Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Some Thoughts on the Transitional Justice Dilemmas in the Romanian Post-Communist Context 1

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Some Thoughts on the Transitional Justice Dilemmas in the Romanian Post-Communist Context 1

Article excerpt

The Romanian case confirms Ruti Teitel's observation that, in relation with transitional justice, "the truth is a story of eternal return"2. The official December 2006 condemnation of the communist regime coincided with Romania's accession to the European Union. Both events have influenced the way in which Romania was analyzed after 2007, especially from the perspective of its relationship with the communist past. If we were to make a quick summary, the dominant perception is that of going from a country with a belated democratic transition, dominated by the former communists, therefore characterized by the wish to forget the totalitarian past, to a country that normalizes in relation to the evolution of most other former communist bloc states.3

Hence the subsequent idea of having an official memory produced as a consequence of the condemnation of the communist regime by the head of the state. However, that the Romanian state was to be far from consistent in imposing such a memory. Beyond the issue of customization and the lack of coordination between the institutions created in the 2000s to deal with the past, Polichinelle's secret emerged, the issue of their politicization. The phenomenon in itself underlines the importance of relationships between political parties and the sensitive issue of transitional justice4.

The period after the condemnation is interesting for the change produced in relationships among militants for transitional justice. As we shall show below, they identify themselves as anti-communists, and in the 1990s we usually find them in or around the Democratic Convention. Their apparent unity was already hiding a profound difference between civic and political anti-communists5. The disappearance of the Democratic Convention in 2000 lessened the appearance of unity, but it was only after 2007 that we see that a profound rift became visible within the anti-communist world. In this paper we shall attempt to show the reasons and the reshuffling of cards in this area, as the new premises laying the foundation of the discussion on the communist past, as well as that on the political role of the transitional justice in today's Romania.


Even though the discussion on Romanian exceptionalism is of no interest to us here, it is clear that the first step in moving away from the Ceausescu's regime was by no means banal. Erin Poly and Jeremy Sarkin, in their Reconciliation in Divided Societies, note that: "The summary trials and prompt execution of Romania's leaders Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were notable exceptions to the modern trend favoring legal responses to political wrongdoing"6. Analyzing the Romanian case cannot fail to start every time from this paradox of the symbolic, revolutionary form of the change in regime, doubled by a reality of the continuity of the State, of the political, military and economic elite. It is no wonder, thus, that, as Lavinia Stan noted in 2013 in a more general analysis of Romania's relationship with its communist past: "The country has adopted a wide diversity of transitional justice methods, but almost none of these methods have been brought to completion"7, while for Ed. Maxfield, in the Romanian chapter of the Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice, the emphasis is on the fact that "each step has been met with political resistance" in transitional justice because "the former elite stayed in power for so long after 1989"8.

It is no secret, therefore, that this resistance comes from the inheritors of the Party-State found all throughout the institutions of the post-communist regime, as well as political parties. In the same vein, we have Vladimir Tismaneanu's observations on the essential continuity elements in the political culture found at the level of State institutions9.

If we were to summarize the evolution of these institutions, we should start from the fact that former communist Ion Iliescu was the head of the Romanian State between December 1989 and December 1996. …

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