatea Moştenitorilor şi Proprietarilor Legitimi din România; Asociaţia Victimelor Sistemului Comunist Bolşevic şi a Sechelelor Sale; Asociaţia Victimelor Magistraţilor din România; Asociaţia Franceză pentru Apărarea Drepturilor de Proprietate în România; and Interessenvertretung Restitution in Rumanien.

[iv] Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, “The Devil’s Confessors: Priests, Communists, Spies and Informers,” East European Politics and Societies, 19(4) 2005: 655-685, and Lucian Leuştean, Orthodoxy and the Cold War. Religion and Political Power in Romania, 1947–1965 (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

[v] Asociaţia Chiriaşilor din Casele Naţionalizate, and Asociaţia Proprietarilor pe Legea 112/1995. See Lavinia Stan, “The Roof over Our Head: Property Restitution in Romania,” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 22(2) 2006: 180-205, and Daniela Benea, “Musceleni, la şedinţa pentru modificarea Legii Chiriaşilor,” Evenimentul Muscelean, 28 October 2008.

[vi] Fundaţia Solidaritatea Patrie şi Onoare. See Gabriel Andreescu, “Cazul Grigore Opriţa: a început vânătoarea zăpăciţilor şi a aiuriţilor,” Observator Cultural, no. 180 (August 2013).

[vii] Şedinţa Senatului din 25 martie 1992, Monitorul Oficial al României, partea a II-a (26 March 1992), p. 2.

[viii] Şedinţa Senatului din 3 februarie 1994, Monitorul Oficial al României, partea a II-a (4 February 1994), p. 4.

[ix] Lavinia Stan, “Access to Securitate Files: The Trials and Tribulations of a Romanian Law,” East European Politics and Societies, 16(1) 2000: 55-90.

[x] Lavinia Stan, “Witch-hunt or Moral Rebirth? Romanian Parliamentary Debates on Lustration,” East European Politics and Societies (April 2011).

[xi] Raluca Grosescu and Raluca Ursachi, Justiţia penală de tranziţie: De la Nurenberg la postcomunismul românesc (Iaşi: Edituta Polirom, 2009).

[xii] Domnita Ştefănescu, Cinci ani din istoria României. O cronologie a evenimentelor decembrie 1989-decembrie 1994 (Bucharest: Editura Maşina de Scris, 1995), p. 110

[xiii]Grosescu and Ursachi, Justitia penala de tranzitie, p. 182.

[xiv] Cosmina Tănăşoiu, “The Tismaneanu Report: Romania Revisits Its Past,” Problems of Post-Communism 54(4) 2007: 60-69, and Vladimir Tismăneanu, “Democracy and Memory: Romania Confronts Its Communist Past,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 617 (2008): 166-180.

[xv] Curtea Penală de Condamnare Juridico-Morală a Crimelor Regimurilor Comuniste, Procesul Comunismului, October 2006, available at: http://redholocaust.org/procesul.html, accessed on 29 March 2011.

[xvi] The ‘Trial of Communism’ is “a duty to the victims who died with the hope that justice would be done and to those who survived and are still waiting for justice to be done,” “a necessary and expected acknowledgement of the state abuses of the past, and a sign of maturity for the Romanian democracy.” ICAR Foundation, Communism Trial, 2010, available at: http://www.icarfoundation.ro/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=29&Itemid=44, accessed on 1 September 2011.

[xvii] Damiana Oţoiu, “Negocier la (re)constitution de la propriete privee en Roumanie postsocialiste. (Nouveaux) acteurs, (anciennes) strategies,” Options Mediterraneennes, A92 (2009), p. 70.

[xviii] Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, Religion and Politics in Post-Communist Romania (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[xix] Monica Ciobanu, “Democracy and Education – Teaching History and Building a Democratic Future: Reflections From Post-Communist Romania,” Democracy and Education, 17(3) 2008, p. 60.

[xx] Asociaţia Foştilor Deţinuţi Politici din România, Album memorial. Monumente închinate jertfei, suferinţei şi luptei împotriva comunismului (Bucharest: Ziua, 2004).

[xxi] R. Grosescu, “The Role of the Civil Society and Anticommunist Political Actors in the Romanian Transitional Justice Partial Failure,” in Lustration and Consolidation of Democracy and the Rule of Law in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. by V. Dvorakova and A. Milardovic (Zagreb: Political Science Research Center, 2007), p. 190.

A link to my Youtube talk is available here.

Citation in Ratio Juris posting Wednesday, Sep 18 2013 

The Ratio Juris blog mentions the Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice and my book on Transitional Justice in Post-Communist Romania (both published with Cambridge University Press earlier this year) in their Restorative and Redistributive Justice during Periods of Transitional Justice: A Selected Bibliography. The bibliography is available here.

Lustration without lustrati – the philosopher who informed without being an informer Friday, Dec 21 2012 

A short notice in Romanian newspapers went almost unnoticed. Undeservingly. The National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS), the Romanian transitional justice institution, declared Andrei Marga “clean.” A philosopher by training, Marga served as Minister of Education in the Victor Ciorbea, Radu Vasile and Mugur Isarescu cabinets (1997-2000), during which time he implemented some reforms but not enough to rid the Romanian education system of its many endemic flaws. He then became known for unceremoniously faxing in his resignation as leader of the ‘historic’ Christian Democrat Peasant Party, months after that formation was literally obliterated by the 2000 parliamentary elections. After putting such an abrupt end to his political career, Marga returned to the University of Cluj, where he acted as its eminence grise. This year Marga served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Victor Ponta cabinet supported by the Social Democrats, heirs to the Communist Party that persecuted the Christian Democrats from 1945 to 1989. His ministerial stint was short (May to August) but memorable, leaving behind a mess that is still to be sorted out. Today he is president of the Romanian Cultural Institute, where he single-handedly and rapidly foiled all programs designed to promote Romanian culture abroad.

According to the so-called Ticu Law of December 1999, Romanian state dignitaries and presidents of public universities must undergo vetting procedures designed to uncover their former ties to the communist secret political police, the Securitate. Even before the Ticu Law came in effect, the Democratic Convention of Romania (which appointed the Ciorbea, Vasile and Isarescu cabinets) informally vetted their candidates for elected and nominated state positions. It is thus very likely that Marga was vetted several times by now, each time being declared fit to occupy public office and represent ordinary Romanians. It is, to my knowledge, the first time when the public is offered a reason for why Marga is “clean” of any former collaboration with the Securitate. He fulfils only one of the two conditions needed for somebody to be branded a securist – he spied on others (composing, writing down with his own hand, and signing information notes on other people), but he did not promise to become a Securitate agent (by signing a collaboration pledge, although he assumed the code name ‘Horia’). In the eyes of the CNSAS and the law, Marga is clean as long as the pledge is not discovered. But the fact remains that he did what all other secret informers did – provided information secretly and knowingly to the Securitate case officer, who then archived it in Marga’s secret file.

Meanwhile, Evenimentul Zilei published the CNSAS decision in the Marga case. It is available here – an interesting reading.

Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy Monday, Dec 10 2012 

An important conference has been organized by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Institute for National Remembrance, Poland’s preeminent transitional justice institution. More information is available here.

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Poland’s post-1989 transformation experiences have shown exactly how important it is to shape the space of civic freedoms, build a country governed by rule of law, respect human rights and develop civil society. By sharing its own experiences, Poland is becoming ever more engaged in promoting democracy and supporting democratic transformations in European neighborhood countries, as well as other among other societies which choose to follow the path of democratization.At the same time we have been increasingly active in developing the institutional infrastructure for international cooperation in the field of democracy promotion. It is no coincidence that the Permanent Secretariat of Community of Democracies was established in Warsaw. Now, as a result of a Polish initiative, the European Commission, European Parliament, the European External Action Service, and the EU member states are involved in the creating European Endowment for Democracy (EED). This fund is the first EU project dedicated only to the promotion of measures aimed at fostering an environment that encourages democratic transformations in European neighborhood countries.

Polish activities in the field of promotion of democratic values require the establishment of a permanent forum for the exchange of good practices and expertise in the evolution of democratic systems, as well as developments in that field taking place in different parts of the world, with emphasis on the European neighborhood. It is our ambition to make the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy event act as such a forum.

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The conference is planned in the form of a recurring event which will focus on regular monitoring of the international environment to pursue democracy, as well as on creating recommendations mainly for international organizations involved in supporting democratic transformations. The first edition of the Warsaw Dialogue, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland jointly with the Institute of National Remembrance, will take place on December 14-15 in Warsaw. The forthcoming conference will concentrate on the difficult matter of democratization and systemic transformation. It will be an opportunity to strengthen the message about the establishment of the European Endowment for Democracy and stimulate a discussion on its mandate. The above initiative is addressed to all people, institutions, and organizations focusing on the promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights.

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From the IPN site: “As many as 176 participants from 40 countries, even as far away as Zimbabwe and Chile, came to Warsaw for the first edition of the conference “Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy”. On 14-15 December at the College of Europe in Natolin they discussed the process of democratization in the modern world.

The conference “Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy”, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Institute of National Remembrance, gathered people involved in the promotion of democracy, representatives of think-tanks, NGOs, international organizations, and governments from all continents. Representatives of the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine), the Balkan countries (Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro), Middle East (Israel, Jordan), North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt ), sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Zimbabwe) and South America (Argentina, Chile) arrived in Warsaw. Democracy is deeply inscribed in the Polish history and it is an important part of the Polish civilization heritage. In the name of solidarity, we want to share our experience, but also we want to know the experience and challenges of others. Let the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy inaugurated today serve this purpose – said Jerzy Pomianowski, Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the start of the conference.

Discussion took place in four sessions: “From revolution to transformation. Dreams and reality”, “Transitional Justice”, “New meanings of civil society”, “Changing people’s mind for democracy”.

The moderators of the sessions were those involved in the processes of democratization in countries that are recognized democracies (United States, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Romania), as well as from countries where democracy is being built (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt). The floor was also taken by representatives of the countries where the conditions for a democratic transition have not yet appeared (Belarus), or where it faces serious difficulties (Ukraine). The invitation to participate in the conference was also accepted by representatives of 18 Council of Europe schools of political studies from the EU neighboring countries: North Africa and the Middle East, the Balkans, Eastern Partnership countries and Russia.

Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy is another project reinforcing the so-called “Warsaw process”. It was initiated by Bronislaw Geremek and Madeleine Albright with summit of democratic states under the theme “Towards a Community of Democracies”, which took place in July 2000 in Warsaw. The establishment of the European Fund for Democracy (EED), promoted by Poland, is also a part of this process. Democratization has been a permanent part of the Polish national interest and foreign policy for many years. Polish transformational experience and willingness to share it create a strong and recognizable feature of Polish national brand in the world.”

And some info from this site: “Jerzy Pomianowski, the Polish MFA Undersecretary of State, said in an interview with charter97.org: “Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy is a new initiative that we decided to launch. The conference is a platform to discuss our efforts to promote democracy. It is not a conversation when someone explains something to others. It is a dialogue, where we want to hear one another and want to tell our opinion and experience to one another.

Warsaw is an excellent place to hold this dialogue. People from Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and other regions have come here. There are representatives of almost 40 countries. I think it’s becoming a good example, like the Community of Democracies that was founded in Poland in 2000 due to Prof. Geremek. We then proposed the European Endowment for Democracy. And now we have the conference, which will be held on a regular basis. It is what we would like to tell the world: Poland is a country that appreciates democracy and human rights. It is a subject of our international relations.

Besides the formation of Poland’s brand as a democracy promoter, it is also important for us that voices of people struggling for human rights and democracy could be heard. It is vital, because they give us signals from their side, but they sometimes don’t hear one another. It is very important that they could adopt the experience. There are many things in common between Tunis and Ukraine, Belarus and Syria, Moldova and Egypt. Sharing experience may make their work easier. We also try to help them in this task.”

Some photos are available here. Among the many news items reporting on that conference is this.

New Book: After Oppression. Transitional Justice in Latin America and Eastern Europe Monday, Nov 26 2012 

With a bit of delay, the United Nations University Press has published a new volume edited by Vesselin Popovski and Monica Serrano. Based on a research grant and a conference held at Oxford University in 2009, the volume examines transitional justice comparatively in Latin America and Eastern Europe and focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of accountability mechanisms. I authored the chapter on Romania, which looked at court trials, the Tismaneanu history commission, lustration, and access to secret files.

The volume is presented this way on the UNU Press website: “The decline of authoritarianism in Latin America and Eastern Europe marked the end of a dark chapter in the history of these societies. In both regions, transition to democracy was accompanied by distinct efforts to come to terms with the traumatic experiences of the past and to demand accountability from the oppressors. The impact of these efforts rippled far beyond national boundaries, expanding the frontiers of international justice, and yielding indelible lessons and inspiration.

As these societies crossed the uncharted waters of transition and liberalization, one difficult question remained: How to reconcile the need for democratic stability in the present and future with the imperative of truth and justice for the past? This was an unprecedented test: societies made their way forward often through trial and error; steps ahead were followed by steps back.

After Oppression aims to enquire into the effectiveness of various accountability mechanisms. Drawing comparisons from cases studies in Latin America and Eastern Europe, the book demonstrates that while there are many different paths to truth and justice, all depend on continued efforts in order to reach them. In many cases these efforts also create favourable conditions for the development of a resilient human rights culture. The experiences across regions show that democratic consolidation and accountability for past human rights violations are closely related, if independent, processes. This accessible book makes an important contribution towards better understanding those processes and the relationship between them.”

România, repetenta Europei la restituirea proprietăţilor – un articol preluat de la AFP Wednesday, May 23 2012 

Articolul lui Isabelle Wesselingh (AFP) a fost preluat de catre Jurnalul National pe 22 May si este disponibil la: http://www.jurnalul.ro/observator/romania-restutiure-proprietati-codasa-europa-610689.htm.

“Mii de români, unii dintre ei octogenari, aşteaptă de peste 20 de ani restituirea caselor şi terenurilor ce le-au fost confiscate familiilor lor între 1945 şi 1989. Doar o mică parte au primit despăgubiri, ca urmare a aplicării inechitabile a legii, potrivit Curţii Europene a Drepturilor Omului (CEDO). România este repetenta Europei în materie de restituire a bunurilor confiscate de regimurile comuniste, majoritatea celorlalte ţări rezolvând această problemă spinoasă la începutul anilor 1990, comentează agenţia France Presse într-o amplă analiză dedicată chestiunii proprietăţilor confiscate de comunişti în ţara noastră.

“Săptămâna trecută, cei care continuă să aştepte această restituire au simţit o profundă nedreptate, după ce Guvernul a propus plafonarea compensaţiilor la 15% din valoarea reală a bunurilor, adică o scădere drastică, de la 100% cât se prevede în prezent. Premierul Mihai-Răzvan Ungureanu, care recunoaşte şi el că e o nedreptate, a invocat constrângerile bugetare, susţinând că plata integrală a despăgubirilor ar costa statului 16 miliarde de euro, o cifră contestată”, notează AFP.

“Factorul cel mai important în întârzierea cu care România a abordat chestiunea restituirilor este reproducerea elitelor comuniste după Revoluţia din 1989”, a declarat pentru AFP Lavinia Stan, profesor de ştiinţe politice la Universitatea Saint-Francois-Xavier din Canada şi autoarea unui studiu pe această temă. “În alte ţări ale Europei de Est, elitele comuniste au fost în mod clar înlocuite cu lideri necomunişti, dar în România liderii comunişti de rangul doi au luat locul familiei Ceauşescu şi apropiaţilor săi”, a adăugat aceasta. “Cum mulţi trăiau în proprietăţi naţionalizate, nu aveau niciun interes să lase proprietarii spoliaţi să-şi recupereze bunurile”, a explicat Lavinia Stan.”

After Oppression: Transitional Justice in Latin America and Eastern Europe (UNU Press) Sunday, May 13 2012 

Prof. Vesselin Popovski at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan, the academic arm of the United Nations, has initiated and brought to completion a large project comparing transitional justice experiences in Eastern Europe and Latin America. This project, conducted with the assistance of the United Nations University, Oxford University, and El Colegio Mexico, has resulted in a conference organized at Oxford University and a volume that will be published with UNU Press. A description of the project, which included a contribution on Romania that I signed, is available here.

“The gross violations of human rights in Latin America and Eastern Europe under authoritarian regimes created growing popular anger that finally exploded in mass revolts and demands for change, bringing the regimes to an end. It was a bottom-up process: a gradually rising discontent of ordinary people, who in the aftermath of the changes, made continuous calls for justice and accountability for the perpetrators of human rights violations, and simultaneous calls for compensation for the victims of these violations. The demands for justice and compensation faced initial reluctance, partly because political forces connected to previous regimes remained powerful and influential.

The processes of transitional justice have been controversial and complex, zigzagging from extreme demands for severe punishment to similarly unacceptable calls for blanket unqualified forgiveness. Transitional justice has had to perform a balancing act: paying full respect to grievances — traumatic, deeply emotional and divisive — while also taking into consideration strategies for societal reconciliation and future stability.”

The Restitution Titanic Sunday, Apr 29 2012 

Property restitution has constituted a divisive method of working through Romania’s multiple pasts: communist, fascist, and more generally pre-communist. Successive post-communist governments of all ideological persuasions have been unwilling to right past wrongs, generating instead a series of new injustices and consolidating impunity through commission and omission. The recent Democrat Liberal proposal to discontinue restitution in kind and cap financial compensation packages to 15 percent of the property market value represented a last-minute attempt to address a systemic problem identified eighteen months ago by the European Court for Human Rights. Proposed just days before the cabinet of Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu stepped down for losing the confidence of parliament, the proposal raised more questions than it solved.

Confiscations, nationalizations and expropriations without due compensation affected land, factories, dwellings, churches and chapels, religious objects, gold coins, jewels, art objects, bonds, bank accounts, and other assets. Of these, the dwellings have been the most disputed, and the object of most complaints addressed by initial owners to the European Court. After the collapse of the communist regime, the ruling Social Democrats (heirs to the conservative faction of the Communist Party) made it clear that restitution in kind was to be the exception, not the rule of their transitional justice program. The official reason was that returning dwellings to initial owners reconstituted pre-communist social divisions, something that had to be avoided as seemingly incompatible with the new democratic order. The real reason was more mundane, since many Social Democrats occupied abusively confiscated dwellings for meager rents. In 1995, tenants were allowed to buy the dwellings they occupied at a fraction of market value. While the right to use usually derives from the right to own, in Romania the right to own derived from the right to use. The recently proposed legislation did little to rectify this anomaly.

After the 1996 elections, leaders of the ruling Democratic Convention and its junior partner, the Democrat Party, hastened to gain access to the most desirable dwellings, by sometimes evicting Social Democrat dignitaries and other times accepting them as neighbors. The Convention included the historic Liberal and Peasant Parties, while the Democrats were the heirs to the Communist Youth League and the reformist faction of the Communist Party. Transactions allowing tenants to buy ‘in good faith’ abusively confiscated properties were recognized as legally valid. The only improvement was that initial owners were permitted to approach the Romanian courts, a constitutional right the Social Democrats had stubbornly denied them. That courts could pronounce verdicts in restitution cases was a step forward from 1990-1996, when the government and the Prosecutor General considered that only parliament was entitled to settle the issue. Nevertheless, applying a crooked legislative framework could not end injustice. This is why starting in 1999 Romanian initial owners turned to the European Court, which accepted their petitions.

Since then, the European Court has ruled in favor of dozens of Romanian initial owners whose property right, right to approach the courts, and right to due process were blatantly infringed by the Romanian government. The total damages awarded by the Court have reached an estimated 10 million Lei per year, but the final tab could be much higher, since interest is applied when Romanian authorities pay no damages within three months of those damages being awarded. Most of the restitution cases the European Court settled fall into this category. Meanwhile, tenants have continued to use the dwellings at meager rent levels, while the total proceedings obtained from the sale of some of the confiscated dwellings by the state to the tenants ‘in good faith’ have remained remarkably low. In the Romanian case, property restitution has allowed a small group of privileged politicians and well-connected luminaries (actors, bankers, writers, university professors, journalists, and even former tennis players) to appropriate prized historical dwellings while transferring the cost of these transactions to the taxpayers.

In 2010, the European Court launched a pilot-judgment procedure in response to Romania’s lack of progress in resolving the property restitution issue, and the 1,500 nearly identical cases that Romanian initial owners had lodged with the Court. The pilot-judgment procedure signaled that the European Court judges had identified structural legal problems giving rise to repeated violations by Romania of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court further decided to adjourn examining cases lodged by Romanian owners for eighteen months, pending adoption by Bucharest of measures streamlining and simplifying property restitution procedures and providing adequate redress to all those affected by the reparation legislation. The procrastination has worked against the individual homeowners, many of whom are old persons lacking the financial means needed to continue the legal fight. By late 2010, only 4,000 of the 63,000 property return claims lodged with the National Agency for Property Restitution, the central governmental agency mandated to recognize restitution demands, had been solved.

The Democrat Liberal response to the challenge raised by the European Court was a legislative proposal that addressed almost none of the injustices generated by previous Romanian governments but continued to disregard the initial owners’ constitutional right to property. First, the most important expense associated with property restitution relates to the damages for which the Romanian government incurs interest for not paying in time more than to the market value of the properties. Even if compensation is set to a fraction of the market value, arguably to help authorities meet reasonable compensation targets in times of financial crisis, the damages would continue to skyrocket as long as the government proposes no working payment plan. Money must be paid – all Romanian governments have chosen to cover damages, instead of full compensation. Second, if the Constitutional Court does not strike down the proposal as unconstitutional, then Romanian owners would fall into two categories based on the courts’ abilities to recognize their ownership rights with celerity. Owners whose property rights are recognized by courts before the proposal goes into force will be entitled to full financial compensation or restitution in kind, if possible. Owners whose cases cannot be heard by the courts by the time the proposal goes into force will be entitled to no restitution in kind and compensation of up to 15 percent. Owners would be within their rights to approach the European Court against the Romanian government, this time with complaints about the functioning of the local court system.

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