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Lustration

Dealing with the past is never easy in communist regimes which systematically recruited huge numbers of citizens and turned them into informers against their own families and neighbours.

One of the ways in which post-communist states of Central Europe have tried to deal with this is through the process of lustration.

This can involve a number of different processes. Former functionaries of the communist regimes might be named publicly. Since these people often maintained positions of importance after the transition from communism, simply being identified could make their positions untenable.

In other cases, these individuals would be banned from holding public office as elected representatives, or as civil servants, or in the armed forces, or the police force.

Linked to the process of lustration has been the practice of opening the files of the former regimes that identify those who 'collaborated' and those who were guilty of what where - in the post-communist context - crimes.

The success of lustration as a means of dealing with the communist past is dependent to a large degree on the political maturity of the post-communist regime. Where there is political consensus on the need to deal with the past in this way as a prelude to developing a new political order, lustration can be effective.

Where there is no consensus, lustration can often be a tool of political partisanship as competing political groups use the revelations as weapons to condemn and undermine their political opponents. Tension between the need to deal withe issue and the risks involved has been a constant source of anguish.

While Albania conducted a number of trials of leading figures within the communist regime in the early 1990's it has never pursued a more rigorous engagement with the communist past.

However, it seems that that may now be changing. The Centre for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) published the final report from a project on Lustration in the Western Balkans in October 2005.

Among the findings of the report are (p 19):
a) The basic finding of the research within the framework of this project is that lustration of public officials who were active in the time of one-party rule in the countries of the Western Balkans, essentially did not take place.

b) This is a serious failure, since the absence of lustration encouraged political arbitrariness, especially in the time immediately after the demise of one-party rule in the region.
...

d) It is evident that even in cases where appropriate lustration laws have been passed, the public authorities in most cases failed to implement them.

e) In many parts of the Western Balkans, the legislation on the public access to the files of the former secret services and its implementation are inadequate.
...

j) Experts and civil society organisations that participated in this project believe that the rule of law, democratisation and also lustration are of utmost importance for the development of the countries of the Western Balkans not only to help them prepare for EU membership but also to come to terms with their own past and prevent the recurrence of similar crimes.
It now appears that the Albanian parliament is trying to address this issue, though whether in direct response to this report I am not sure. On Monday the parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling for the opening up of files from the communist era identifying collaborators. The resolution also called for the public identifying of collaborators currently holding public positions.

Whether the resolution calls for dismissal of these individuals from their posts is unclear from the reports I have seen, but the BBC reported the view of one the president of parliament, Bamir Topi, who was clearly arguing for this outcome.

The resolution is non-binding and it would require the drafting of legislation and a further parliamentary vote for this to become law. If it were to become law, the question is whether Albania has reached the stage of political maturity where this would be a constructive rather than a destructive act.

Given the contentious nature of relationships between the two main parties in the last parliamentary session and given that this session has started out in the same confrontational mode as the last one - the Socialist Party and their allies boycotted the vote on the resolution - it seems that such a process might do a lot more harm than good.

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