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Lustration has two meanings, historical and modern: Historically, it was the term for various ancient Greek and Roman purification rituals. More recently, in the period after the fall of the various European Communist states in 19891991, the term came to refer to government policies of limiting the participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret police, in the successor political appointee positions or even in civil service positions.

In modern times, contemporary use of "lustration" has taken the meaning "to purify" from the Latin historical sense and also applied it to the process of nations' dealing with past human rights abuses or injustices that have occurred.

Modern use

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". They excluded participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret police, in successor political positions, or even in civil service positions. This exclusion was part of the wider decommunization campaigns.

As of 1996, various lustration laws of varying scope were implemented in the Czech Republicmarker, Slovakiamarker, Hungarymarker, Albaniamarker, Bulgariamarker, the Baltic States: (Lithuaniamarker, Latviamarker, and Estoniamarker); Germanymarker, Polandmarker, and Romaniamarker . Regional differences were significant; for example, in the Czech Republic and Germany, lustration was much stronger than in other countries ). As of 1996 lustration laws had not been passed in Belarusmarker, nor in the former Soviet Central Asian Republics of (Kazakhstanmarker, Kyrgyzstanmarker, Tajikistanmarker, and Uzbekistanmarker) (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 being involved in public positions.


Lustration can serve as a form of instant revenge for those who were abused by a past government. Political figures are often banned immmediately 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.


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.

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


Lustration in Czech Republic

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

The new regime was intended to purify the country of past human rights abusers. All those involved with the Communist Secret Police (StB) were blacklisted from holding public office.

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
  • the public electronic media
The lustration laws in the Czech Republic were not meant to serve as a form of justice, but rather to ensure that events such as the Communist coup of February 1948 would not happen again.

Lustration in Germany

  • 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

See also

Further reading


  1. Eric Brahm, "Lustration", Beyond, June 2004, 8 Sep 2009
  2. Kieran Williams, "Lustration", Central Europe Review
  • 1904 (Merriam) Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language says: "a sacrifice, or ceremony, by which cities, fields, armies, or people, defiled by crimes, pestilence, or other cause of uncleanness, were purified"

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