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Tue December 6, 2011
Dr. Monica Ciobanu, SUNY Plattsburgh - Lessons from Romania
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Monica Ciobanu of SUNY Plattsburgh explores the options newly formed governments have as they seek justice against deposed rulers.
Monica Ciobanu is an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the State University of New York Plattsburgh. Her research is focused on the process of democratization in post-communist Europe, including issues of memory and justice in transitional societies. In the summer of 2011, she gained access to archival information that shed light on the end of communism in Romania.
Dr. Monica Ciobanu - Lessons from Romania
Two decades after the fall of communism in 1989 Eastern Europe countries can, in the wake of the Arab Spring, provide some lessons about challenges involved in the transition to democracy.
In Romania, where the overthrow of the communist regime was abrupt, violent and chaotic, the initial response was swift retribution in the form of a military trial that sentenced to death president Nicolae Ceau escu and his wife Elena in December 1989. This instant retributive justice worked as a scapegoating mechanism that resulted in delaying and preventing further inquiries into crimes prior to 1989 and also during the December revolution when more than 1,000 people were killed by the secret police and military. Moreover, the trial established the tone for a culture of forgetting. The loose accusation of genocide against them failed to provide a solid legal framework for indicting other high-level communist officials. In fact, after the verdict, the sentences of 24 top party members who had previously been convicted for approving Ceause cu's use of force were either shortened or annulled. The few transitional justice policies initiated before 2005 were minimal and protected former officials from accountability.
However, in 2006 President Traian B sescu established a commission to analyze the communist dictatorship. The commission's report, which declared the regime illegal, illegitimate and criminal, condemned and repudiated it as guilty of crimes against humanity. It had important outcomes of truth-telling and reconciliation: it provoked open debate between different groups in the society and it opened the security archives to which I myself had access last summer during a research trip in Romania. Less positively, the report led to no legal investigations while a restitution law passed in 2009 to compensate the victims of communism seems to be in legal limbo as well. Perhaps, these failures demonstrate that when initial transitional justice mechanisms appear to favor forgetting over remembering, subsequent attempts at addressing the past have only limited results.