Lustration is the process of making something clear or pure, usually by means of a propitiatory offering.

Drawing of a relief from the Karnak temple in Egypt showing a pharaoh lustrating with incense

It is also the purge of government officials once affiliated with the Communist system in Central and Eastern Europe.[1] Various forms of lustration were employed in post-communist Europe.[2] The concept might resemble de-Nazification in post-World War II Europe, and the de-Ba'athification in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, and therefore resonates with concepts such as possible accountability for past human rights abuses, corruption or injustice.[3] The term is taken from the Roman lustrum purification rituals.[4]

Policies and laws

After the fall of the various European Communist governments in 1989–1991, the term came to refer to government-sanctioned 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. 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.[6] As of 1996 lustration laws had not been passed in Belarus, nor in former Yugoslavia or the former Soviet Central Asian Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) (Ellis, 1996).

Negative and Positive Outcomes

Lustration can have a positive or negative outcome. On the one hand it can mean purification as in denazification, on the other it can have a negative meaning, political purification that leads to unbridled lust for political cleansing, as in ethnic cleansing, and other forms of ideological madness. Generally used by political theorists in its negative sense. Periods under Pol Pot in Cambodia and also the Gang of Four in Communist China, may also be termed "lustrations". In these cases, people were purged, often via firing squad.


Lustration can serve as a form of revenge by anti-communist politicians who were dissidents under a Communist-led government. Lustration laws are usually passed right before elections, and become tightened when right-wing governments are in power, and loosened while social democratic parties are in power.[7] It is claimed that lustration systems based on dismissal or confession might be able to increase trust in government,[8] while those based on confession might be able to promote social reconciliation.[8]


Lustration in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic

Unlike many of the neighbouring states, the new government in the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic 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.[9]

Lustration in Germany

Lustration in Poland

Lustration in Ukraine

Further information: Lustration in Ukraine

See also

Look up lustration in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Further reading


  1. "In Ukraine's Corridors Of Power, An Effort To Toss Out The Old". NPR. 2014-05-07. Retrieved 2014-05-07.
  2. 1 2 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. 1 2 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.
  6. Nalepa, Monika (2010). Skeletons in the Closet: Transitional Justice in Post-Communist Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 99.
  7. Elster, Jon, ed. (2006). Retribution and Reparation in the Transition to Democracy. Cambridge University Press. p. 189.
  8. 1 2 Roman David, Lustration and Transitional Justice: Personnel Systems in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, pp. 183, 209
  9. Kieran Williams, "Lustration", Central Europe Review
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