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Communists and Their Victims

Did justice measures rectify the legacy of human rights abuses committed during the communist era in the Czech Republic? Roman David weighs this question carefully to promote a transformative theory of justice that demonstrates that justice measures, in order to be successful, require a degree of reconciliation.

Communists and Their Victims
The Quest for Justice in the Czech Republic

Roman David

2018 | 280 pages | Cloth $79.95
Political Science / Law
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Table of Contents

List of Acronyms


Chapter 1. The Communist Regime in Czechoslovakia: Were People Coerced?
Chapter 2. Justice After Transition: Retributive, Revelatory, Reparatory, and Reconciliatory Measures

Chapter 3. Did Justice Measures Heal Victims? Compensation, Truth, and Reconciliation in the Lives of Political Prisoners
Chapter 4. Did Justice Measures Transform Communists? Personal and Intergenerational Transformation

Chapter 5. Could Justice Measures Transform the Divided Society? Experimental Evidence About Justice and Reconciliation
Chapter 6. Did Justice Measures Transform the Divided Society? Class and Ideological Divides

Conclusion: From Observations to the Transformative Theory of Justice


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]


For more than four decades, communist ideology divided the world. After 1989, most communist regimes collapsed but their legacies refused to disappear. Facing their history, citizens of formerly communist countries sought justice for both perpetrators and victims. The Czech Republic has been a leader in dealing with the past in postcommunist Europe. It implemented far-reaching reparation and rehabilitation programs for the victims of communist rule, it returned properties to their original owners, expropriated the assets of the Communist Party, extended the statute of limitation for communist crimes, and enriched the world's vocabulary by reviving the forgotten word "lustration" as a process for dealing with secret collaborators. The implementation of these measures was unprecedented in their scale and speed; many of these measures remain unique. Yet the results are disappointing for many Czechs as historical divisions persist twenty-five years after the regime change. This book therefore raises a question about the role of justice measures in overcoming the communist past. Did justice measures transform the divided society in the Czech Republic?

This book is a culmination of my research into the topic of dealing with the past that dates back to the 1990s. Since then, my research interest in what became known as "transitional justice" has taken me to Poland, Hungary, Croatia, South Africa, and South Korea. Although I found only a few of their citizens satisfied with the outcomes of dealing with the past, I was glad to learn from their experiences. In particular, the issue of "reconciliation" helped me to revisit the Czech process of dealing with the past, which has been dominated by an emphasis on retributive and reparatory justice. I believe that the Czech experience can inform academics in the fields of history, political science, sociology and law; policymakers; and civil society members about the positive and negative features of the process of dealing with the past. My recent research and consultancy trips to Ukraine and Myanmar confirm this belief: The stakeholders of other societies divided by fundamental conflict have much to draw from the Czech experience in trying to bring justice to a divided society.

The annexation of Crimea is another motivation for writing this book. Continuing Russian interference in Ukraine and a growing Russian appetite to regain control of territories once under its occupation and influence expose the ideological vulnerability of Eastern Europe. Russian propaganda uses communism as a vehicle to attract supporters in the former Eastern bloc for its territorial drives. The membership of most Eastern European countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may be useless if Russian propaganda sways people in these young democracies against NATO. Hence, dealing with the communist past successfully continues to be politically relevant.

The book is dedicated to my teachers Vladimír Čermák and Vojte˙ch Cepl. Both professors belonged to the remarkable first bench of justices who served in the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic in 1993-2003. Being professors of social philosophy and law, respectively, both acknowledged that law itself does not have answers to the dilemmas of justice after political transition. Although they searched for answers deep within themselves, they set me on a journey abroad. Justice Cepl, known for his cutting humor, then "banished" me from the country. My crime was nothing less than becoming a "part of the establishment at too young an age." Justice Čermák, a more conciliatory figure, added that I should not worry because my life during totalitarianism, transition, and democracy had provided me with a unique experience that allowed me to view the political world differently than others.

A word is due about the nomenclature used in this book. The critical notion of justice is used as a means and as an objective: I refer to "justice measures" when I speak about a means, a set of methods, laws, and other legal measures and informal societal responses devised or taken to deal with the past. "Justice measures" encompass measures of retributive, reparatory, revelatory, and reconciliatory justice, which serve as four clusters for all justice measures (see Chapter 2). When I refer to justice as an objective of dealing with the past I speak of "justice" or the "perception of justice."

The nomenclature of reconciliation is simpler because "reconciliation" has a noun and an adjective, "reconciliatory." When speaking of "reconciliation" or the "perception of reconciliation," I refer to an objective of dealing with the past. When speaking about "a reconciliatory measure" or its synonyms "a measure of reconciliatory justice" and "a reconciliatory justice measure," I refer to the means of dealing with the past. For instance, an apology is a measure of reconciliatory justice but it needs to be investigated to see whether it actually leads to reconciliation.

The term "Czech Lands" is a historical name for the territory of today's Czech Republic. It is a more accurate term than "the Czech Republic" because it also refers to the Czech part of the Czechoslovak Federation that ceased to exist in 1992. "Restituee" refers to a person whose property was returned during the restitution process. "Lustrator" refers to a person who searches secret police archives, that is, performs lustration. Since the archives have been put into the public domain, every person can search the archives for any name. I do not capitalize communism, which is an ideology such as fascism. Even Nazism does not linguistically elevate communism, since Nazism comes from Nationalsocialism, a word in the German language that capitalizes all nouns. As a matter of curiosity, in the Czech language both "komunismus" and "nacismus" appear in the lower case.

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