He tortured me, and I wanted revenge… Then we met in a refugee camp, and it was in my power to help him, his sick wife and new-born child… He made me cry, and I made him cry–that was my Buddhist revenge!
About 10 days ago, I sat in a room at the Bucharest University, listening to the life tale of a man who survived the worst nightmare of an authoritarian regime–restraint of fundamental freedoms, prison, torture, expatriation, humiliation… Of course, Mr. Neou Kassie made me think, once again, about granpa and the atrocities of the Communist regime in Romania. The similarities are even more striking and telling when you see pictures of Mr. Kassie meeting his Romanian counterpart, Mr. Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu. Mr. Kassie talked to us about Transitional Justice, thanks to a series of lectures organized by the Asia-Europe Foundation, but I chose to highlight for you just three of his teachings:
Mr. Kassie is of the opinion that rule-of-law is a key element in transitional justice. He warns, however, about the dangers incumbent with the attitude of new rulers/decision-makers that “adjust” the rule-of-law principle to mean rule-by-my-law… Indeed, an inclination is quite evident with new rulers, towards a self-serving type of discretionary power, thought or intended to balance out the injustice of the past. But Mr. Kassie warns that two wrongs don’t make a right! And indulging in such law-making for self always leads to abuse, this effecting no difference between the new regime and the old. That’s why, most probably, media reports about Romania tend to be harsher and tougher than necessary–for instance, I agree with the tone, although I often spot inaccurate or misguided information.
The lecture on Transitional Justice briefly touched upon relations between lustration/vetting and corruption. I was honored to discover Mr. Kassie’s opinion so close to mine. Of course, he says, members of the second and third power echelons from the old regime would always attempt to infiltrate the new power structure. What’s absolutely disquieting relates to their ability to groom the above-mentioned inclination of new rulers towards rule-by-my-law. Such symbiotic relationships make room for systemic corruption and block all serious attempts at proper lustration. Thus, Mr. Kassie’s advice runs along the lines of either a) seizing the right moment to introduce a just, equitable and objective lustration law, or b) realizing the window of opportunity had closed and henceforth introducing administrative and managerial tools for the prevention of conflicts of interests in decision-making.
Looking at one of the slides, Mr. Kassie suggested that social justice in a transition society should pave the way to reconciliation. He further commented that forgiveness is also needed for reconciliation, but forgiveness depends on responsibility and accountability. Once again, I concur 🙂 Were decision-makers responsible and accountable, not just to their voters, but to their own conscience, we wouldn’t witness despicable rule-by-my-law, opacity of decision-making, discretionary power and abuse thereof… Were they to adopt and enforce the principles of responsibility and accountability in policy-making, we’d enjoy the benefits of good governance and full-fledged public participation in decision-making. UNCAC aspires to inject and instill these values top-down, and that’s most probably why so many governments (tacitly) reject its implementation. Mr. Kassie advocates for the bottom-up growth and internalization thereof–not for the fame that comes with international recognition, but to the benefit of the people.
So, what can we learn and do for the advancement of Transitional Justice in our traumatized societies? I side with Mr. Kassie and propose that we get our revenge! The same kind of Buddhist revenge that Mr. Kassie and granpa talked about–mobilize, participate, analyze, prepare and present alternative solutions with wider levels of social acceptance… In other words, advocate for proper change, incommodate their inclination towards discretionary power, assert your expertise and creed, then give them a helping hand when they find themselves in a bind, in a crisis, in a trap… That’s the only chance we got–to earn their respect, although it comes along with a lot of envy and remorse… But we all know that “you gotta take the dog with the fleas,” so the only problem is not to let the fleas get to you 🙂 Good luck in your assertive advocacy efforts, and Happy Easter!