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Ascribing Individual Responsibility in the Aftermath of Collective Violence and Repression

Interpretations of Criminal Proceedings in Post-Communist Romania

The project analyses the effects of ascribing individual criminal responsibility in judicial processes on the societal interpretations of past collective violence and repression.

It explores how individual responsibility is ascribed in the proceedings of a trial and resulting judgments in order to compare these insights with the interpretation of various societal actors groups, how they allocate responsibility and if the court proceedings have an effect on their views. Questions intended to be answered are these: how is individual responsibility ascribed by a trial in the aftermath of collective violence and repression? How does this relate to accounts of responsibility for past violence and repression that prevail in the society? Do courts affect its historical narratives, and, if yes, how?

To respond to these questions, the project draws on a single, in-depth case study of post-communist Romania, and is divided in two closely intertwined components: (1) institutionally, it focuses on the analysis of court proceedings that relate to the repression during the communist regime (1945-1989) as well as to the violence during the revolution in December 1989, (2) on the societal level, it explores how various social groups (i.e. victims, descendants and witnesses; former members/ sympathizers of the regime; experts and public figures; the young generation of today’s students) interpret the violent past, and if and how this is related to the trials.

With a focus on meaning and sense-making, the project builds on a qualitative research design with a strong interpretative orientation, and is anchored in a narrative approach to both law and reality. Brining legal and societal interpretations together through the analysis of stories, the project contributes to the debate on ascribing individual criminal responsibility as a means to confront a violent past.

Project Period: 2017-2022

Funding: Fritz Thyssen Stiftung für Wissenschaftsförderung

Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Susanne Buckley-Zistel

Team: Prof. Dr. Susanne Buckley-Zistel, Kristine Avram