2011: Sofia Platform: Session 2: Justice in Times of Transition

Sofia Platform: Transitional Justice

3-4 December 2011

Session 2: Justice in Times of Transition

During the second panel discussion at the “Sofia Platform: Transitional Justice”, various policy approaches to dealing with the totalitarian past were presented.

In his opening remarks, Dobroslav Dimitrov, chairman of the Foreign Policy and Defence Committee of the National Assembly, said that the current Bulgarian Parliament had shown the political will to break with the previous regime with the adoption of a declaration in this spirit. He recalled the fierce resistance of the opposition to its adoption, but emphasised that he believed that this was the way to achieve democratic rule in society.

There are different ways to reject totalitarian regimes – one size does not fit all, said Sheila Camerer, South African Ambassador to Bulgaria and former Deputy Minister of Justice. South Africa, through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, had chosen the path of amnesty in order to renew the country. This was its way of building a society of human rights, dignity and democracy, said Ambassador Camerer, who dwelt particularly on the role of women in the struggle for equality.

The most important thing is to have national reconciliation in countries that struggle with totalitarian regimes, said Charles University Professor Vladimir Balas, recalling that the process in the Czech Republic was much more peaceful than that happening now in the Arab world. He spoke of the challenges of transition in his country and explicitly stressed that there is no single specific model that can be repeated. It is important to have a clear line between justice and revenge, Professor Balas said.

The problem of reconciliation with the past is still subject to debate in Bulgaria, which often serves as a negative example in this respect, historian Momchil Metodiev said. However, he expressed his confidence that Bulgarian society has realized the necessity and inevitability of the process of ultimately fully understanding the past. Dr Metodiev described as extremely key to a fair transition, the opening of the files of the employees of State Security and cleansing the history of communism of serious lies. With the opening of archives, he said, another main objective could be achieved – the restoration of the social values ​​that had been broken by communism.

The reflections of Romanian political scientist Raluca Ursaci were along similar lines. Turning to the communist past of her country and the signs that Romanian society has of actions that were taken by the Securitate secret police, she examined the ability of criminal justice to eradicate traumas inherited from the past. A penal process helps us to understand what actually happened – a story about the past, but this time around, free of spurious interference in its content.

In a video address to the conference, the Deputy Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of South Africa, Pregaluxmi Govender, spoke of apartheid in her country and the continuing struggle for human rights and social protection to prevail fully.