The general aim of this book is to shed light on how countries deal with legacies of repression during a transition from authoritarian or totalitarian rule to democratic rule. Two broad kinds of transition are covered: those that occur as a result of the collapse of the old regimes or regime forces, as in Portugal, Argentina, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and Germany after reunification, where collapse was followed by absorption into another state; and those that are negotiated between an incoming democratic elite and an old regime, as in Spain, the southern cone of Latin America, Central America and South Africa. Because of this range of transitional situations, it is possible to see how varying degrees of political, social and institutional constraints affect the solutions adopted or limit opportunities to deal with the past, and to permit a comparative analysis of the variety of policies adopted, establishing links between one and the other. The book concentrates on the presence (or absence) of three kinds of official or government-sponsored efforts to come to terms with the past: truth commissions, trials and amnesties, and purges; to a lesser extent, it also looks at policies of compensation, restitution or reparation. At the same time, it focuses on unofficial and private initiatives emerging from within society to deal with the past – usually promoted by human rights organizations (HROs), churches, political parties and other civil society organizations; in doing this, the book examines a ‘politics of memory’ whereby societies rework the past in a wider cultural arena, both during the transitions and after official transitional policies have been implemented and even forgotten. The different sections of the Introduction are: Truth and Justice in Periods of Political Change: An Overview; What Can be Done about an Authoritarian Past? Limits and Possibilities of Transition Types and Other Variables; Beyond the Transitional Period: Authoritarian and Long-Term Historical Legacies; Truth, Justice and Democracy; and Memory Making and Democratization.
Keywords: amnesty, authoritarianism, Central America, Central Europe, civil society organizations, constraints, democratization, Eastern Europe, Europe, human rights organizations, justice, Latin America, politics of memory, purges, repression, South Africa, transition to democracy, transitional policies, trials, truth and justice, truth commissions, totalitarianism
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