All-Pervasive Legacies of Socialist Constitutionalism? The Case of Judiciary

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Zdenek Kühn



The success of the legal transitions occurring in the 1990s was quite dubious. Although, as a result of enlargement of the EU, much of the “other Europe” became part of the European Union, it would be too simplistic to assume that, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the region became part of Western European political and legal landscape. While the books of the old era were discarded, legislation repealed and new institutions created, one should not underestimate the continuing strength of the old values, principles and legal thought in general. After all, the authors of those discarded books remained in the academia, even if they seemingly started to produce – virtually overnight – new works, while defending new values and principles. Alongside with the academics, the entire legal personnel of the old era survived the systemic change, and this contributed to the persisting spirit of old legal culture. That is why the philosophies of the old socialist legal system were able, not only to survive, but to govern a substantial portion of the post-socialist legal and judicial discourse. The deepest layers of the old legal culture are resistant to sudden changes by their very nature. They seldom have a direct connection to the former official political ideology, and they are often clothed in the new legal vocabulary. Furthermore, the most persistent features of socialist legal culture are often those linked to the region’s illiberal pre-socialist past, although substantively modified during the era of socialism. I will show some examples of old socialist concepts which seem to be alive and well in the new legal system. First, I am going to deal with the authoritarian model of judicial process, which appears to prevail in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. The socialist conception of a judicial process continues to haunt the region even several decades after the fall of “existing socialism.” The parties continue to be viewed as passive objects in the post-communist litigation. Second, I am going to explain a specific socialist novelty, the concept of supreme courts’ interpretative statements, legislating from the bench without any real-life case pending before those courts. Last but not least, I will show the gradual decline of the activist role of constitutional courts in the region and the return to the tradition of self-restrained judiciary influenced by politics and politicians.

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