EXORCISING THE PAST

Countries of Eastern Europe vary in the intensity of government efforts to hold people accountable for actions under former communist regimes:

Germany. Soon after the collapse of East Germany's communist government in 1989, files of Stasi, the former East German secret police, were opened. The files have implicated a number of politicians in the five eastern states as Stasi collaborators. Former East German dictator Erich Honecker is currently on trial for ordering the deaths of 13 people shot while trying to escape to West Germany.

Czechoslovakia. A 1991 law bans former Communist Party officials and collaborators with the communist regime from holding government positions for five years; it affects 140,000 people named in former secret-police files. A former communist interior minister and two secret-police officials are on trial for detaining government opponents.

Hungary. In 1991, parliament restarted the statute of limitations on cases of treason, murder, and fatal injury that were not prosecuted by the communist regime for political reasons, but last April the constitutional court overturned the law. No former communist officials have been tried.

Poland. There has been little effort to hold Poles accountable for actions during the communist era. As in Hungary, many Poles claim to be worried about a "witch hunt."

Bulgaria. In September, a court sentenced former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov to seven years imprisonment for embezzling state funds; he still faces charges of sponsoring terrorism and brutal treatment of Bulgaria's ethnic Turks. Former secret-police files are being scrutinized.

Romania. Former communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed in the violent uprising that ended his regime in 1989. But former communists, including President Ion Iliescu (a critic of Ceausescu), remain active in public affairs.

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