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Settling Accounts

Settling Accounts: Violence, Justice, and Accountability in Postsocialist Europe

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Settling Accounts
    Book Description:

    As new states in the former East bloc begin to reckon with their criminal pasts in the years following a revolutionary change of regimes, a basic pattern emerges: In those states where some form of retributive justice has been publicly enacted, there has generally been much less of a recourse to collective retributive violence. InSettling Accounts, John Borneman explores the attempts by these aspiring democratic states to invoke the principles of the "rule of law" as a means of achieving retributive justice, that is, convicting wrongdoers and restoring dignity to victims of moral injuries. Democratic regimes, Borneman maintains, require a strict form of accountability that holds leaders responsible for acts of criminality. This accountability is embodied in the principles of the rule of law, and retribution is at the moral center of these principles.

    Drawing from his ethnographic work in the former East Germany and with select comparisons to other East-Central European states, Borneman critically examines the construction of categories of criminality. He argues against the claims that economic growth, liberal democracy, or acts of reconciliation are adequate means to legitimate the transformed East bloc states. The cycles of violence in states lacking a system of retributive justice help to support this claim. Invocation of the principles of the rule of law must be seen as a chance for a more democratic, more accountable, and less violent world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2234-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    • CHAPTER 1 Framing the Rule of Law in East-Central Europe
      (pp. 3-25)

      In theory, democratic form distinguishes itself from all other political forms in one major respect: its leaders are accountable to the public over which they rule. By contrast, in other political forms such as monarchies and dictatorships, leaders are held accountable to no one but themselves. The principles of GermanRechtsstaatlichkeit,or in English the “rule of law,” represent an attempt to institutionalize this theory of accountability. These principles, elaborated over the last nine centuries, are not formally dependent on the democratic form alongside which they developed; they can coexist with other forms of political representation. However, principles of accountability...

    • CHAPTER 2 Comparing: Decommunization—Recommunization—Reform?
      (pp. 26-39)

      Everyone agrees that much has changed economically, politically, and culturally, since the collapse of “actually existing socialist regimes” in East-Central Europe. But there is no agreement on how to best characterize these changes, which theoretical frameworks or descriptive terms to apply, and even more fundamentally, what caused them. In his authoritative reporting of events surrounding the collapse, Timothy Garton Ash (1990) coined the wordrefolution,claiming that regime changes had aspects of both revolution and reform. Others have since picked up on this term. For purposes of analysis, however, revolution and reform are already ambiguous concepts that are only further...

    • CHAPTER 3 Historicizing the Rule of Law
      (pp. 40-56)

      This chapter makes an initial foray into the history of the German Rechtsstaat, concentrating on the progressive institutionalization of principles of accountability and responsibility. Neither a comprehensive inventory of events nor a complete chronology, it is a sketch that sacrifices depth for breadth. It looks at the development of principles of accountability from four perspectives: Western legal traditions, national histories, architectural symbolism, and the Cold War. These perspectives are units of different orders: ideal, spatial, material, and temporal. While they do not combine to give a total picture of the Rechtsstaat, they do move beyond a conventional law-as-ideas approach to...


    • CHAPTER 4 The Invocation of the Rechtsstaat in East Germany: Governmental and Unification Criminality
      (pp. 59-79)

      In the chaos that followed the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, illegal activities of an unprecedented scale proliferated to such an extent that police and public prosecutors in East and West Berlin felt overwhelmed. They immediately reestablished the contacts that had been destroyed with the division of Germany in 1949. Officials in the Ministries of Justice commiserated with the police and public prosecutors about difficulties they encountered in responding to the deluge of demands for justice. These demands involved investigating and prosecuting both old crimes committed by the GDR’s elite and new crimes made possible by...

    • CHAPTER 5 Accountability on Trial
      (pp. 80-96)

      What happens when former government officials of East bloc states are put on trial? How is accountability framed? Do such trials legitimate the new Rechtsstaat? Do such trials contribute to the control of violence? I have selected a single prosecution for ethnographic description before I move on to a more general evaluation of this and other trial results. It is by no means typical of justice in either East Germany or other former socialist states; each political community has concerned itself with different domains of accountability. This case does illustrate, however, the challenges of bringing about justice and establishing principles...


    • CHAPTER 6 Democratic Accountability: Results, Evaluations, Ramifications
      (pp. 99-110)

      Effective criminal law establishes the state as a moral agent representing the entire community. It does this by reiterating the principles of accountability for injustices as part of an attempt to reestablish the dignity of victims. Have the criminal investigations and trials in Germany been effective in reckoning with a past? In the context of the other trials for governmental and unification criminality, an acquittal of Wolfgang Vogel for extortion, as in his second trial, was not an exceptional verdict. Much to my surprise, however, Vogel was indeed found guilty in his first trial. On January 9, 1996, the court...

    • CHAPTER 7 Justice and Dignity: Victims, Vindication, and Accountability
      (pp. 111-136)

      Dignity is a concept that has become nearly universally translatable. Yet it is not to be found in every state’s constitution, and where it is employed, it is subject to different interpretations. Tzvetan Todorov (1996: 139) identifies it, along with caring, as one of the two “ordinary virtues: those moral acts that each of us can perform without having to be a hero or a saint.” Dignity is preserved by transforming a situation of constraint into one of freedom. It is always a quality of individuals and cannot be derived from any group or collective character. One of the most...


    • CHAPTER 8 The Rule of Law and the State: Violence, Justice, and Legitimacy
      (pp. 139-166)

      This final chapter will make preliminary comparisons of the effects of the invocation of the principles of the rule of law on violence and state legitimacy in different postsocialist states. In the comparison I bring together four activities: invocation of the principles of the rule of law, prosecution and criminalization of the old elite for past crimes, vindication of victims, and state legitimacy and the control of violence.

      Before going into this comparison, I will make a few final reflections on the dominant frameworks used to understand the transitions in East-Central Europe. The major American project documenting and analyzing the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 167-176)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-186)
  11. Index
    (pp. 187-194)
  12. Name Index
    (pp. 195-197)