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Skeletons in the Closet


  • 32 b/w illus. 17 tables
  • Page extent: 324 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.56 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521514453)

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$95.00 (P)

This book tackles three puzzles of pacted transitions to democracy. First, why do autocrats ever step down from power peacefully if they know that they may be held accountable for their involvement in the ancien régime? Second, when does the opposition indeed refrain from meting out punishment to the former autocrats once the transition is complete? Third, why, in some countries, does transitional justice get adopted when successors of former communists hold parliamentary majorities? Monika Nalepa argues that infiltration of the opposition with collaborators of the authoritarian regime can serve as insurance against transitional justice, making their commitments to amnesty credible. This explanation also accounts for the timing of transitional justice across East Central Europe. Nalepa supports her theory using a combination of elite interviews, archival evidence, and statistical analysis of survey experiments in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.


1. Introduction; Part I. Skeletons in the Closet: 2. Committing to amnesty; 3. The kidnapper's dilemma; 4. Hostages and skeletons in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic; Part II. Out of the Closet: 5. Voters: transitional justice demand; 6. Elites: transitional justice supply; 7. The Transitional Justice Bill game; 8. Infiltration as insurance; 9. Epilogue: between agents and heroes; Appendices: A. Mathematical proofs to Chapter 3; B. Answers of MPs and their constituents to 'more should be done to punish people who were responsible for the injustices of the communist regime'; C. Sampling technique and transitional justice survey questionnaire; D. Birth and death of parliamentary parties by their position regarding lustration; E. Mathematical proofs to Chapter 7; F. Lustration laws by target, targeted activity, and sanction type in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Prize Winner

Co-winner, 2010 Best Book Award, Comparative Democratization Section, American Political Science Association

Co-winner, 2012 Leon Epstein Book Award, Political Organizations and Parties Section, APSA


“Monika Nalepa has written a terrific book that explores a central question of democratization: Why do autocrats give up power when they can reasonably expect their rivals to punish them if they do? In a range of cases from Eastern Europe, she finds that the threat of revealing the ‘skeletons in the closet’ of anti-communist politicians helped ex-communist parties transfer power without violence. Her simple formal models shed light on other puzzles such as why lustration laws were often championed by ex-communist parties and why these laws were passed so late in the transition. Nalepa’s research is first-rate and the book brims with surprising insights about the politics of transferring power. This compelling book should be a high priority for anyone interested in comparative politics, democratization, or Eastern Europe.”
-Timothy Frye, Columbia University

“Monika Nalepa’s provocative and compelling analysis answers critical questions: why would authoritarian leaders peacefully leave office, knowing they face punishment for their violations of human rights and basic freedoms? And why would their opponents ever refrain from punishment? Her answers are subtle and sophisticated, recasting transitional justice in terms of elite complicity.”
-Anna Grzymala-Busse, University of Michigan

“Skillfully blending careful theorizing, original data analysis, and an important collection of personal interviews, Nalepa’s book will likely redefine the received wisdom on the question of lustration for years to come. Her argument that the advent of lustration was not merely a reaction to the demands of voters in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of communism, but instead is a function of the degree to which relevant opposition actors in transition countries are stuck with ‘skeletons in their closet’ from communist infiltration and collaboration is powerful, provocative, and ultimately convincing. The book is a must read both for those interested in the subject of transitional justice writ large as well as for scholars of post-communist transitions. Indeed, at the end of the day, the book’s thesis is not simply a story about lustration: it is a story of the transitions themselves.”
-Joshua A. Tucker, New York University

“Monika Nalepa’s Skeletons in the Closet offers a ground-breaking analysis of transitional justice and its role in the consolidation of new democracies. Combining rigorous theoretical analysis with an impressive array of qualitative and quantitative evidence -- including interviews with elites on both sides of transitions from communist rule in Eastern Europe as well as original surveys of citizens -- this book makes a compelling case for its argument: Policies that pursue transitional justice are typically not driven by the demands of voters and citizens. Instead, they must be understood as strategic choices by political elites acting in the fog of an authoritarian legacy, characterized by great uncertainty about past collaboration of resistance leaders with the former regime. This approach allows Nalepa to offer convincing explanations of puzzling aspects of the timing and the scope of transitional justice policies that have largely gone unexplained to date. This book will force scholars to re-think common conceptions about transitional justice, and it should be read not only by those who study post-communist Eastern Europe, but by anyone with an interest in transitions from authoritarianism to democracy.”
-Georg Vanberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“Why weren’t former communist elites immediately punished after communism fell? In this excellent book Monica Nalepa explains why justice was delayed, and, paradoxically, why in the end it was the former communists that purged themselves. Through an impressive combination of formal theory, statistical analysis, and primary research in Eastern Europe, Nalepa finds that fears of collaboration within the ranks of non-communist parties drove the timing of punishment. Where such fears were high, these parties were inhibited from enacting such legislation; where they were low the former communists preempted the passage of harsh measures with milder ones of their own. No one who reads this carefully argued and provocative book will think about transitional justice in quite the same way again.”
-Jason Wittenberg, University of California at Berkeley

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