Lustration as a trust-building mechanism? Transitional justice in Poland

image of Lustration as a trust-building mechanism? Transitional justice in Poland

Lustration, that is, revealing public officials’ links to the former Communist secret, is Poland’s dominant transitional justice mechanism. It is more prevalent than truth commissions, trials or compensation of victims of Communist rule. This chapter uses survey data from the period preceding the democratic transition, as well as public opinion data from surveys taken throughout the post-transition period. It first demonstrates that Polish citizens emerging from decades of Communist rule trusted neither state institutions nor political elites. From a normative point of view, lustration is the best response to such a deficit of trust. I argue, however, that political elites did not implement lustration for its normative qualities. This transitional justice mechanism has been politically misused more than any other to skew the results of elections and other democratic processes. I support this claim with public opinion data from the more recent period showing that the passage of lustration laws has failed to improve trust in political elites and state institutions. Other public opinion data show the Polish public to be deeply dissatisfied with existing lustration laws. This finding is particularly disturbing in light of the absence of other transitional justice mechanisms, such as trials, victim compensation and property restitution, which have been very difficult to implement. Despite the normative advantages of lustration, relative to other transitional justice mechanisms, the overall performance of lustration in Poland has been far from satisfactory.

Related Subject(s): Human Rights and Refugees
Sustainable Development Goals:
Countries: Poland
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