When the Past Does Not Fade Away

Looking through the portal of the Old University of Würzburg is like peeking cautiously into the future: What do we do with a past that does not fade away? What has to happen to ensure that the darkest periods of history do not get repeated? The process of coming to terms with the past is important in Germany. The critical confrontation with National Socialism and, since 1990, with the GDR, is regarded as central to the democratic identity of the Federal Republic. An academic project at the university is examining the success of transitional justice efforts worldwide.

Credit: hajotthu / CC BY


Transitional Justice: An International Comparison

In February 2020, the Chair of Modern History at the University of Würzburg began examining transitional justice efforts in different countries and continents. The aim is to compare the instruments used and assess their effectiveness. A multiyear project has been launched with financial support of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation.

Were the individuals responsible for past crimes punished? Was the governing elite replaced? Were the victims of the dictatorship legally rehabilitated and financially compensated?  Have sites or rituals of public commemoration been established? And how is the dictatorship addressed in schools and museums, in art, film and literature? These are some of the questions the project strives to answer.

Since transitional justice efforts do not take place in a vacuum, each country’s individual development status has to be taken into account. It is also important to consider its special cultural and political traditions. How the country transitions from dictatorship to democracy also plays a major role: it makes a difference whether a regime was reformed from above or overthrown from below or by outside forces.

The aim of the project is to develop recommendations for action that can serve as points of reference for the states in question, as well as for German development policy. Which instruments for dealing with the past have proven useful in strengthening democratic structures? What shape must transitional justice take to ensure that political and social conflicts be handled peacefully in the future?

The results of the project will be published successively on this website. If you would like to contribute your own experiences and insights, please send us photos, videos and texts that we can post here. The example of Germany shows that there is a future -- even after the most atrocious crimes ever known to history.

Project Management: Prof. Peter Hoeres, University of Würzburg
Project Implementation:  Dr. Hubertus Knabe, University of Würzburg

Project Staff: Annika Fleck and Benedikt Karl, University of Würzburg
Country study on Albania: Dr Jonila Godole, Director of the Institute for Democracy, Media & Culture (IDMC) in Tirana 
Country study on Argentinia: Dr phil, Lic theol Veit Straßner, University of Mainz
Country study on Chile: Ricardo Brodsky, former director of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago de Chile
Country study on Ethiopia: Dr Tadesse Metekia, School of Law, Jimma University, Ethiopia
Country study on Georgia: Prof Dr Oliver Reisner, Ilia State University, Tbilisi
Country study on Rwanda: Dr Julia Viebach, Oxford's African Studies Centre 
Country study on South Africa: Dr Hugo van der Merwe, Director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Transitional Justice
Country study on Uruguay: Dr phil, Lic theol Veit Straßner, University of Mainz


Project "After the Dictatorship" at the University of Würzburg, in: Die Tagespost, April 16, 2021.

Project report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of March 28, 2021.

Does man make progress in morality? Interview with Prof. Peter Hoeres and Dr. Hubertus Knabe, in: Main-Echo of January 16/17, 2021, p. 24.

How the wounds of the past heal, interview with Prof. Peter Hoeres and Dr. Hubertus Knabe, in: Main-Post of December 5, 2020, p. 39.

Project report on the website of the University of Würzburg, December 1, 2020.

Report on a conversation with Prof. Peter Hoeres and Dr. Hubertus Knabe Sonntagsblatt, November 20, 2020.

The Long Life of the Old Communist Cadres - In Eastern Europe, Efforts at Political Self-Cleansing Have Remained Fragmentary, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of September 27, 2021.


After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison

A project at the Department of Modern History at the University of Würzburg

Twitter: @afterdictatorship
Instagram: After the dictatorship

With financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development