Monika Nalepa on Transitional Justice in Post-Communist Europe


An alienated society divided into groups and classes suspicious of one another does not pose an especially great problem for an authoritarian regime that does not legitimize itself through fair elections. In contrast, democratic institutions presuppose a consensus about obeying common “rules of the game” and rely on a culture of trust and reciprocity. For democratic consolidation, citizens must respect and participate in shared democratic institutions. For instance, they should trust courts as the final arbiters in adjudicating disputes and respect judicial decisions even if they disagree with them. They should also recognize results of elections, even if their favorite candidate loses.

– Monika Nalepa, Skeletons in the Closet: Transitional Justice in Post-Communist Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2010)

This book tackles three puzzles of pacted transitions to democracy. First, why do autocrats ever step down from power peacefully if they know that they may be held accountable for their involvement in the ancien régime? Second, when does the opposition indeed refrain from meting out punishment to the former autocrats once the transition is complete? Third, why, in some countries, does transitional justice get adopted when successors of former communists hold parliamentary majorities? Monika Nalepa argues that infiltration of the opposition with collaborators of the authoritarian regime can serve as insurance against transitional justice, making their commitments to amnesty credible. This explanation also accounts for the timing of transitional justice across East Central Europe. Nalepa supports her theory using a combination of elite interviews, archival evidence, and statistical analysis of survey experiments in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

Here are Monika’s book recommendations and links to the articles mentioned in this interview:

  • Anne Meng’s Constraining Dictatorship: From Personalized Rule to Institutionalized Regimes;
  • Bryn Rosenfeld’s The Autocratic Middle Class: How State Dependency Reduces the Demand for Democracy;

See also Professor Nalepa’s discussion with Miranda Melcher about her latest Cambridge University Press release - After Authoritarianism: Transitional Justice and Democratic Stability on the NBN.

Monika Nalepa’s research focuses on transitional justice, parties and legislatures, and game-theoretic approaches to comparative politics. She teaches courses in game theory, comparative politics, and transitional justice at the University of Chicago.

Keith Krueger lectures part-time in the Sydney Business School at Shanghai University.

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