Source: (2006) In, Elster, Jon, editor, Retribution and Repatriation in the Transition to Democracy Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 239-274

New political regimes are never created on a tabula rasa. Hence any new regime must establish some relationship to the actors and subjects of its predecessor regime. Also, it must establish reasons supporting the nature of this retrospective relationship. The retrospective relationship must be justifiable in terms of the new regime. Whereas new authoritarian regimes may be able to repress and destroy the traces and memories of the predecessor regime, this option is precluded in new democracies. The latter must deal, in order to secure their viability and credibility of their principles in the future, with past injustices through means and procedures that are consistent with presently valid standards of justice, such as the rule of law and equality before the law. This three fold temporal reference to the past, the present, and the future is constitutive of the problems of transition justice in new democracies. This chapter is about the way this backward-looking practice evolved in unified Germany with regard to the past of the now defunct state of the German Democratic Republic and the dominant actors of this state, as well as its victims. (excerpt)