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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lustration has two meanings, historical and modern: Historically, it was the term for various ancient Greek and Roman purification rituals.[1] More recently, in the period after the fall of the various European Communist states in 19891991, the term came to refer to government policies of limiting the participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret police, in the successor political appointee positions or even in civil service positions.

In modern times, contemporary use of "lustration" has taken the meaning "to purify" from the Latin historical sense and also applied it to the process of nations' dealing with past human rights abuses or injustices that have occurred.[2]


Modern use

In the period of post-communism after the fall of the various European Communist states in 1989 – 1991, the term came to refer to governments' policies of "mass disqualification of those associated with the abuses under the prior regime".[2] They excluded participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret police, in successor political positions, or even in civil service positions. This exclusion was part of the wider decommunization campaigns.

As of 1996, various lustration laws of varying scope were implemented in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, the Baltic States: (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia); Germany, Poland, and Romania. Regional differences were significant; for example, in the Czech Republic and Germany, lustration was much stronger than in other countries). As of 1996 lustration laws had not been passed in Belarus, nor in the former Soviet Central Asian Republics of (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) (Ellis, 1996).

The main goal of lustration is to prevent continuation of abuses that had occurred under a former regime. This purification process is carried on in many ways, such as banning former members of the communist parties, from being involved in public positions.[2]



Lustration can serve as a form of instant revenge for those who were abused by a past government. Political figures are often banned immmediately from government, and the process therefore serves as a more efficient form of justice than pursuit of such figures through court trials. In addition, court trials (another method used when dealing with transitional justice) can be extremely expensive, lengthy, and may be unsuccessful.

Legitimacy is a key factor in having efficient governance. Lustration laws serve as a new set of rules to be implemented to create a new regime and governmental structures.[2]


Because the process may take place without adequate documentation or investigation, the innocent can be wrongfully accused and held responsible for crimes they may not have committed. Often records are tampered with, and the wrongfully accused are held accountable. This often occurs for the political gain of a new party.[2]

The excluded people are often the most experienced in doing their jobs. Loss of these experienced workers is problematic.


Lustration in Czech Republic

The Czech transition to democracy was quite different from that of other countries. Unlike many of the neighbouring states, the new Czech government did not adjudicate under court trials, but rather took a non-judicial approach to ensure changes would be made.

The new regime was intended to purify the country of past human rights abusers. All those involved with the Communist Secret Police (StB) were blacklisted from holding public office.

This included:

  • Upper reaches of the civil service
  • the judiciary
  • procuracy
  • the security service (BIS)
  • army positions
  • management of state owned enterprises
  • the central bank
  • the railways
  • high academic positions
  • the public electronic media

The lustration laws in the Czech Republic were not meant to serve as a form of justice, but rather to ensure that events such as the Communist coup of February 1948 would not happen again.[3]

Lustration in Germany

  • Vergangenheitsbewältigung, Germany's "struggle to come to terms with the past" after the Nazi era, is a forerunner of the late 20th century issues of nations' coming to terms with Communist rule. In some ways it has resembled the later problem of people's dealing with the legacy of East German communist rule.

Lustration in Poland

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Lustration". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Eric Brahm, "Lustration", Beyond, June 2004, 8 Sep 2009
  3. ^ Kieran Williams, "Lustration", Central Europe Review
  • 1904 (Merriam) Webster's International Dictionary of the English Language says: "a sacrifice, or ceremony, by which cities, fields, armies, or people, defiled by crimes, pestilence, or other cause of uncleanness, were purified"

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

LUSTRATION, a term that includes all the methods of purification and expiation among the Greeks and Romans. Among the Greeks there are two ideas clearly distinguishable - that human nature must purify itself (thOapves) from guilt before it is fit to enter into communion with God or even to associate with men, and that guilt must be expiated voluntarily (iXavµos) by certain processes which God has revealed, in order to avoid the punishment that must otherwise overtake it. It is not possible to make such a distinction among the Latin terms lustratio, piacula, piamenta, caerimoniae, and even among the Greeks it is not consistently observed. Guilt and impurity arose in various ways; among the Greeks, besides the general idea that man is always in need of purification, the species of guilt most insisted on by religion are incurred by murder, by touching a dead body, by sexual intercourse, and by seeing a prodigy or sign of the divine will. The last three spring from the idea that man had been without preparation and improperly brought into communication with God, and was therefore guilty. The first, which involves a really moral idea of guilt, is far more important than the others in Hellenic religion. Among the Romans we hear more of the last species of impurity; in general the idea takes the form that after some great disaster the people become convinced that guilt has been incurred and must be expiated. The methods of purification consist in ceremonies performed with water, fire, air or earth, or with a branch of a sacred tree, especially of the laurel, and also in sacrifice and other ceremonial. Before entering a temple the worshipper dipped his hand in the vase of holy water (repcppavrbptov, aqua lustralis) which stood at the door; before a sacrifice bathing was common; salt-water was more efficacious than fresh, and the celebrants of the Eleusinian mysteries bathed in the sea (iiXaS€, µuvrat); the water was more efficacious if a firebrand from the altar were plunged in it. The torch, fire and sulphur (TO 96.ov) were also powerful purifying agents. Purification by air was most frequent in the Dionysiac mysteries; puppets suspended and swinging in the air (oscilla) formed one way of using the lustrative power of the air. Rubbing with sand and salt was another method. The sacrifice chiefly used for purification by the Greeks was a pig; among the Romans it was always, except in the Lupercalia, a pig, a sheep and a bull (suovetaurilia). In Athens a purificatory sacrifice and prayer was held before every meeting of the ecclesia; the Maimacteria,' in honour of Zeus Maimactes (the god of wrath), was an annual festival of purification, and at the Thargelia two men (or a woman and a man) were sacrificed on the seashore, their bodies burned and the ashes thrown into the sea, to avert the wrath of Apollo. On extraordinary occasions lustrations were performed for a whole city. So Athens was purified by Epimenides after the Cylonian massacre, and Delos in the Peloponnesian War (426 B.C.) to stop the plague and appease the wrath of Apollo. In Rome, besides such annual ceremonies as the Ambarvalia, Lupercalia, Cerialia, Paganalia, &c., there was a lustration of the fleet before it sailed, and of the army before it marched. Part of the ceremonial always consisted in leading or carrying the victims round the impure persons or things. After any disaster the lustratio classium or exercitus was often again performed, so as to make certain that the gods got all their due. The Amburbium, a solemn procession of the people round the boundaries of Rome, was a similar ceremonial performed for the whole city on occasions of great danger or calamity; the Ambilustrium (so called from the sacrificial victims being carried round the people assembled on the Campus Martius) was the purificatory ceremony which took place after the regular quinquennial census (lustrum) of the Roman people.

See C. F. Hermann, Griechische Altertilmer, ii.; G. F. Schiimann, ib. ii.; P. Stengel, Die griechischen Kultusalterti mer (1898); Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung, iii. p. Zoo (1885); P. E. von Lasaulx, Die Sahnopfer der Griechen and Romer (1841); J. Donaldson, "On the Expiatory and Substitutionary Sacrifices of the Greeks," in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, xxvii., 1876; and the articles by A. Bouche-Leclercq in Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquites, and by W. Warde Fowler in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (3rd ed., 1891).

1 Maimacteria does not actually occur in ancient authorities as the name of a festival.

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