Settling Accounts: Violence, Justice, and Accountability in Postsocialist Europe

In This Review

Settling Accounts: Violence, Justice, and Accountability in Postsocialist Europe

By John Borneman
Princeton University Press, 1997
197 pp. $49.50
Purchase

Borneman, an anthropologist, wrestles with a troubling question: should a society adjudicate the sins of the fathers if they are authority figures from a prior regime that operated outside the rule of law? Yes, he answers -- if the society is democratic, or wishes to be and cares about the roots of its legitimacy, or if it wants to avoid cycles of revenge and retaliation. As Borneman notes, from Argentina to South Korea, people are struggling with the proper response to past abuse. But nowhere does the issue lurk so large as in the formerly communist states. In most instances, these societies, by whatever confluence of device and indifference, have chosen to let sleeping dogs lie. A few have not, and Borneman makes a complex philosophical and practical argument for why they are likely to be better off. A reunified Germany provides his central case and a detailed illustration of who has been tried and for what. A reader willing to forgive him such words as "essentialize" and "sacrality" will be rewarded with a subtle, albeit hardly indisputable, notion of "retributive justice" and its value.