Transitional Justice in Germany, Turkey and Spain

On March 16, Anja Mihr, Program Director of the Humboldt-Viadrina Center on Governance through Human Rights, gave a lecture to an audience of twenty at IES on transitional justice and regime consolidation in Europe during the 20th century, focusing more specifically on the contexts of Turkey during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, post-Franco Spain, and post-World War II Germany.

Mihr started her lecture by explaining her definition of transitional justice, which consists of various measures that seek and force a government’s transition to democracy through a simultaneous de-legitimatization of a past regime and legitimization of a current one. These measures may include trials, reparations, apologies, memorials, commissions of inquiry, amnesty laws, security sector reforms, and vetting of government agencies. According to Mihr, transitional justice measures may be approached from either an exclusive or inclusive standpoint. For example, reparations paid by the German Democratic Republic after World War II were done so in an exclusive manner, as they only paid them to countries that had diplomatic ties to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the Federal Republic of Germany paid reparations in an inclusive manner, in that they paid any country who suffered from German atrocities during the World War II regardless of their diplomatic ties. Mihr stressed that, while an exclusive approach fosters vengeance and creates an atmosphere that both purges political enemies and leads to a recurrence of autocratic policies, the inclusive approach invests in the security of fair, democratic institutions.

Then, Mihr transitioned to a discussion of Turkey, where an exclusive approach was undertaken to strengthen the power of the AKP party. During his early years as president, Erdogan seemed to be a democratic reformer by making concessions to Kurdish communities and abolishing the death penalty. And in 2008, he tolerated a conference in Istanbul’s Bilgi University during which Ottoman actions towards the Armenian people in 1915 were acknowledged. In later years, however, the country’s exclusive approach towards transitional justice led a desire to halt democratic reforms and the Armenian memorial in Kars was even taken down due to “ugliness.” This dismantling of the monument, Mihr argued, symbolizes the end of transitional justice in Turkey.

The final example Mihr explored was that of Spain, whose government, though never taking official measures to enlist transitional justice, pledged a commitment to democracy after the death of General Franco. For many years after Franco’s death, the Spanish people held a “silent pact” with the government; although democratic measures were adopted, Franco’s atrocities were never acknowledged. This changed in the 1990s, when the first exhumation of mass graves by private non-governmental organizations showed that a bottom-up perspective on transitional justice was needed to overcome this “silent pact.” Finally, in 2000, the Spanish government started its inclusive approach to bring justice to those who suffered under Franco’s rule. Following Mihr’s lecture, a brief question and answer section took place. One question concerned the atrocities committed by the Turkish military before 1990 and how these played a role in exclusive transitional justice. Mihr stated that trials against the military did occur; however, the transitional justice measures taken back then were very exclusive, as there was no real justice declared for victims of the Turkish military..