After the Cold War ended (or so we thought) in 1989 (or 1991) several Eastern European governments tried to purify themselves through lustration, that is through purging officials and agents of the former Communist regimes. This year a former Communist agent who served in East Germany in those days reminded us that the “long twilight struggle” might not be over. We might wish Vladimir Putin had suffered lustration twenty-five years ago so that we might not be wondering now where Europe begins and ends–but as it is we can look forward to more struggles in the new year, not least over what is true lustration and what is false lustration.
Putin’s noise machines (RT et al) were perhaps almost as significant as his “polite people” this past year. Their insistent theme was that the pro-Western Ukrainians on the Maidan in Kyiv were actually fascist usurpers. I would call this false lustration, but it had a good deal of persuasive power, especially among right-wing anti-EU political factions in Britain, Italy, Hungary, and elsewhere (as well as among Russophiles in Germany who may not be overtly anti-EU). Some U.S. officials, notably Samantha Power, replied by calling the Russian invasion by its proper name, but the hard work–perhaps of necessity–was left to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Some were skeptical of her steadfastness (on the ground that she grew up in East Germany and never rebelled against the system there) but I would say she has been the critical figure in the true lustration and isolation of President Putin, not as an end in itself but as a defense of the new rules of nonviolent competition by democratic and economic means in the post-World War II and post-Cold War world. These rules cannot yet be enforced effectively everywhere but if they cannot be defended (at some cost, without doubt) in the case of Ukraine, the next year and next decade will be far more miserable than need be.