From the fall of Berlin wall in 1989, up to the second half of 1990′s, all major ex-communist states, including Baltic states, (East) Germany, Hungary, Czech republic, Romania and Poland adopted robust legal platform dedicated to the “purification” of newly established democratic public offices. Enforcement of these laws is known as process of lustration (from the Latin term Lustrum which literally means “five year period”).
Usually, this process involves opening of the personal files created by the secret police in communist regime, that are about to be subsequently crossed with the current office holders in order to get the list of names that are inadequate for public service. Idea is that those who were executives of the totalitarian state, human right abusers that were holding the innocent in contempt, torturing, even informing about their everyday private activities, could not serve under their ex-victims. This was the approach of currently most developed EU members such as Czech republic, which adopted non-judicial, but rather political approach in terms of purifying the country and preventing the violent coup events such as one that happened in 1948 when democracy is overthrown and puppet communist regime was established for the next forty years.
What is the current status of ex-Yugoslav states regarding their policies? It is the known fact that the communist regime in Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1991 run an extremely organized network of secret police organizations on both federal (responsible for external threats) and state level (which was responsible for the oppression of “internal” alien elements of the regime). In the years after the Second world war and throughout the establishment of socialist Yugoslav state, this network is considered to be “the sword of the communist party”, thus responsible for the most brutal abuse of individual human rights, even organization of concentration camps for political imprisoners such as Goli otok during the Informbiro period (conflict with Stalin and Soviet union from 1948 to 1955).
At the peak of its power, prior to the famous Brion plenum in 1966, this structure effectively controlled all of the social life in Yugoslavia, conducting wiretapping and surveillance of its citizens on a regular basis which led to the show trials resulting in harsh sentences of long term imprisonment for political dissidents. Actually, one of the reasons that ex-Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz reorganized the complete structure of secret police was the fact that the minister of interior and head of secret police at that time, Aleksandar Rankovic Leka, was accused of wiretapping even Broz himself! This lead to the decentralization of complete secret police system which gave more power to the state-level organizations at the expense of federal one, but still regularly used for political oppression up to the very end of socialist Yugoslavia.
Throughout the breakup of federal state and violent secession which resulted in the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, ex-communist secret police officers and their informants continued to be active, quickly changing ideology, but nevertheless, operating on the same basis of protection of newly established countries against both internal and external enemies. Most of them offered their service to the new governments and their leaders which used them effectively (most notorious cases were Croatia and Serbia) during the war and afterwards. Interesting enough, in years after the civil war, much of those ex-fellows continued to cooperate closely, this time engaging in criminal activities such as weapon and drug trafficking, conducting even more operations in the unlawful “grey area”.
Currently, twenty years after the breakup of Yugoslavia, many of the public offices in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are held by the informants, operatives and even chief officers of Yugoslavian secret police.
Nevertheless, none of the ex-Yugoslav states, except from Macedonia which adopted similar law in 2011, did adopt or enforce any of the laws that would result in lustration. Most of the drafts were stopped either in the drafting process or during the parliamentary procedure, some of them because of the strong opposition of party leaders and public officers, either because of the legal issues such as condemnation of lustration procedures by the Council of Europe in its 1906 resolution which held “its wide application as unlawful, especially against those that did not violate any of the human rights”. However, lustration, even twenty years after, could be conducted on the criminal charges grounds against those that violated universal principles of freedom of speech and propagation of political beliefs.
One of those examples is the current proposal of Ministry of justice of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of 2012 which proposed the draft that was adjourned even before the start of parliamentary procedure for adaptation. Draft states that
“Supplementary requirement for a candidate or holder of public office a person who fulfills the period of the Second Session ZAVNOBiH 1944th until the first multiparty constitution of BiH Assembly 20th November 1990 had not been registered in the files of the state security authorities of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the civil and military security of the state to Yugoslavia as orders or customer information and data that have been the subject of processing, storage and utilization by the body’s safety, applied measures of repression by political motives the people – political opponents or people on whom records are managed“.
What is the most interesting fact about this case is that, due to the war, there are practically no records to which the current public office occupant’s names can be crossed with. Thus, there can be no formal verification and that is, in fact, the main argument for the future failure of lustration in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Beside lustration, one of the key elements for the effective enforcement of rule of law in post-Yugoslav states is the restitution or “denationalization” of private property. Namely, one of the prerequisites for the establishment of communist rule and central-based socialist economy in years after the World War II was the deprivation of the wealthy ones and land owners of their property. In “nationalization” period, most of the land and other assets were violently confiscated and pronounced as the ownership of the state. Among the victims were land owners, small farmers, churches, ideological enemies, and practically, anybody who is considered to belong to the class of “reaction”, which was popular term for the dissidents. By enforcement of such policy, all of the elements of “colhozation” of Yugoslavia were full filed and centrally planned economy was about to take the place on the grounds of prosperity that actually never came.
However, despite the fact that this concept did not outlive the regime which constituted it, only small amount of property was returned to its deprived owners (or their ancestors) in ex-Yugoslav states. Since private property is sacred element of free market and democratic society, as well as prerequisite for the rule of law, it is of great importance to start the process of restitution on the grounds of immediate return of the confiscated goods, rather than issuing of bonds and other securities that are, in terms of huge debt and deficit of state, practically worthless.
To summarize, lustration and restitution are the key elements for legal progress and economic prosperity of Balkan states. Decades of communist rule, legal unsafety and chaos, still present the main obstacle on the road to recovery. These are something that we own not only to the predecessors and those who were victims of their ancestor’s obscurity, but also to the generation that are to come, which expect of us at least a solid ground for the bright future.