Transitional Justice without Transition? Redressing Past Injustices under State Socialism
Venue: Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies
Date: February 21-23, 2019
Organizer: Prof. Daniel Leese, Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Freiburg
The question of how societies cope with the legacy of past injustices and atrocities has attracted enormous scholarly and political attention in the past three decades. The concept of “transitional justice,” denoting various types of judicial and non-judicial approaches to aid societal reconciliation after mass conflict or state crimes, is often used to frame corresponding research. While the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials are commonly cited as pioneering this approach, the “age of transitional justice” (Adler 2018) only began in the 1980s, when the global ascent of human rights discourses underpinned attempts to establish institutions and practices that could help overcome legacies of repression and dictatorship. It is therefore unsurprising that underlying most studies invoking the notion of transitional justice is a normative precondition to include only transitions from dictatorship to democracy. This narrow definition has hindered comparative perspectives on the functioning of amnesties and rehabilitation of victims, administrative lustration, trials against perpetrators, and the politics of historical memory in non-democratic transformation processes. Recent examples, especially in the Near and Middle East, reveal that selective employment of institutions and rhetoric associated with transitional justice may even be used to strengthen authoritarian rule.
In the history of the world communist movement, there are two major examples of redressing injustices committed under Communist Party rule: First, the Soviet “thaw” following Stalin’s death in 1953, when hundreds of thousands formerly persecuted cadres and citizens were rehabilitated, and when most Gulag prisoners were granted amnesty. In the wake of de-Stalinization, most East European communist governments preferred handing out amnesties or they … Read more