Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Katherine Verdery

Subject Categories

History | Law


Archive; Capitalism; Lustration; Secret Police; Transitional Justice; Truth and Secrecy


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of the accusations of 'collaboration' with the communist-era secret service in Poland's capitalist democracy. Situated in the global context of the 1989 'revolutions,' it examines the role of law in redrawing the moral and political boundaries of the new body politic and redefining the loyalties of the new citizen-subject of the neoliberalizing state. Specifically, my research concentrates on the legal process called 'lustration' (lustracja) in Poland, the state-centered purges of real or imagined secret communist agents, informers, and spies. Focusing on the contentious legal-political struggles from 2005 to 2008 and their aftermath, it explores the following questions: How has the pursuit of justice by the state on behalf of the 'victims of communism' paradoxically transformed into a national security policy? Where does the pursuit of justice end and the exercise of disciplinary state power begin? What is the role of law, human rights, and knowledge practices in drawing the line between the two?

On the basis of archival research at Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, interviews with legal officials and human rights activists, observation of lustration court proceedings, and collection of life histories of the people involved in lustration, my dissertation shows that the passage from 'transitional justice' to national security is not as long and definite as is commonly assumed. The transformation of lustration into an expansive national security mechanism, my research suggests, results from the broad dynamics of state power and the contradictions of legal and capitalist transformations, as well as of truth-making and epistemic practices. In doing so, my dissertation engages the themes of state power, neoliberal citizenship, and epistemic politics that have global relevance beyond the particulars of the Polish or Eastern European experience.

The first section (Chapters 1 and 2) of my dissertation offers a historical overview of the field of lustration by focusing on the highly contested notion of 'collaboration' and contextualizing it within the shifting state-citizen relations and conditions of political action, from the 1960s to the 1990s. This section critically analyzes the normative framework of lustration by examining the hegemonic discourses of post-ideology and totalitarianism, as well as the historical legacy of the political opposition against the communist state. The second section (Chapters 3 and 4) is concerned with the 'postsocialist' legal-political space of lustration, with an emphasis on the remaking of citizenship and human rights and property transformation in the era of neoliberal democratization. This section shows how lustration mediates the contradictions of inequality and liberty and has become transformed into a national security mechanism. It explores the questions of shame, fear, and responsibility lustration raises.

The final section (Chapters 5, 6, and 7) engages the truth-making and epistemic practices concerning lustration, especially the relations between law, life, history, and memory and the way they affect the subjectivity of people who become subjected to lustration. By focusing on the naming and shaming practices and different forms of suspicion woven around lustration, this section shows how these practices and forms of suspicion impact the lustrated persons' relation to themselves and the social world, which they inhabit. With these emphases on the themes of law, subjectivity, neoliberal democratization, and truth-making, my dissertation critically engages the scholarship on lustration and opens the field of transitional justice to the questions of power, inequality, and more comprehensive social-structural transformative justice that have been so far overlooked.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Thursday, September 30, 2021

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