Evacuarea fantomei: Arhitecturi ale supravietuirii / Evicting the Ghost: Architectures of Survival Tuesday, Nov 15 2011 

A chapter I wrote last year: “The Property Restitution Legal Framework in Romania,” in Evacuarea fantomei: Arhitecturi ale supravietuirii / Evicting the Ghost: Architectures of Survival, ed. by Alex Axinte and Cristi Borcan (Bucharest: Centrul de Introspectie Vizuala, 2010), pp. 37-60. The volume includes contributions signed by Ole Bouman, Catalin Berescu, Liviu Chelcea, Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, Yona Firedman, St. Ghenciulescu, Damiana Otoiu, Doina Petrescu, Kai Vockler si Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss. It is only recently that I received a copy.

The volume received Premiul sectiunii Carte de Arhitectura, in cadrul Anualei de Arhitectura, Bucuresti 2011. A good presentation is included here.

Vigilante justice in post-communist Europe Tuesday, Nov 15 2011 

A talk I gave in Montreal in April 2010 has become available in Communist and Post-Communist Studies, at doi:10.1016/j.postcomstud.2011.10.001. Five cases in which the names of former secret informers who supplied information to the communist secret political police were unofficially disclosed are discussed in terms of the motivations of their authors, their timing relative to 1989 and their countries’ lustration and file access legislation, and the information they make available to the general public. After contrasting them with civil society efforts to promote transitional justice and unofficial truth projects, it becomes evident that these unofficial disclosures were animated by revenge as much as the quest for unveiling the truth about communist repression. The article talks about the Cibulka lists in Czechoslovakia, the Romanian Armageddon 7, the UDBa.net scandal in Slovenia, the Wildstein list in Poland, and the Penc internet databases in the Czech Republic, all part of what I call “vigilante justice” in post-communism. An interesting string of unofficial disclosures that have preoccupied me for some time.

Post-communist truth commissions: a brief overview Friday, Jul 9 2010 

The five(*) truth commissions that investigated communist abuses share some important features translating into both advantages and disadvantages for their activity. First, the German and the Romanian commissions were set up without much prompting and support from the international community, whereas the Baltic commissions had a more international flavor, not only because these three countries decided together to employ this particular transitional justice method, but also because those bodies included foreign members. In all Baltic countries the research, documentation and writing of final reports were completed by national support staff. Truly “international” commissions enjoy independence from the fractured societies they investigate–including former torturers placed in the government, the police, the secret police and the army who could block or distort their work–but they can translate independence into lack of legitimacy and aloofness toward the very societies they are called to serve. As predominantly “domestic” bodies, all post-communist commissions except the Estonian one were in a better position to have their results accepted by the society. The inclusion of a limited number of foreign members was regarded as an advantageous move that would promote “impartiality in the work of the commission” and give it access to the newest research tools developed in the West (Chancery of the President of Latvia, 2005).

Second, all post-communist commissions released final reports detailing their activity, the results of their investigations, and the evidence they amassed to document communist-era human rights trespasses. This is no small accomplishment, given the fact that the period of time under investigation was relatively long (in all five cases), the commissions were large and ran the risk of disagreement among members (especially in the German and Romanian cases) or their complex mandate covered atrocities perpetrated by both the Nazi and the Soviet occupation forces (in the Baltic cases). The fact that all five commissions concluded their activity with well-written reports in relatively short periods of time attests to their overall efficacy and accountability to the political actors that created them. Note that the Latvian commission produced a series of published materials that it regards in its totality as its final report.

Equally commendable was these commissions’ willingness to name perpetrators, a choice that similar bodies in other parts of the world refused to make. Concerns for the safety of commission members, perpetrators, witnesses, victims and their relatives, and the society at large prompted some truth commissions to abstain from including names in the final reports (Guatemala) or to provide just the names of torturers mentioned by victims in their testimonials (Argentina). By disclosing the names of perpetrators and victims, post-communist truth commissions traveled the road from a general, abstract account of atrocities to an individualized account that brings much-deserved recognition for past human rights abuses and closure to the wronged victims and their surviving relatives.

One drawback was the fact that the final reports of these commissions were academic in nature, making them unintelligible to the wider public. In this sense, the five commissions attained greater precision for the truth they uncovered about communist-era atrocities at the expense of justice for the victims and reconciliation for the society at large. This choice, the result of the lack of subpoena and amnesty-granting powers, was reflected in the way commissions conducted their work prior to writing the final report. Except for the German commission, the other bodies held no public hearings, preferring to conduct their activity in relative isolation from the civil society, the victims’ groups, and the general public. Even the German commission was unable to organize the face-to-face meetings between victims and victimizers for which the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission became famous. Open public hearings require the cooperation of abusive decision-makers, something no post-communist commission could secure, but they make the public more familiar with the work of the commission and more prone to embrace the results of its investigation. Instead, all five post-communist reports were designed by their authors, and regarded by the public, as mostly academic research products destined for an academic audience. This inability to provide public healing was a matter of concern for many observers. One commentator noted that the German commission left “eastern Germans largely on the side-lines as their past was reconciled on their behalf” (Yoder, 1999, 77). The same can be said about the other post-communist commissions.

Post-communist truth commissions were political in nature, being set up by the Parliament (Germany) or the Presidents (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania) in order to signify a radical break with the repressive past and its practices of human rights violations. The German Parliament’s drive to set up the truth commission was seemingly inspired by a desire to be as comprehensive and as representative as possible in the effort to atone for communist crimes. By 1991, each of the five political parties represented in the all-German Parliament, where center-right and center-left formations from both East and West Germany were represented, favored the creation of an investigatory commission (Yoder, 1999). The presidential truth commissions of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania aimed to bring additional legitimacy and popularity to the Presidents who established them. To boost their political prominence vis-à-vis weak and hesitant Parliaments, the Presidents used a radical anticommunist discourse. All three Baltic Presidents were drawn from the ranks of former communist-era victims, but the anticommunist credentials of the Romanian President Traian Basescu were dubitable (Stan 2005). A sea captain who represented communist Romania’s ship industry in Antwerp before becoming a director in the communist Ministry of Transportation, Basescu started his post-communist political career in the National Salvation Front, heir to the Communist Party. In 2004, his anticommunism represented a well-thought strategy that permitted him to win the Presidency.

The five post-communist truth commissions are presented below chronologically. As in other respects, Germany was a pioneer in the region, being the first to establish a commission in May 1992, two and a half years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and nearly two years after the country’s reunification (Welsh, 2006). At the time, truth commissions did not receive much international recognition as transitional justice methods, though they had proved their utility in several Latin American post-junta democracies. By the time the Baltic commissions were set up in late 1998, however, the much celebrated South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission had concluded its activity and had helped truth commissions gain international acceptance as effective tools of coming to terms with the past. The Baltic efforts were partly inspired by success stories in other countries and a desire to come to terms with the darker chapters of these countries’ recent past. There is, however, little evidence that the Baltic decision-makers knew the German precedent in depth. The most recent commission was established in Romania with the public, the local academic community and even the commission members believing that it was “a first in the post-communist world” (Cesereanu, 2008, 278). In this respect, the country reinvented the wheel, without the advantage of learning from its neighbors’ accomplishments and mistakes.

The German Commission of 1992

The Commission of Inquiry for the Assessment of History and Consequences of the SED Dictatorship in Germany (Enquete Kommission zur Aufarbeitung von Geschichte und Folgen der SED-Diktator in Deutschland) was created by the German Parliament to document and investigate the practices of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), the Communist Party that ruled East Germany singlehandedly from 1949 to 1989 (Act no. 12/2597 of 14 May 1992). Recognizing that “the legacy of the SED dictatorship continues to be a burden preventing people in [unified] Germany from coming together” and that “to work through the history and the consequences of the SED…is a joint task of all Germans” and important “for the purpose of truly unifying Germany,” the law mandated the commission to carry out eight different, but inter-related, tasks.

These tasks were the following: “to analyze the structures, strategies and instruments of the SED dictatorship, in particular the issue of responsibilities for the violation of human and civil rights and the destruction of nature and the environment,” “to evaluate the significance of ideology, integrative factors and disciplining practices,” “to examine the violation of international human rights agreements and standards and the forms of appearance of oppression in various phases; to identify groups of victims and consider possibilities of material and moral restitution,” “to work out the possibilities and forms of deviating and resistant behavior and oppositional action in the various spheres along with the factors that influenced them,” “to illustrate the role and identity of the churches in the various phases of the SED dictatorship,” “to judge the significance of the international conditions, particularly the influence of Soviet politics on the GDR,” “to examine the significance of the relation” between the two German states, and finally “to include the issue of continuities and analogies of thought, behavior and structures in 20th century German history, particularly the period of the national socialist dictatorship” (Act no. 12/2597).

The commission’s task was meant to be feasible and attainable in a reasonable period of time, more than to be comprehensive. Many crimes perpetrated by or with communist support had occurred outside the period under examination. To investigate communist crimes, the commission could hold “discussions with interested parties and citizens’ groups, with scientists, scholars and grass-roots groups which work through GDR history” and “public hearings and forums,” and could “commission presentation of expert assessments and scholarly studies” (Act no. 12/2597). It could consult relevant archives, including the secret archive of the Ministry of State Security (Ministerium fur Staatssicherheit or the Stasi) managed by the Gauck Agency (Bundesbeauftragter für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik). From May 1992 to May 1994, the commission conducted 44 public hearings, met in 40 additional closed sessions, and held 150 related subcommittee hearings about some of the most hotly debated topics in the history of divided Germany (McAdams 2001a and 2001b). It commissioned 148 academic papers on 95 questions dealing with various aspects of the SED dictatorship (Weber, 1997). Although it had no subpoena powers, the commission heard over 100 witnesses representing victims of repression who were willing to come before it and detail their story of life under the hammer and sickle. Fearful that their testimony might be used against them in court sometimes in the future, senior government officials declined to testify when invited.

Chaired by Rainer Eppelmann, the commission included 16 members of Parliament, Dorothea Wilms, Dirk Hansen, Dietmar Keller, Markus Meckel, and Gerd Poppe, among them. Commission members were joined in their activity by 11 outside-Parliament experts and a substantial support staff that organized the public hearings and kept a written record of testimonials. Instead of being chosen from among politically independent luminaries, commission members were nominated by parties represented in Parliament. For example, Wilms represented the ruling Christian Democrats, whereas former Minister of Foreign Affairs Meckel represented the opposition Social Democrats. Some commission members were respected former East German dissidents who had suffered at the hands of the SED or the Stasi. A former pastor working with young people and the co-author of the Berlin Appeal of 1982 that asked communist authorities to join the international peace movement, Eppelmann pressed for a radical and comprehensive reckoning with the communist past (Bacher, 1985). Poppe represented the Peace and Human Rights Initiative, one of the few opposition groups constituted in East Germany. Under the communist regime, Poppe lost his jobs, was frequently detained and harassed for more than two decades for his refusal to toe the party line. The Stasi tried to break up his marriage, and to turn his friends against him (Kinzer, 1992). In 1969, the 17-year-old Meckel was expelled from school because of his political stance. He enrolled at the church-operated school to pursue theological studies.

In June 1994, the commission presented the German Parliament with its final report, which consisted of 18 volumes containing 15.378 pages of information. The report included thematic papers commissioned to outside researchers and summaries of the public hearings where those papers were presented. Given its considerable length, the report was not directed to the larger audience. Some of its language was considered “ponderous” (Garton Ash, 1998), whereas some of its historical judgments represented compromises between West German political parties worried about their own past connections to the East German repressive regime. Because it privileged “only selected historical narratives” (Welsh, 2006, 145), the report and the commission’s activity had “minimal” effects “from the point of view of the average former East German citizen” (Sa’adah, 1998, 185). As a result, German politicians “probably would have better served their long-term interests had they pushed for a less stereotypical assessment of the sources of stability and discord under communist rule” (McAdams, 2001a, 174). These shortcomings probably derived from the fact that “although most witnesses came from the east, most commission members and historians who testified were West German” (Welsh, 2006, 145).

Overall, however, the report presented invaluable documentation for students of East German dictatorship. It covered everything from “the role of the Stasi to that of the churches, the power structures, the police and the judiciary, the opposition, and the relations with West Germany” (Garton Ash, 1998). The commission was so successful that its recommendations were embraced by the German Parliament. One such recommendation called for the creation of a second commission to carry out its mission. The Commission of Inquiry on Overcoming the Consequences of the SED started its work in 1995. At its prompting, on 5 June 1998 the Bundestag established the Stiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur, a foundation destined to investigate the communist past.

The second commission was a study commission, whereas its predecessor was a commission of inquiry, according to the Bundestag. Commissions of inquiry are formed entirely of members of Parliament, whereas study commissions include legislators and independent experts, all enjoying the same rights. Together with public hearings, study commissions are instruments by means of which the Bundestag draws on external expertise. The Commission of Inquiry on Overcoming the Consequences of the SED included 12 members of Parliament and 12 experts. At least one member of the first commission also belonged to the second (Meckel). Unlike reports submitted by inquiry commissions, the reports prepared by study commissions cannot include recommendations for decisions by the Bundestag. Rather, “if the Bundestag is to take a decision on them, proposals contained in the reports must be taken up by the plenary or by the Federal Government and introduced in the Bundestag in the form of a motion or bill” (Bundestag, no year).

The Three Baltic Commissions

In the late 1990s, the Baltic states began to see the benefits of reckoning with their past with the help of truth commissions. In response to calls for reevaluating their involvement in the Holocaust in the early 1940s, from September to November 1998 the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania set up investigative commissions of historians, whose mandate was soon expanded to include an investigation of atrocities perpetrated by the Soviet regime. Fearful that the “local complicity during the Holocaust would be swept under the carpet by an overwhelming official narrative of Baltic victimhood at the hands of the USSR” (Kott, 2007, 321), international observers deplored the move, but had to concede in the end that such fears were unfounded, as the Holocaust figured prominently in the publications produced by all three commissions.

The first Baltic commission, the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania (Tarptautine komisija Naciu ir Sovietinio okupaciniu rezimu nusikaltimams Lietuvoje ivertinti), was created by President Valdas Adamkus on 7 September 1998 with the mission to search for the historical truth and provide a forum for uncensored discussion of the country’s repressive past. Adamkus had a personal stake in the process. After joining the underground anti-Soviet resistance movement, during World War II he escaped to the United States, from where he returned to run for the Lithuanian presidency in the February 1998 elections. During its first meeting of 17 November 1998, the truth commission recognized that the Nazi and Soviet regimes carried out repression for different reasons, with different goals, and with the help of different methods and, as a result, constituted two sub-committees each entrusted with the task of studying one occupation regime. In turn, each sub-committee supervised the activity of an independent working group of experts investigating crimes committed as a result of the Nazi or the Soviet occupation.

The 12-member Lithuanian commission was chaired by Emanuelis Zingeris, the respected signatory of the Act of Lithuania’s Restoration of Independence from the Soviet Union of 11 March 1991. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the last Lithuanian Parliament constituted before the country’s break-up from the Soviet Union, Zingeris was the grandson of a Jewish couple who, in the 1940s, poisoned themselves rather than surrender to the Nazis (Rosenthal, 1990). Seven commission members were Lithuanian: three well-known historians, one representative of the Lithuanian President, the respected Roman Catholic Bishop of Telsiai Antanas Vaicius, one Lithuanian academic teaching in the United States (history Prof. Saulius Suziedelis) and Kestutis Girnius, the former coordinator of the radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Baltic service, which in communist times was the most important broadcaster of a viewpoint alternative to the official communist one. Among the foreign commission members were three representatives of the Israeli Yad Vashem and the American Jewish Congress, and two British and German history professors. In May 2005 Adamkus reconfirmed the commission’s membership by presidential decree.

From 2004 to 2006, the sub-commission analyzing the Nazi occupation of Lithuania published three volumes on the 1941-1944 period (Truskas and Vareikis, 2004; Dieckmann, Toleikis and Zizas, 2005; Dieckmann and Suziedelis, 2006). In 2006 and 2007, the sub-commission examining the two Soviet occupations released three volumes on the first Soviet annexation of 1940-1941 (Jakubcionis, Knezys and Streikus, 2006; Anusauskas, 2006; and Maslauskiene and Petraviciute, 2007). During the same period of time some progress was achieved in the investigation of the second Soviet occupation of 1945-1991, but no final report on that historical period was published to date. In 2002, the commission discussed the results of its research on the role of the Soviet suppression of armed resistance to the country’s re-annexation in 1945 and the forced mobilization of Lithuanians into the Soviet Red Army before the end of World War II, that is, from August 1944 to May 1945. In December 2003 it further examined the Soviet structures of repression and the Lithuanians’ collaboration with them, while in April 2005 it debated the Soviet-organized mass deportations of Lithuanians, the mass arrests and tortures, and the religious persecution of 1944-1953. It is likely that the commission will take some time to disseminate its conclusions on the 1945-1991 Soviet occupation to the public.

On 2 October 1998, the Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes against Humanity (Inimsusevastaste Kuritegude Uurimise Eesti Rahvusvahelise Komisjon) was created by President Lennart Meri to investigate crimes against humanity perpetrated by the German and Soviet occupation forces. As a young boy, Meri was deported to Siberia with his family. This was Estonia’s second attempt to use truth commissions as methods to reckon with its recent past. In 1991, Parliament established the State Commission on the Examination of Repression Policies (Okupatsioonide Repressiivpoliitika Uurimise Riiklik Komisjon) to document the acts of repression perpetrated on Estonian territory and against Estonian nationals, and the ensuing economic damages to the Estonian people. Because of shortage of personnel, an imprecise mandate and the difficulty to obtain relevant archival documents, this body dragged its feet, and was unable to release a final report by 2008. As this all-Estonian parliamentary commission reached no conclusion in its first seven years of activity, President Meri set up the international commission with a narrower and clearer mandate.

The seven-member international commission was chaired by the respected Finnish Minister Max Jakobson. It included Nicholas Lane (Chairman of the International Relations Commission of the American Jewish Committee), Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (President of the European Liberal Party, former Foreign Minister of Denmark), Peter Reddaway (Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University), Arseny Roginsky (Chairman of the Council of the Scientific and Educational Center Memorial of Moscow), Paul Goble (Director of Communications and Public Relations, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), and Wolfgang Freiherr von Stetten (Professor, Mitglied des Deutschen Bundestages). Notable was the effort to co-opt representatives of the Jewish victims’ groups and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, but also a German and a Russian, representing the two ethnic groups that had transformed from oppressors into oppressed.

The commission met for the first time on 26 January 1999 to agree on the manner in which its mandate was to be transposed into practice. During debates, commission members agreed to investigate crimes against humanity committed during three distinct historical periods: 1) the first occupation of Estonia by Soviet forces in 1940-1941; 2) the occupation of Estonia by German forces in 1941-1944; and finally 3) the second Soviet occupation beginning in 1944. For practical purposes, the work of the commission was divided into two different stages. The first to be investigated was the German occupation, followed by the two Soviet occupations, which were to be analyzed together, given their manifold similarities and continuities. The commission was conceived as a non-judicial body tasked with the collection of information not in order to launch judicial actions against individuals or institutions, but to illuminate the past in the hope of educating the Estonian and international publics about totalitarian horrors. In 2006 the commission published its two-volume final report of 1,337 pages as Estonia 1940-1945, a compilation of short articles devoted to narrowly defined topics of historical relevance.

On 13 November 1998, Latvia created the Commission of the Historians (Vesturnieku Komisija) under the auspices of President Guntis Ulmanis, a little-known economist whom Parliament had elected as President in 1993. Chaired by Prof. Andris Caune, it included 24 members, making it one of the largest commissions in the world. Most of its 12 Latvian members were historians affiliated with the Institute of History, the Faculty of History and Philosophy at the University of Latvia, the State History Archives, and the Museum of Occupation. An additional 12 academics from the United States, Sweden, Germany, Israel and Russia were appointed. The research was carried out by 25 Latvian historians commissioned to draft reports on the crimes against humanity committed on Latvian territory in 1940-1956. Four independent working groups investigated different time periods or types of crimes. One group looked at the Soviet occupation of 1940-1941, two other groups examined the Holocaust and the crimes against humanity of 1941-1944, whereas the fourth group investigated the Soviet occupation of 1944-1956. In 2004, commission members were reconfirmed, and the mandate of the commission was extended to include the entire Soviet period up to 1991 (Chancery of the President of Latvia, 2005).

The Latvian commission was the only post-communist commission not to compile a final report of its activity in the form of one single multi-volume book released at the end of its activity. Instead, the Latvian Commission of Historians recognized that a finite time period (even one extending over a decade) was insufficient for the commission to understand the recent past in all its complexity and for the Latvian society to be fully educated about it. As a result, the commission chose to organize a series of annual conferences open to the public and to publish monographs, conference proceedings and collections of scholarly articles (their number had reached 21 in 2007). Some of these conferences and publications touched on the Soviet deportations of 1941 and 1949 and the killings in Kuldiga and Skrunda, where hundreds of Jewish residents died at the hands of the Nazis and their Latvian sympathizers. In cooperation with the State Archives, the commission launched a database of Latvian victims of the German and Soviet occupations of 1940-1991.

The Romanian Commission

The Presidential Commission for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania (Comisia Prezidentiala pentru Analiza Dictaturii Comuniste in Romania) was set up on 11 April 2006 by President Traian Basescu to investigate the communist regime of 1945-1989 and to compile the report allowing the President to officially condemn the regime for its human rights trespasses (Decizia no. 8/2006). Elected in 2004, President Basescu wanted to deliver the official condemnation before Romania’s acceptance as a full European Union member on 1 January 2007. Thus, the commission had only months at its disposal. Because the timeframe was short, the commission was larger than other similar bodies, and relied on studies previously published by commission members and independent experts.

The commission included 20 members, some known for their past dissident activity or open opposition to the Ceausescu regime (Monica Lovinescu and Virgil Ierunca), others known for their research on the Securitate, its relationship with the dominant Orthodox Church, and the communist repression mechanism (Marius Oprea, Cristian Vasile, Stelian Tanase), and still others selected from among the country’s most respected intellectuals (the Orthodox Metropolitan Nicolae Corneanu of Banat and writer Horia Roman Patapievici). Commission members were aided by 20 historians, who assumed the task of researching and writing the final report. President Basescu allowed commission chairman, University of Maryland Prof. Vladimir Tismaneanu, to constitute the commission without input from parliament, the cabinet or the society. The chairman tried to recruit representatives of a wide range of civic groups, but the membership was vigorously contested by the press. The personal involvement with the communist regime of some commission members came under scrutiny when the press revealed that Tismaneanu had graduated from the Academy of Social and Political Sciences Stefan Gheorghiu, which once trained Communist Party apparatchiks. Things got complicated when Virgil Ierunca died, dissident writer Paul Goma declined the invitation to sit on the commission, and Corneanu and Sorin Antohi admitted to past collaboration with the Securitate. Critics believed that former communist collaborators were not morally entitled to investigate communist crimes.

The commission submitted its final report in time for President Basescu to condemn the communist regime during the joint session of the Romanian bicameral Parliament of 18 December 2006, the first post-communist president to do so. The report was made available to the public first in 2006 through the website of the Presidency, and then in 2007 as a book. The 665 page report was structured into three sections dealing with the structure and role of the Romanian Communist Party, the communist repression and the role of the Securitate, and their impact on society, economy and culture from 1944 to 1989. Because it examined a wide range of human rights abuses, the report represented a good source of documentation on the Romanian communist regime, but its conclusions were rendered indefensible in a court of law by the use of a definition of genocide extending the concept to society, economy and culture.

The final report included recommendations for furthering the transitional justice process in Romania, but most of them were ignored by a government inimical to President Basescu and a society preoccupied mostly with its economic wellbeing. In March 2007, a new 12-member consultative presidential commission was set up under Tismaneanu’s leadership: 1) to analyze the implementation of recommendations to be included in its final report, 2) to propose strategies for their implementation, and 3) to counsel the President on the progress in implementing the report’s recommendations (Decizia no. 5/15 March 2007). This body, which maintained a very low profile, wrapped its activity in 2009.

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(*) This article was published in The Open Political Science Journal (2009), 2, pp. 1-13, available at http://www.bentham.org/open/topolisj/openaccess2.htm. As such, it does not include the Moldovan commission, constituted in early 2010.

Why so few truth commissions in post-communist countries? Tuesday, Jul 6 2010 

During the last 35 years, truth commissions have been widely embraced around the world as effective mechanisms for redress. From 1974 to 2007 over 30 commissions dedicated to truth and/or reconciliation were set up in Africa (South Africa, Uganda, Liberia, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Chad, Burundi, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone), Asia (Sri Lanka, Nepal, and South Korea), Central and Latin America (Haiti, Bolivia, Uruguay, El Salvador, Argentina, Guatemala, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru), and even Canada, to name just a few. Established in newer or older democracies by elected and non-elected heads of state, governments, national assemblies, political parties or the international community, truth commissions have been hailed for their potential to educate future generations and to provide truth, justice and reconciliation to deeply divided societies (Heyner, 2001).

Through public hearings that bring victims and perpetrators face to face, truth commissions can help post-authoritarian countries to engage in the moral catharsis needed to heal and reconcile their fractured societies. In the process, victims or their surviving relatives can get closure by finding the reasons why their families were targeted, while victimizers can be offered absolution and forgiveness in the form of amnesty and reintegration into the community. In this sense, truth commissions can help societies heal from the past, come to terms with unspeakable atrocities, debunk the “impermissible lies” (to use Michael Ignatieff’s words) that prevented them from overcoming extreme conflicts, find the resources to transcend group divisions, and foster the trust that can bring the community back together by protecting and promoting those inter-human relations that form the basis of social capital. By systematically searching for the truth in a relatively short timeframe, truth commissions attest to the commitment of the country’s new political leadership to resolutely break with its predecessor’s record of human rights abuses. By rewriting and reinterpreting the historical record, truth commissions educate future generations about the horrors of the recent past, ensure that such atrocities will not reoccur, and prevent denials of the occurrence of human rights abuses in the country. When their work aids in the implementation of other methods of transitional justice (such as the restitution of property, the allocation of compensation packages, the launching of court trials against decision makers of the ancien regime, etc.), truth commissions are capable to enlarge the scope of the politics of memory from uncovering the truth and rewriting history to obtaining justice and reparation.

Although in a “justice cascade” (Lutz and Sikkink, 2001) the international community has strongly advocated truth commissions as effective tools of almost universal relevance and applicability, some new democracies have been reluctant to embrace them, for a number of different reasons. First, it remains uncertain that commissions reconcile societies instead of dividing them, a possibility that becomes especially dangerous since new democracies are vulnerable to the limitations and constraints of painful political and economic transition. For some countries, the wild card of reckoning with the past through truth telling is accompanied by a risk factor too great to be worth assuming. This is why, for example, after emerging from General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, Spain decided not to engage the past in a meaningful way (Aguilar, 2001). In its turn, post-communist Poland drew a “thick line” between the democratic present and the communist past (Stan, 2006), while post-communist Russia unexpectedly chose to praise its Soviet past as a time of international splendor and national harmony among its ethnic groups (Stan 2008). For how much time can the process of coming to terms with the past be put off remains a matter of debate, since none of these countries was able to stem out public debate on their recent past. Although assumed by only a handful of post-dictatorial states, the “forgive and forget” option suggests that transitional justice (the option to “prosecute and punish” through a range of methods, including truth commissions) is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for successful democratization.

Second, when devoid of reconciliation purposes, commissions tend to closely parallel the work of the historians. Historians can produce impartial and comprehensive investigations, if they retain political independence and take time to document, to examine and to interpret the evidence. For sure, not all historians are devoid of political loyalties and not all of them can produce valuable scholarly interpretations. In new democracies, historians have to grapple with the legacies of the old authoritarian regime, which subjected them to systematic and sometimes prolonged indoctrination, asked them to view the country’s history through a predominantly political lens, scorned critical thinking and independence of mind, and deprived them of the international contacts that kept them abreast with the newest research methods (Maier, 2000).

By contrast, truth commissions are declared political tools producing political results at politically defined times. Beyond serving the “didactic purpose” of academic inquiry carried out by historians, truth commissions offer an official acknowledgement of regime abuses that “is an important step in breaking with the undemocratic patterns of the old order, which may have included cover-ups and misinformation” (Yoder, 1999, 60). The investigations into past atrocities carried out by truth commissions always have public significance and political urgency, but they are never comprehensive, transparent or totally impartial. Since new democracies allow historians to work freely and independently in environments untouched by significant censorship, where open discussion about what went wrong in the old regime is tolerated, it seems superfluous to create truth commissions to replicate work that would unfold naturally with time.

Third, when they primarily seek reconciliation, truth commissions are criticized for providing soft justice and partial truth, if they substitute themselves to court trials and refuse to list the names of the torturers in their final reports. To avoid social unrest, some truth commissions chose to disclose no names or only some names of perpetrators. Their defenders have argued that understanding the mechanism of repression is sufficient to prevent the reoccurrence of crimes, but their critics have pointed out that truth implies the disclosure of both the repressive institutions and the persons working in and for them. Truth has abstract (social) and personal dimensions of comparable importance. In the name of reconciliation and truth, some commissions have further opted to reward known torturers with amnesty. When seeing their chances to get justice in courts denied, the victims have denounced commissions as “farcical” “vehicles of political expedience” that rob them of the right to (court) justice (The Independent, 11 September 1997).

Fourth, truth commissions are expensive political tools, especially for new democracies facing severe economic constraints and a plethora of social demands. For this reason, in some cases the international community has provided most or part of the necessary funding (as in South Africa or El Salvador). Even when money was available, commissions found it difficult to adhere to strict budgets. As exploratory research tools, commissions can estimate the amount of work they need to undertake, but in the course of their activity might discover that the atrocities outnumber the initially anticipated crimes. Some commissions spread their resources thinly in an effort to find out as much as possible about as many cases as possible. Other commissions concentrate resources to look at smaller subsets of representative or extreme abuses and “gross” human rights violations (Brahm, 2007). Whatever the route they take, commissions need money to keep running. Their reliance on governmental funding makes them prone to political bias and obliges them to participate “in a struggle for access to scarce financial resources” (Ernst, 1995, 380) that they might not always win.

While popular around the world, truth commissions have been overlooked in post-communist Europe. After the collapse of the communist regimes in 1989 in Eastern Europe and in 1991 in the Soviet Union, only five such commissions were created in Germany, Romania, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. None of these commissions became widely known in their respective countries, none was credited with bringing all the benefits of truth, justice, reconciliation and education to their societies, and none was regarded as a model worth inspiring neighboring countries.

What exactly accounts for the post-communist countries’ relative indifference to truth commissions? Why did only five countries see their potential benefits, and why did the region feel the need to devise new methods of reckoning with the past, such as lustration (the banning of communist decision-makers and secret agents from post-communist politics) and access to the secret files compiled by state security services? Why did these societies prefer legal administrative to truth-telling measures? Conversely, what can post-communist countries tell us about the efficacy of truth commissions in regions affected by widespread, but relatively mild, repression? These questions are answered first by looking at the five post-communist commissions constituted to date, then by examining the explanations proposed by different authors, and finally by suggesting, in the concluding section, a new mix of explanatory variables worth considering.

Truth commissions are defined as “official, temporary, non-judicial fact-finding bodies that investigate a pattern of abuses of human rights or humanitarian law, usually committed over a number of years” (Truth, Justice and Reparation 2007). They are bodies that 1) focus on the past; 2) investigate a pattern of abuses over a period of time, rather than a specific event; 3) are temporary bodies “typically in operation for six months to two years” and “completing their work with the submission of a report”; and 4) are “officially sanctioned, authorized, or empowered by the state” (Heyner, 2001, 14)1. They are, thus, temporary not permanent monitoring and enforcement bodies, mandated to gather and interpret information about past human rights violations, and meant to finalize their work with the release of a concluding report to either the general public or the body (political actor) that created them. They investigate patterns of human rights violations that occurred over several years, with only in exceptional cases that period of time being extended over several decades (as, for example, in the case of the South African Apartheid regime of 1949-1991 or the Indian Residential School system in Canada, which ran from the 1920s until 1997). Truth commissions are best suited for investigating relatively short periods of time that mark the beginning and the end of a specific historical event marred by unspeakable atrocities or widespread state abuse. Finally, truth commissions might seek reconciliation, but such a specific mandate is not always present. According to the above definition, a number of official, temporary, fact-finding bodies have been set up in Eastern Europe to examine human rights trespasses, but only five of them examined the abuses of the communist regime and completed their work with the publication of the results of their investigation.

For this reason, several commissions in Yugoslavia and Romania were not included in the present analysis. For example, in March 2001 a 15-member Commission for Truth and Reconciliation was set up by the Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Appointed to a three-year period, the commission members were meant to address human rights violations of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, not those resulted from the previous decades of communist rule. As such, from the viewpoint of its mandate, if not of its organization and structure, the commission was similar to the parliamentary inquiry commissions created in the 1990s by the Romanian Parliament to investigate the involvement of the army, the militia and the secret state security forces in the anticommunist Revolution of December 1989.

From the start, observers were skeptical as to the Yugoslav commission’s ability to uncover the bloodshed and destruction caused by Serbian or Serbian-sponsored forces in the former Yugoslav federation (Pejic, 2001). The Yugoslav commission found the truth as illusory as its Romanian counterparts, whose reports were ignored by a general public convinced that the commissions had no commitment to ask the hard questions as long as important players dominated the post-communist political scene. Indeed, who shot at the revolutionaries after dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was no longer in power, who gave the orders for the massacre that left over 1,100 dead and some 3,350 wounded, and why exactly remain riddles that are yet to be solved (Ratesh, 1991; Hall, 2000 and 2002; Siani-Davies, 2006). The Yugoslav commission was marred by additional difficulties. Set up without public consultation on its mandate, structure and composition, it saw two of its members resigning soon after their appointment. As if this were not enough, its work paralleled the hearings of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, a fact which threatened to make the commission redundant (Heyner, 2001). It is not surprising, thus, that in 2003 the commission faded away into insignificance without being able to achieve anything notable (Ilic, 2004).

Brahm, E. (2007). Uncovering the Truth: Examining Truth Commission Success and Impact. International Studies Perspectives, 8, 16-35.
Ernst, A.-S. (1995). Between ‘Investigative History’ and Solid Research: The Reorganization of Historical Studies about the Former German Democratic Republic. Central European History, 28, 373-395.
Hall, R. A. (2000). Theories of Collective Action and Revolution: Evidence from the Romanian Transition of December 1989. Europe-Asia Studies, 6, 1069-1097.
Hall, R. A. (2002). The Securitate Roots of a Modern Romanian Fairy Tale: The Press, the Former Securitate, and the Historiography of December 1989. East European Perspectives, 4, 7-9. Retrieved May 15, 2008, from http://www.rferl.org/reports/eereport/2002.
Heyner P. (2001). Unspeakable Truths. Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions. London: Routledge.
Ilic, D. (2004). The Yugoslav Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Eurozine, 23 April. Retrieved May 14, 2008, from http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2004-04-23-ilic-en.html
Lutz, E. & Sikkink, K. (2001). The Justice Cascade: The Evolution and Impact of Foreign Human Rights Trials in Latin America. Chicago Journal of International Law, 2, 1-33.
Maier, C. S. (2000). Doing History, Doing Justice: The Narrative of the Historian and the Truth Commission. In R. I. Rotberg, & D. Thompson (Eds.), Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 261-278.
Pejic, J. (2001). The Yugoslav Truth and Reconciliation Commission: A Shaky Start. Fordham International Law Journal, 25, 1-22.
Ratesh, N. (1991). Romania: The Entangled Revolution. New York: Praeger.
Siani-Davies, P. (2006). The Romanian Revolution of December 1989. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Stan, L. (2006). The Politics of Memory in Poland: Lustration, File Access and Court Proceedings. Studies in Post-Communism Occasional Paper no. 10.
Stan, L. (2008). Transitional Justice in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. London: Routledge.
Truth, Justice and Reparation. Establishing an Effective Truth Commission. London: Amnesty International, 2007. Retrieved January 7, 2008, from http://www.amnesty.org/en/alfresco_asset/55866d8e-a34b-11dc-8d74-6f45f39984e5/pol300092007en.pdf
Yoder, J. A. (1999). Truth without Reconciliation: An Appraisal of the Enquete Commission on the SED Dictatorship in Germany. German Politics, 8, 59-80.

This article was published in The Open Political Science Journal (2009), 2, pp. 1-13, available at http://www.bentham.org/open/topolisj/openaccess2.htm.

21 iunie – conferinta IICCMER Saturday, Jun 19 2010 

Conferinţa „Transitional Justice in Eastern Europe”

IICCMER (Institutul de Investigare a Crimelor Comunismului şi Memoriei Exilului Românesc) vă invită să participaţi la conferinţa Transitional Justice in Eastern Europe suţinută de profesor Lavinia Stan (St. Francis Xavier University) luni, 21 iunie 2010, orele 17.30, la sediul central al IICCMER din strada Alecu Russo, nr. 13-19, etajul 5, apartament 11, Bucureşti. Lucrările conferinţei se vor desfăşura în limba engleză. Evenimentul va fi deschis de profesor Vladimir Tismăneanu (University of Maryland, SUA), Preşedinte al Consiliului Ştiinţific al IICCMER. Profesorul Tom Gallagher (University of Bradford, MB) va susţine comentariile de încheire.

Lansare de carte la Curtea Veche Saturday, Jun 12 2010 

Whether or not you have a facebook account, you may still view pictures from our recent book launch in Bucharest by clicking on the link below.


We take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been in Bucharest on a hot June 12 showing your support.

Lansare de carte, Bookfest, 12 iunie la ora 12:00 Saturday, Jun 5 2010 

In cadrul Bookfest (Romexpo), vom lansa traducerile a doua volume publicate in limba engleza: Religie si politica in Romania postcomunista si Prezentul trecutului recent: lustratie si decomunizare in postcomunism. Ambele sunt publicate de editura Curtea Veche din Bucuresti. De asemenea, la lansare vor fi prezenti si unii dintre contributorii care au participat la volumul 1989-2009: Incredibila aventura a democratiei dupa comunism (apartut recent la Editura Institutului European din Iasi). Va asteptam cu drag.

Mai multe informatii la: http://www.agentiadecarte.ro/2010/06/lavinia-stan-luminita-stoenescu-ioan-stanomir-si-leszek-kolakowski-sau-trecutul-comunist-in-filele-editurii-curtea-veche-la-bookest-2010/

UN numar de alte fotografii pot fi accesate la: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=70774&l=97f32cd281&id=1193150655.

Truth Commissions Thursday, May 20 2010 

Lavinia Stan, “Truth Commissions,” available at: http://www.scitopics.com/Truth_Commissions.html.

Countries emerging from periods of widespread human rights violations can choose from a number of different judicial and non-judicial methods designed to help them to come to terms with their recent past. Truth commissions represent one such method that is non-judicial and restorative, rather than judicial and retributive, in nature. While the primary purpose of court trials is to do justice to victims and their relatives, of lustration is to renew the political elite and sideline politicians who could be blackmailed because of their tainted past, of restitution is to return property abusively confiscated to its initial owners, the primary goals of truth commissions are to help post-dictatorial societies reach the truth about past human rights abuses and to achieve reconciliation.

The first truth commission was set up, under considerable international pressure, in Uganda in 1974 by Idi Amin to investigate human rights violations perpetrated during the 1971-1973 period, when a large part of the Indian and Pakistani community was evicted from the country. Since then, more than 30 countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and North America set up truth commissions. These countries were dictatorships (Uganda in 1974), emerging democracies (Argentina, Estonia, Liberia or South Africa) or consolidated democracies (Canada, and the United States). Some countries were republics (Chile, Lithuania, Germany, and Sri Lanka), while others were monarchies (Morocco). Some commissions were set up by elected Presidents (Sri Lanka, Argentina, Romania, and the Baltic states), governments, ministers or Prime Ministers (Chile), ruling monarchs (Morocco), parliaments (Germany), or political parties (such as the African National Congress in South Africa). Commissions were the result of international pressures (Uganda in 1974), domestic calls (Germany, Romania, Canada) or a combination of the two (those in the Baltic states). Some were staffed by nationals (Canada), internationals (El Salvador) or a combination of the two (Romania and the Baltic states). Some commissions studied entire decades-long political regimes (South Africa, Germany, Romania and the Baltic states), while others were mandated to analyze only human rights violations that occurred during a relatively short time span (Argentina, Uganda in 1974). Some commissions investigated almost all prevalent types of abuses (Argentina, Guatemala and South Africa), while others focused only on gross human rights violations (the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Some commissions were able to conclude their work with the release of a final report (the best known being the Argentinian Nunca Mas), while others were less successful (Fiji, Bolivia, Zimbabwe). Most countries have had only one truth commission, but Uganda set up two (in 1974 and again in 1986), while Sri Lanka had three regionally-based commissions that conducted their investigations simultaneously. Finally, some commissions will give no names of perpetrators (Guatemala), others will give all names (Romania), and still others will release a selection of names (Argentina). In a bold move, the cfinal report of the ommission of Chad included both the names and photographs of the perpetrators.

Not all governmental, parliamentary or presidential commissions can be considered truth commissions. According to Heyner, truth commissions are distinguished by four broad characteristics. They 1) focus on the past, 2) paint a broad picture of human rights violations of violations of international law that occurred over a defined period, 3) carry out their activity over a defined period of time, often – but not always – releasing a final report at the end of their mandate, and 4) gain access to information held by both the outgoing and the new government and enjoy the protection needed to dig into sensitive matters. By this definition, institutional arrangements that investigate ongoing atrocities, conflicts and wars; are organized on a permanent basis (as research institutes or centers); and discuss isolated individual cases of past human rights infringements do not represent truth commissions. There is some controversy in the literature with respect to the possibility for truth commissions to be established by non-governmental actors (political parties, civil society groups, etc.), since these commissions might not be able to fulfill condition no. 4, that is, to gain access to sensitive governmental data. Heyner recognizes the two inquiry commissions set up by the African National Congress as truth commissions, but other authors point out that the ANC was the political party forming the government at the time the commissions were formed and they enjoyed support from Nelson Mandela, then President of South Africa. The number of civil society-based commissions is not large, but it could grow significantly if governments resist demands for truth. In Canada, for example, the civil society-based Truth Commission into Genocide led to the establishment of a government-backed commission in 2007, six full years after the release of its final report on the inhuman treatment of Aboriginal children in the Indial Residential School system.

Given the vast diversity of cases, there are no set criteria to evaluate the efficiency of truth commissions. Of course, these commissions will do more or less in a shorter or longer period of time depending on their original mandate, the degree of support they muster from victims and victimizers, government and the society at large, their organizational structure, as well as the tools they have at their disposal. Commitssions with only three months at their disposal will lack the ability to collect information from a variety of sources, while committees whose work extends for more than 4-5 years will be viewed as redundant and lacking in legitimacy. International commissions generally have impartiality, but lack legitimacy, whereas domestic commissions will always be suspected of promoting the position of the political actor who formed them. Commissions formed of politically independent members can have more legitimacy than commissions formed of representatives of political parties. Commissions with subpoena powers or the ability to grant amnesty can obtain testimonials from perpetrators that commissions deprived of such powers cannot.

Further readings:

Freemantle, T. Truth Commissions: Try to Put the Past to Rest, Houston Chronicle, 1996.
Heyner, P. Unspeakable Truths. London, Routledge, 2001.
Stan, L., ed., Transitional Justice in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union: Reckoning with the Communist Past, Routledge, 2008.

Modele de lustratie – un articol aparut in revista 22 (8-14 septembrie 2006) Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

de Lavinia Stan

Tarile Europei de Est nu au adoptat un model unic de lustratie pentru inlaturarea acelorasi categorii sociale din aceleasi posturi publice. Impreuna cu Roman David si Nadya Nedelsky, disting patru modele de lustratie specifice lumii post-comuniste, fiecare raspunzind unor teluri specifice, determinate de conditiile fiecarei tari. Desi diferite, toate modelele realizeaza “discontinuitatea cu trecutul”, chiar si cind permit celor vizati sa isi mentina functiile publice. Initial, lustratia a fost o procedura de contrainteligenta aplicata din anii 70 de serviciile secrete cehoslovace (Státní bezpečnost sau StB) pentru identificarea agentilor dubli. Cehoslovacia a fost de altfel prima tara post-comunista care a adoptat lustratie in 1991 pentru a indeparta fostii colaboratori secreti din functii politice publice, mediul universitar si de cercetare, conducerea unitatilor economice. Odata cu scindarea federatiei, Cehia a continuat sa implementeze lustratia, mentinind interdictia de participare la viata politica pentru categoriile identificate initial, in timp ce Slovacia a abandonat proiectul lustratiei, reluindu-l abia in 2001. Lustratia a fost adoptata in Bulgaria (1992), Albania (1993), Ungaria (1994), Polonia, (1997 si 2006) si Serbia (2003).(1)

Lustratia automata

Identificat de Ruti Teitel drept “vehicul de schimbare politica”, modelul permite noilor lideri sa se rupa de trecut prin indepartarea anumitor categorii de personal asociate vechiului regim.(2) Persoanele ce au lucrat in anumite agentii guvernamentale sau au participat la anumite activitati desfasurate de fostul regim sunt automat excluse din posturile de conducere specificate de lege. Odata ce colaborarea este stabilita, modelul nu permite decit demiterea sau retrogradarea pe o pozitie nelustrabila, de obicei inferioara. Astfel, posturi cheie ale structurii noului regim pot fi ocupate de personal nou.

Argumentele in favoarea acestui model vizeaza faptul ca cei ce au lucrat pentru structurile comuniste represive sau au facut politie politica vor continua sa faca abuz de putere, sa santajeze sau sa fie santajati, sa submineze noul sistem din interior sau sa diminueze capitalul de incredere al institutiilor in care continua sa lucreze. Mai important este ca modelul permite indreptarea vechilor nedreptati. Pentru a rectifica nedreptatile trecutului, fostelor victime li se da prioritate fata de fostii beneficiari in alocarea pozitiilor noului sistem. Astfel, dreptatea nu elimina, ci mentine diviziunile sociale, cu alti actori drept beneficiari si perdanti.

Acest tip de lustratie a fost adoptat in Cehoslovacia, Bulgaria, Albania si partial Serbia. In Cehia, curtile au limitat aplicabilitatea legii, nu insa si caracterul sau exclusiv. In Bulgaria, una dintre legi a fost validata, in timp ce in Albania legea a fost anulata. In Cehia, cei ce ocupa sau doresc sa ocupe functii publice trebuie sa depuna la Ministerul de Interne o declaratie privind colaborarea (sau lipsa de colaborare) cu politia politica si o alta declaratie ca nu apartin unor altor categorii lustrabile stipulate de lege. Daca persoana apartine categoriilor lustrate, ei trebuie sa i se desfaca contractul de munca sau sa fie retrogradata pe o pozitie nelustrabila. Certificatul de lustratie si demisia pot fi contestate la tribunal. Procesul este secret, publicul neaflind motivele demiterii. (In 2003 insa lista colaboratorilor a fost publicata oficial.)

Modelul a fost criticat de cei ce au recunoscut necesitatea schimbarii de personal, nu si a modului in care aceasta a fost operata. Dupa unii comentatori, caracterul indiscriminant al legii ar contitui o pedeapsa colectiva ce incalca drepturile fundamentale ale omului (dreptul la opinie, dreptul de a nu fi discriminat). Modelul duce la rezultate clare in mod eficient, intr-o perioada de timp scurta, pentru ca nu examineaza fiecare caz de colaborare in parte. Insa specificarea incorecta a categoriilor lustrabile face legea inoperabila sau ii limiteaza aplicabilitatea. In Cehia lustratia a dus doar la excluderea gerontocratiei comuniste si a nomenclaturii, in timp ce categoriile din zona „gri”, ale celor fara apartenenta clara la aparatul represiv de stat, au ramas neatinse. Contrar asteptarilor, vechii nomenclaturisti s-a adaptat noilor conditii, redefinindu-si loialitatile, reinventindu-si biografiile si folosing privatizarea pentru a se imbogati.

Lustratia ca recunoastere a trecutului

Modelul permite noilor lideri, daca nu pot sau nu vor sa distruga structurile administrative si de conducere ale vechiului regim, sa imbratiseze schimbarea ideologica in locul schimbarii de personal. Functionarii publici isi pot mentine pozitiile in ciuda colaborarii, cu conditia sa reveleze trecutul. Functia publica este negociata in schimbul admiterii adevarului. Se presupune ca, odata ce adevarul este aflat, publicul va putea controla cariera politica a celui deconspirat (refuzind sa-l voteze, de exemplu). Secretul care caracteriza fostul regim este revelat, iar numirile de personal sunt transparentizate. Daca persoana nu-si deconspira trecutul, isi poate da demisia fara ca motivele sa fie facute publice. Iertarea este cheia modelului. Sistemul, nu individul, s-a facut vinovat de carentele morale ale fostilor tortionari. Colaboratorii au gresit pentru ca nu au avut taria de caracter sa reziste presiunilor enorme la care au fost supusi. Insa noul regim trebuie sa le acorde o noua sansa.

Modelul a fost adoptat in Ungaria in numele protejarii drepturilor omului. In locul demiterii, lustratia a constat in identificarea publica a fostilor colaboratori. Iertarea a fost oferita in schimbul limitarii sferei personale fara a deschide posibilitatea santajului si a abuzului de putere, deoarece s-a considerat ca persoanele publice au dreptul la mai putin spatiu privat, lucru confirmat de Curtea Constitutionala a Ungariei si de hotaririle Curtii Europene ale Drepturilor Omului. Functionarii publici din posturile specificate de legea lustratiei sunt verificati in ce priveste apartenenta la aparatul de represiune comunist si la Partidul Nazist. Daca un complet de trei judecatori gaseste functionarul vinovat de colaborare, acestuia i se cere sa demisioneze intr-un timp dat. Inculpatul poate cere reexaminarea cazului sau. In cazul refuzului de a demisiona, numele persoanei este publicat in echivalentul Monitorului Oficial si facut public. Caracterul legii a fost pastrat dupa verificarea constitutionalitatii sale in 1994 si amendamentele din 1996 si 2002. Modelul a fost adoptat in Serbia pentru verificarea inaltilor demnitari de stat.

Lustratia ca recunoastere a trecutului ofera posibilitatea apropierii si impacarii intre noile si vechile elite politice si corespunde cerintelor democratice prin aceea ca acorda sanse egale tuturor cetatenilor, indiferent de activitatea lor trecuta, de a beneficia un nou inceput sub noul regim. Insa acest tip de lustratie perpetueaza vechile scindari sociale sub un alt nume. In 2002, cind citiva membri de guvern au fost deconspirati drept fosti colaboratori, modelul unguresc a fost criticat ca ineficient, mai ales ca se bazeaza, la fel ca si lustratia automata, pe informatia din arhivele secrete, ce pot fi incomplete, modificate, inaccesibile sau greu de interpretat.

Lustratia ca reconciliere

Rezultat al negocierilor politice si al imposibilitatii de a sanctiona crimele trecutului prin intermediul curtilor de justitie, modelul este determinat de raportul de forte dintre reprezentantii vechiului si noului regim in primele etape ale tranzitiei post-autoritare. Aceasta lustratie este prezentata drept capabila sa promoveze reconcilierea nationala si compromisul politic, atenuind atit spiritul revansard al fostelor victime cit si gravitatea politicilor impuse de regimul autocrat. Similar cu comisiile de adevar sud-africane, lustratia permite vechilor elite sa-si pastreze functiile prin recunoasterea si revelarea publica a trecutului.

In virtutea legii lustratiei din 1997, fostii colaboratori ai politiei politice poloneze (Slujba Bespieczenstwa or SB) pot detine pozitii influente in noul regim, daca ei insisi isi deconspira trecutul. Declaratiile functionarilor publici sunt verificate de Curtea de Lustratie. Fostii colaboratori pot spune adevarul (si mentine functia chiar si cind au comis cele mai mari orori) sau pot nega (si risca sa fie demisi). Nimeni nu este obligat sa se supuna verificarilor, putind alege demisia sau transferul in pozitii nelustrabile. Atit revelarea trecutului, cit si descoperirea minciunii sunt facute publice. Ca si modelul precedent, acesta permite adevarului sa devina public, insa deconspirarea este facuta de persoana verificata, nu de institutiile statului. Declaratile reprezinta un test de loialitate fata de noul regim, stind marturie pentru schimbarea de atitudine a celui verificat. Recunoasterea trecutului dovedeste o schimbare de pozitie si arata ca fostul colaborator isi condamna trecutul. Prin declaratie, verificatul demonstreaza ca merita o a doua sansa.

In Polonia tortionarii nu si-au putut confrunta victimele pentru a cere iertare, ca in Africa de Sud. Declaratiile au fost verificate la cererea procurorului de lustratie. Curtea de Lustratie decidea daca declaratia corespundea sau nu adevarului, daca persoana spusese adevarul sau mintise. Roman David considera ca persoanele publice se imparteau in trei grupuri: cei ce nu colaborasera cu organele de securitate, cei ce colaborasera dar isi recunoscusera trecutul, si cei ce isi ascunsesera colaborarea. Al doilea grup dovedise o schimbare de mentalitate si isi cistigase dreptul de a-si mentine functiile, in timp ce al treilea era destituit si impiedicat sa ocupe functii in administratia publica si in guvern pentru urmatorii zece ani. Deciziile curtii nu puteau fi contestate, motivele si consecintele colaborarii nu au fost facute publice, opinia publica a fost informata doar partial despre resorturile represiunii si abuzurile institutiilor comuniste.

Lustratia mixta

Sustinatorii modelelor ne-automate de lustratie insista asupra potentialului lor de a evita conflictul, a adresa mostenirea trecutului si a permite expertilor sa fie pastrati in administratia publica. Lustratia mixta adreseaza unele dintre carentele modelelor anterioare prin aceea ca permite examinarea individuala a cazurilor. Stabilirea colaborarii nu duce automat la demitere, care poate fi evitata daca fostii colaboratori dovedesc ca pot inspira incredere. In functie de conditiile carora le fac fata, autoritatile pot sau nu acorda o a doua sansa, de la caz la caz, permitind schimbarea selectiva de personal.

In Germania, Tratatul de Unificare a stabilit cadrul legal de implementare a lustratiei mixte. Persoanele ce doreau sa ocupe posturi publice trebuiau sa raspunda la un set de intrebari privind colaborarea cu organele Stasi si permita verificarea trecutului lor. La fel ca declaratiile poloneze, chestionarul era un test de loialitate, dar consecintele recunoasterii trecutului au depins de natura activitatilor depuse sub regimul comunist si fluctuatiile pietii muncii post-comuniste. Cei ce si-au ascuns trecutul au fost deseori, dar nu intotdeauna, indepartati din functii. Cei ce admiteau au putut sa-si mentina functiile, insa au fost si exceptii. S-a considerat ca examinarea fiecarui caz in parte si aplicarea unor sanctiuni diferite de la caz la caz era mai justa, recunostea ca raspunderea e individuala, nu colectiva, si permitea flexibilitate cind numarul aplicantilor depasea numarul posturilor. Dar diferentele mari intre deciziile aplicate in cazuri similare a dat nastere la probleme privind legitimitatea si justetea procedurii. Deseori geografia a determinat verdictele finale, permitind inlaturarea fostilor colaboratori din marile orase si mentinerea lor in provincie, unde mai putine cadre calificate puteau ocupa posturile devenite vacante. Conform unor studii recente, Saxonia si Turingia au aplicat lustratia pentru schimbare de personal, in timp ce Brandenburg i-a protejat pe fostii colaboratori.

Experienta celorlalte tari est europene demonstreaza ca lustratia este si principiu, si instrument, si ca ea a dus la schimbari partiale de personal chiar si in tarile unde a fost aplicat modelul de lustratie automata in primii ani ai tranzitiei post-comuniste. Lustratiile tirzii pot fi la fel de eficiente ca lustratiile timpurii in a-si atinge obiectivele (fie schimbarea de personal, fie schimbarea ideologica), daca sunt formulate inteligente.

(1) Textul se bazeaza pe dezbaterea privind lustratia ocazionata de conferinta organizata de International Political Science Association, Fukuoka, Japonia, 9-13 iulie 2006 si materiale nepublicate inca de David, Nedelsky si Stan. Vezi si Lavinia Stan, coord, Transitional Justice in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union (Londra: Routledge, 2009).
(2) Ruti Teitel, Transitional Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

A Breakthrough for Moldova: The Commission for the Study and Evaluation of the Totalitarian Communist Regime Thursday, Mar 18 2010 

For a number of reasons, truth commissions have not been popular in the post-communist world. Germany used them immediately after the collapse of the communist regime, but its example was not followed in the region, not even after the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission underscored the benefits of this method of coming to terms with the past. It was only in 1998 that the Baltic states created historical commissions to investigate the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and only in 2003 and 2006 that Romania experimented with academic commissions (1). None of the Eastern European commissions were truth commissions geared on reconciliation, and all of them have had limited public impact to date. Thus, the tiny Republic of Moldova demonstrates determination, political will and vision by following this unchartered path.

On 14 January 2010, the interim President Mihai Ghimpu signed the presidential decree allowing for the creation of the Commission for the Study and Evaluation of the Totalitarian Communist Regime in the Republic of Moldova, mandated to study the documents that detail the introduction and perpetuation of the “totalitarian communist regime” in the republic, and to determine whether the regime had infringed fundamental human rights. By summer 2010, the commission must draft a final report, “a collection of documents and an analytic study that evaluates the totalitarian communist regime from a historical, political and legal viewpoint”(2). Headed by Gheorghe Cojocaru as president, Sergiu Musteata and Igor Casu as deputy presidents and Mihail Tasca as secretary, the commission includes 26 other members, making it one of the largest commissions ever, whose size is comparable only to that of the so-called Wiesel Commission (the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania). The commission includes a lawyer, a writer, a linguistics expert, a political scientist, a sociologist, and two philosophers. All of its other members are historians. Four of its members are women, but none of them is represented among the leaders.

Unsurprisingly, the leader of the Communist Party, former Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, criticized the commission and warned that condemning communism would amount to a “heresy” and a “slap on the face of those who fought against Fascism” (3). Aside from such self-interested remarks coming from the communist camp, critics include “those who are exaggeratedly preoccupied with political correctness in the sense that [they fear] this commission’s conclusion might lead to the ban of communist symbols and names…which would amount, in their view, to Chisinau’s infringement of European commitments” (4). Several voices were also raised against the lack of transparency in the selection of commission members, and some commissioners’ debatable commitment to condemn the former communist regime, given the fact that they had promoted the communist ideology, propaganda and historiography in the past. There has been skepticism towards the concrete policies and actions that would stem from the activity of the commission. Drawing a parallel to the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of Communist Dictatorship in Romania (the so-called Tismaneanu Commission), a commentator suggested that the Moldovan commission had equally low chances to facilitate the organization of court trials against former communist perpetrators and noted that communist influence over the republic did not end in 1991, but continued during a period that the commission was not mandated to study.

Without minimizing the importance of the commission, I want to draw attention to its limitations, which stem from its location, mandate, composition, and available tools. Knowing exactly what the commission can and cannot do is important when evaluating its performance. The commission can learn a lot from the experience of its post-communist predecessors – it would be a pity if it doesn’t.

First, let me comment on the nature of the commission. This is a presidential, not parliamentary, commission that has a relatively short period of time at its disposal (determined politically by the interim nature of the presidency to which it is supposed to report). Its creation was definitely a breakthrough, but the very limited public debate that preceded the appointment of the members might come back to haunt the commission later on. To increase the chances for the acceptance of its final report by as many social and ethnic groups as possible, the commission should carry out a vigorous PR program, keep the public opinion informed of its activity, present the partial results of its research to the general public through press reports, workshops and conferences, and engage in discussions with the general public (including students, journalists and academics). Too often, historical commissions lose sight of their public and political roles and see themselves as strictly expert-driven. Also, as a unilateral commission that includes no representatives of Russia (as successor of the Soviet Union, the perpetrator state), the Moldovan commission might expect little sympathy from Russian historians and even Russian-speakers in Moldova. It is important to prepare a response while the commission is still active.

Second, the mandate. Given the nature of repression during Soviet times, the Moldovan commission might be tempted to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Soviet Union and the Russian-speakers and gloss over the support and collaboration of Moldovans with the communist regime. True, Soviet Moldova was subjected to the control of Moscow, but not all of Chisinau’s policies and actions followed the Soviet line at all times. Similarly, the Moldovans were persecuted, but not all of them were active dissidents and there are shades of collaboration among them (as there are among Russian-speakers). A focus on ideology might explain the reasons why repression occurred, but only a careful analysis of the state repressive mechanisms and the state-society relations will reveal where, how and against whom was repression directed. The commission should also keep in mind that the communist apparatus did not lose its control when the republic gained its independence in 1991, but communist figures like Lucinschi and Voronin got a new lease on their political life in post-communist times. The report should allow readers to infer the roots of this elite reproduction.

Third, the tools. As a presidential commission, the Moldovan body is deprived of subpoena powers to compel victims and victimizers to testify before it. While the decree mentions only the study of documents, it does not expressly prohibit the use of oral memory in supporting these written archival records. Again, by opening the commission to the public – and understanding its mission to go beyond the simple compilation of a history book (the final report) – the commission would build its PR program and increase the chances of its public acceptance. To a certain extent, none of the post-communist commissions created to date have understood the importance of reaching out to victims’ groups and building trust in public meetings. Here, the South African example could be instrumental, although indeed the scope of such interaction with the public would be much more limited in the Moldovan case.

Already the Moldovan commission has revealed to the press some important finding related to the activity of the Moldovan Troika. But its relative silence and low public profile works to its detriment. I urge Moldovan commissioners to be more active and open. A clear media strategy would raise the commission’s profile and allow the commission to de-bloc transitional justice in Moldova.

(1) Lavinia Stan, “Truth Commissions in Post-Communism: The Overlooked Solution?,” Open Political Science Journal, vol. 2 (2009), pp. 1-13, available at: http://www.bentham.org/open/topolisj/openaccess2.htm.
(2) “Chisinaul da startul condamnarii comunismului,” Tribuna Basarabiei, 15 January 2010, available at: http://www.tribuna-basarabiei.ro/2010/01/chisinaul-da-startul-condamnarii.html.
(3) “Voronin: Eventuala condamnare a comunismului ar fi o erezie,” 20 January 2010, available at: http://www.ziare.com/articole/voronin+comunism+erezie.
(4) Igor Casu, “Care este scopul comisiei pentru studierea comunismului si pe cine deranjeaza activitatea acesteia?,” Radio Vocea Basarabiei, 13 February 2010, available at: http://www.voceabasarabiei.net/index.php/stiri/cultura/7076-audio-care-este-scopul-comisiei-pentru-studierea-comunismului-i-pe-cine-deranjeaz-activitatea-acesteia.

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