Watching Rights

Article excerpt


The Oxford English Dictionary defines "lustration" as "the performance of an expiatory sacrifice or a purificatory rite" and tells us that it was practiced by the ancient Romans. With little apparent awareness that the term is evocative of pagan religious ritual, the Federal Assembly of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic recently adopted a Lustration Law, which bars those who had been members of the Communist Party above a certain rank, or who were registered in the files of the State Security as its collaborators, from serving for five years in managerial posts in the government, state-owned enterprises or various licensed businesses. Those who held Communist Party office only between January 1, 1968, and May 1, 1969 - a period that embraces the Prague Spring - are exempt. Others may seek clearance, for example by claiming that they were mistakenly listed as collaborators or that they were not conscious collaborators. That is, they may be allowed to prove their innocence to the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

The proponents of the law argue that it is necessary to purge the government of those seeking to break up the country and divide it into Czech and Slovak states. They claim, with some justification, that certain old Communists have been reborn as populist nationalists and are promoting separatism. Indeed, a former major in the secret police now publishes the most extreme nationalist newspaper in Slovakia.

Advocates and defenders of the law point out that other countries undertook political purges and nevertheless either established themselves or survived as democracies in which civil liberties are generally respected. They cite Germany's experience with de-Nazification following World War II and the era of loyalty tests in the United States. In addition, they emphasize the fact that the Lustration Law expires after five years and that it applies only to those seeking or holding policy-making positions.

Neither the example of de-Nazification in Germany nor the loyalty/security purges in the United States is a happy choice of a model. Although the Communist system in Czechoslovakia was among the most oppressive in Eastern Europe, it does not bear comparison to the Third Reich, with its deliberate extermination of millions by reason of race. Also, what happened to the Nazis after the war should be seen in two parts. The first involved prosecution and punishment of thousands of Nazis in trials in which specific crimes were charged, standards of due process were observed and guilt was individually determined. Those proceedings began under international supervision at Nuremberg and continued in the German courts. De-Nazification was a second and separate process in which a relatively small number of Nazis were dismissed from their posts (until most of them were restored by various amnesties), while a much larger number readily got themselves classified as Mitlaufer (perhaps best translated as "camp follower") and, often after paying a small fine, were considered "de-Nazified. …