Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Transitional Justice Dynamics in Slovakia: From Silence to the Nation's Memory Institute

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Transitional Justice Dynamics in Slovakia: From Silence to the Nation's Memory Institute

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Dealing with past crimes is a challenge faced by every new political regime being established in a country with a criminal past. There are two basic approaches to this challenge: either forgetting and forgiving or addressing the criminal past. Huntington argues that the decision to deal with the past has to be quick, because as time passes the discredited groups are able to regain influence. (1) The tendency to forget and forgive simply increases with the passage of time.

The post-communist transitions to democracy are all part of the third wave of democratization and they share some common characteristics that distinguish them from the previous cases of transition. Claus Offe labeled them as "triple transitions." This triple transition encompassed the political regime change (introduction of democratic rules of the game, building up the new constitutional framework), economic transition (the introduction of the market economy) and transformation at the level of nationhood (redefinition of national identities). (2) All of these problems have to be addressed simultaneously.

Slovakia experienced the change from communist rule as a part of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovak elites addressed the past through a series of measures, including a limited number of criminal prosecutions and a rather severe lustration. After the breakup of the federation, Slovakia adopted the "politics of silence". However, in 2002 a law establishing the Nation's Memory Institute and access to the secret police files was passed in the parliament. This development meant that the silence was broken after 13 years, which goes against Huntington's expectation.

The purpose of this article is to provide some insights into the transitional justice developments in Slovakia. The main research question is: What were the dynamics of transitional justice in Slovakia and how they can be explained? The transitional justice theorists argue that it is the context, which imposes constraints and shapes the choice of transitional justice mechanisms. I am going to argue that the dynamics in Slovakia can be explained by the interplay of hard constraints on transitional justice: the nature of the nondemocratic regime, character of regime change and elite configuration.

The transitional justice literature on post-communist societies usually deals with Czechoslovakia as a unit of analysis, with focus on the Czech Republic after the federation dissolution (e.g. Welsh (3) or David (4)). The main exception is the work of Nedelsky (5), who deals with the Slovak case separately but does not sufficiently account for all of the specifics of the Slovakian experience with democratization and the consolidation of democracy. Moreover, her work focuses mainly on secret file access and lustration, while this article demands a wider analysis.

Szomolanyi argues that Slovakia was the only country in the east European region, which experienced a quadruple transition. Except for the problems identified by Offe, Slovakia had to build its independent state shortly after the transition. The state-building, which already started in 1992, was a completely different challenge for the Czech Republic, which maintained most of the administrative and institutional capacities of the old republic and for Slovakia, which had little experience of self-government. (6)

Erika Harris goes even further and suggests that the Slovak transition was so complex that it should be divided into three stages, which "affect one another, but nevertheless have distinct characteristics within the main post-communist transition." (7) The first stage was a common experience in Czechoslovakia within the still existing federation. The second stage was the notorious period of MeCiarism between 1994 and 1998, which is associated with the independent state-building. The final phase was the period of 1998-2002, after the critical 1998 elections and the victory of pro-European democratic forces. …

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