Coping with the Past by Legal Means

A country’s efforts to cope with the past (particularly if that past was totalitarian or authoritarian) together with the public culture of remembrance form one of the traditional work areas of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung as it promotes democracy and the rule of law worldwide.


The work of the Stiftung in this area is based on the general belief that coping with the past is a precondition in order for former totalitarian or authoritarian regimes to successfully transform into sustainable democracies and constitutional states.


In Southeast Europe, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung promotes efforts to deal with the past inter alia through its regional Rule of Law Program (active in the following eight countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia. In helping the country deal with the past, the Program’s focus is on political-juridical aspects, i.e. analyzing how one can both deal and reconcile with the past through law and legal norms while respecting the limitations that the rule of law imposes.


Remembering plays a central role in the success of political culture. And this also explains why coming to terms with the past is a traditional field of work for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation as a political foundation: Democracy is based on and dependent on openness, trust, individuality and solidarity as democratic virtues of its citizens. According to the legal philosopher and author Bernhard Schlink, a democracy that replaces a dictatorship endangers its credibility and loses it for the victims of the dictatorship in the first place if it does not punish the perpetrators and if it does not legally prevent them from retaining their positions and pursuing their careers.


This is equally true for a democracy replacing a communist/socialist regime. Thus, the purpose of legal sanctions and the purpose of lustration is also, in particular, the preventive affirmation and reinforcement of civic virtues and the strengthening of democracy. One focus of our work in this area is therefore on aspects of the political-legal reappraisal of the past, i.e., on examining the question of how the past can be dealt with and overcome by law and within the limits set by the rule of law.