Runtime 2013 to 2015
Under the title “Honouring Civil Courage,” this project researched the ways of dealing with victims of communism through studying former communist countries that were members of the European Union in 2013, including Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary. The result of the project is this report consisting of eleven country case studies. Partners of the project were the Occupation Museum Association of Latvia, Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and Memory of the Romanian Exile (IICCMER) and the Platform of European Memory and Conscience. The project was funded by the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers.
In 2012, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the Directive 2012/29/EU, which established minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. In this directive, “victim” was defined as “a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence” as well as the “family members of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence and who have suffered harm as a result of that person’s death”. Though the EU Directive has no retroactive component, it stands to reason that the harm inflicted on victims of state crime under communist governments proves that these victims have also suffered physical, mental and emotional violence. Moreover, such harm was committed at the hands of the state often over extended periods of time. Thus, they necessitate the same protection as other victims.
Unfortunately, most victims of state crimes do not receive this protection. The rights, support and protective standards implemented by the European Union and its Member States are almost always linked with criminal proceedings. In regards to victims of state crimes, cases in which the aggrieved party files a lawsuit against the perpetrators or uses his or her right as plaintiff in a criminal case are not included in the protective domain of this directive. Such is due to a variety of reasons: in many countries, there is a lack of political will to deal with the past; often the statue of limitations for offences has expired; the systemic nature of injustices to which these people were made victim present particular difficulty in identifying individuals to blame and prove their resposibility; often they are not victims of criminal offenses but rather of unlawful and unconstitutional punitive measures. The vast majority of victims of communist state crimes qualify for assistance and compensation not through criminal proceedings or lawsuits against individuals but rather through a rehabilitation procedure that establishes the unlawfulness of the actions taken against them. Although the relation to criminal law is apparent in these cases, unlike "ordinary" crimes in which such is used to prosecute the perpetrators, here it is used solely to annul unjust court and state rulings. This annulment is standard procedure in the compensation of the victims. The similarities and differences between victims of "ordinary" crimes and victims of communist state crimes result in special needs of the latter.
The goal of the project “Honouring Civil Courage” was to address these special needs. In order to do so, it was necessary to analyse the situation of victims of communist state crimes and identify the problems, deficits and potential improvements. The project's aim was to provide a comparative analysis of the situation of the victims of communist tyranny and to put such in the context of the political pursuits of the EU regarding the protection and needs of the victims of crime. All of the countries that were analysed in this project have histories of communist rule and have undergone the transition from dictatorship to democracy. They share not only a common history but also the challenges of dealing with the past in the present time. Through a comparative analysis of how the various countries deal with these problems, it is possible to identify the problems of victims of communist state crimes as well as possible solutions.
Addressing the victims of communist state crimes requires not only investigating individual crimes and faulty court decisions but also dealing with past regimes that secured their power by means of repression and terror. In 2009, the European Parliament admitted its responsibility for the common historical heritage in the resolution of 2 April 2009 on European conscience and totalitarianism. Rehabilitating and compensating victims of totalitarian states is always a part of societies coming to terms with their individual pasts. People became victims if they defied the regimes of injustice directly and also if they posed or seemed to pose a challenge to the totalitarian regimes by their convictions, their creed, their social background or their lifestyle. Notwithstanding all the differences between the single cases, these people have in common that they proved incompatible with the convictions and rule of the centrally controlled state. They demanded liberty in an unfree system and defied or avoided the pressure to conform to it. Rehabilitating and compensating them means honoring civil courage.
Format: pdf, file size: 3,6 MB
Format: pdf, file size: 615 KB
Format: pdf, file size: 615 KB
Funded by the European Commission