Stefano Bottoni

Denied memories, State truth. Lustration and historical commissions in post-communist Romania

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This article deals with the controversial legacy of Communism on historical research and the public debate in Romania, placing it as a case-study into the broader context of post-totalitarian experiences in Latin America, Africa and Europe. Most countries shared a will to rebuild their political community by symbolically condemning crimes and illegal practices of the recent past. State-owned and private memorial institutions, "truth commissions" and archives were established, where professional historians and private citizens were given unprecedented freedom of research. The old master narratives rapidly declined while new and less indulgent opinions on the recent past started to emerge as a new historical canon. The massive release of secret documents concerning the internal and external policies of the former Communist bloc - including sensible topics such as mass repression in the 1950s or the intelligence work carried out on a large part of the civil population in the following decades - had a deep impact on civil society, which became the main advocate of moral renewal to be achieved through lustration proceedings. Within this framework, Romania represents an interesting case-study because of the contrast between extremely radical public discourse on the Communist dictatorship (reaching its highest point with the appointment in 2006 of a commission reporting on crimes and harmful legacy of the Communist regime), and the repeated failure to implement concrete measures (e.g. the lustration law issued in 1999) supposed to encourage a reshuffle of the political and the economic elite, both still influenced by networks belonging to the former secret police and the leadership of the Communist party.


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