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Lustration is a process of purification, often applied when a new government purges officials of a former regime who perpetrated crimes and abuses of power.[1] Various forms of lustration were employed in post-communist Europe,[2] post-World War II Europe, and Iraq (de-Ba'athification). It also applies more broadly to the process of nations dealing with past human rights abuses, corruption or injustices.[3] The term is taken from the Roman lustrum purification rituals.[4]

Policies and laws[edit]

In the period of post-communism after the fall of the various European Communist states in 1989–1991, the term came to refer to governments' policies of "mass disqualification of those associated with the abuses under the prior regime".[3] Procedures excluded participation of former communists, and especially of informants of the communist secret police, in successor political positions, or even in civil service positions. This exclusion formed part of the wider decommunization campaigns. In some countries, however, lustration laws did not lead to exclusion and disqualification. Lustration law in Hungary (1994–2003) was based on the exposure of compromised state officials, while lustration law in Poland (1999–2005) depended on confession.[5]

Lustration law "is a special public employment law that regulates the process of examining whether a person holding certain higher public positions worked or collaborated with the repressive apparatus of the communist regime".[2] The "special" nature of lustration law refers to its transitional character. The "public employment" nature of lustration law distinguishes it from other methods of criminal justice, such as criminal trials, amnesties, or qualified amnesties. "The process of examining" refers to the very process of "lustration", which means examining or screening against secret police archives.

As of 1996, various lustration laws of varying scope were implemented in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia), Germany, Poland, and Romania[citation needed]. Regional differences were significant; for example, in the Czech Republic and in Germany, lustration was much stronger than in other countries[citation needed]). As of 1996 lustration laws had not been passed in Belarus, nor in the former Soviet Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) (Ellis, 1996).

The main goal of lustration is to prevent continuation of abuses that had occurred under a former regime. This purification process is carried on in many ways, such as banning former members of the communist parties from involvement in public positions.[3]


Lustration can serve as a form of instant revenge for those who were abused by a past government. Political figures are often banned immediately from government, and the process therefore serves as a more efficient form of "justice" than pursuit of such figures through court trials. In addition, court trials (another method used when dealing with transitional justice) can be extremely expensive, lengthy, and may be unsuccessful.

Legitimacy is a key factor in having efficient governance. Lustration laws serve as a new set of rules to be implemented to create a new regime and governmental structures.[3]

Lustration systems based on dismissal or confession are able to increase trust in government.[6] Lustration systems based on confession are able to promote social reconciliation.[7]


Because the process may take place without adequate documentation or investigation, the innocent can be wrongfully accused and held responsible for crimes they may not have committed. Often records are tampered with, and the wrongfully accused are held accountable. This often occurs for the political gain of a new party.[3]

The excluded people are often the most experienced in doing their jobs. Loss of these experienced workers can prove problematic.


Lustration in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic[edit]

The Czechoslovak transition to democracy was quite different from that of other countries. Unlike many of the neighbouring states, the new government did not adjudicate under court trials, but rather took a non-judicial approach to ensure changes would be made and purify the country of past human rights abusers.

Per a law passed on 4 October 1991, all those involved with the StB, the Communist-era secret police, were blacklisted from certain high public offices. This included upper reaches of the civil service, the judiciary, procuracy, the security service (BIS), army positions, management of state owned enterprises, the central bank, the railways, high academic positions and the public electronic media. This law continued in effect in the Czech Republic after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, and expired in 2000.

The lustration laws in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic were not meant to serve as a form of justice, but to ensure that events such as the Communist coup of February 1948 would not happen again.[8] That coup began when the Communist minister of the interior packed the police with Communists, and the leaders of Czechoslovakia's fragile new democracy did not want to chance a repeat performance.

Lustration in Germany[edit]

Vergangenheitsbewältigung, Germany's "struggle to come to terms with the past" after the Nazi era, is a forerunner of the late 20th century issues of nations' coming to terms with Communist rule. In some ways it has resembled the later problem of people's dealing with the legacy of East German communist rule.

Lustration in Poland[edit]

See Lustration in Poland.

Lustration in Ukraine[edit]

On 26 February 2014, Ehor Sobolev was nominated to lead the "Committee on Lustration" in the new Yatsenyuk Government.[9]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "In Ukraine's Corridors Of Power, An Effort To Toss Out The Old". NPR. 2014-05-07. Retrieved 2014-05-07. 
  2. ^ a b Roman David, "Lustration Laws in Action: The Motives and Evaluation of Lustration Policy in the Czech Republic and Poland (1989-2001), Law & Social Inquiry 28(2):387-439 (2003),
  3. ^ a b c d e Eric Brahm, "Lustration", Beyond, June 2004, 8 Sep 2009
  4. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lustration". Encyclopædia Britannica 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 131. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Roman David, Lustration and Transitional Justice: Personnel Systems in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, p. 183.
  7. ^ Roman David, Lustration and Transitional Justice: Personnel Systems in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, p. 209.
  8. ^ Kieran Williams, "Lustration", Central Europe Review
  9. ^ Arseniy Yatseniuk nominated to lead new government as Ukraine prime minister "KyivPost Feb 27, 2014"