Five double-headed Russian coat-of-arms eagles (below) substituting the former state emblem of the Soviet Union and the “CCCP” letters (above) in the facade of the Grand Kremlin Palace after the dissolution of the USSR

Decommunization is a process of overcoming the legacies of the communist state establishments, culture, and psychology in the post-Communist states. It is similar to denazification after Nazism fell. It is sometimes referred to as political cleansing.[1]

The term is most commonly applied to the former countries of the Eastern Bloc and the post-Soviet states to describe a number of legal and social during their periods of postcommunism.

While sharing common traits the processes of decommunization have run differently in different states.


Comparison to denazification

Denazification was enforced by foreign powers, whereas decommunization was not. The communist elites were able to resist decommunization.

Dealing with "communist crimes"

Investigators and prosecutors


  • Bulgaria - Todor Zhivkov was sentenced to 7 years in prison, but served only one day because he was freed for "health reasons".
  • Cambodia - Kang Kek Iew is so far the only indicted Khmer Rouge leader, while Pol Pot and others lived free without charges.
  • East Germany - Eric Honecker was arrested, but soon released due to ill health. Several people, such as Egon Krenz, were convicted.
  • Poland - Wojciech Jaruzelski has avoided most court appearances citing poor health.
  • Romania - Nicolae Ceauşescu was sentenced to death and executed.

Dealing with communists

Lustration 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.


Decommunization was largely limited or non-existent. Communist parties outside the Baltic states were not outlawed and their members were not prosecuted. Just a few places even attempted to exclude members of communist secret services from decision-making. In a number of countries the communist party simply changed its name and continued to function.[2]

Stephen Holmes of the University of Chicago in 1996 argued that after a period active decommunization, it was met with a near-universal failure. After the introduction of lustration, demand for scapegoats has become relatively low and former communists have been elected for high governmental and other administrative positions. Holmes notes that the only real exception was former East Germany, where thousands of former STASI informers have been fired from public positions.[3]

Holmes suggests the following reasons for the burn-off of the decommunization:[3]

  • Sense of collective complicity: after 45–70 years of state communism nearly every family has members associated with the state. After the initial desire "to root out the reds" came a realization that massive retroactive punishment is wrong, and putting the guilt of many onto several singled out scapegoats is hardly a justice.
  • The urgency of the current economical problems of postcommunism makes the crimes of the communist past "old news" for common citizens.
  • Realization that decommunization has actually become a power game of elites.
  • Realization of the difficulty of dislodging the social elite. It would require a totalitarian state to disenfranchise the "enemies of the people" quickly and efficiently, and a desire for normalcy overcomes the desire for punitive justice.
  • Realization that very few people with perfectly clean slate are available to fill the positions that require significant expertise. People begin remembering that Lenin's idea that "every cookwoman may govern the state"[citation needed] failed.

Return of former Communists to power

Former communists regained power in nearly all post-Soviet states, including Russia, most of them denouncing their Communist past. The same had happened in some East European states as well.

See also


  1. ^ Jennifer A. Yoder (1999) "From East Germans to Germans?: The New Postcommunist Elites", ISBN 0822323729,, pp.95-97
  2. ^ After socialism: where hope for individual liberty lies. Svetozar Pejovich.
  3. ^ a b Michael Mandelbaum (Ed., 1996) "Post-Communism: Four Perspectives", Council on Foreign RelationsISBN 0876091869

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