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De-totalitarization vs. Continuity

This was a lecture given at the Europejski Dzień Pamięci Ofiar Reżimów Totalitarnych (European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Totalitarian Regimes) organized by Poland’s Ministry of Justice at the Museum of Cursed Soldiers (Muzeum Żołnierzy Wyklętych) housed at the infamous Rakowiecka Investigative Prison in Warsaw, 23 August 2019.

De-totalitarianization entails destroying or transforming institutions and people. More often than not, however, de-totalitarianization is thwarted by the continuity of the very same institutions and people it seeks to eliminate, replace, or reform. In fact, any attempt at replacing the old with the new encounters similar problems. This pertains also to the judiciary.

A political act is driven by political will and is limited by the context: political, social, cultural, and economic. For example, a lack of political will among Poland’s Sovietized elites and the demobilization of the common people thwarted the attempt to destroy the Palace of Stalin in the middle of Warsaw in the aftermath of 1989. It is a pity: It would have been a stupendously symbolic act that would have rivaled, if not overshadowed, in its theatric magnitude the fall of the Berlin Wall. The same mechanisms apply to the de-totalitarianization at large.