An International Conference on Comparative Studies in Transitional Justice was held at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei today. It featured speakers discussing the experiences of transitional justice in East Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Mongolia as well as Taiwanese academics.
The conference was organised by Taiwan Thinktank and its chairman Chen Po-Chih (陳博志) made the welcoming remarks. He related the story of talking to a taxi driver in Taipei which I thought was a very nice parable. The taxi driver said to him,"Why do you need to worry about transitional justice? Those things are in the past. Now we have democracy and a free press. We should just look to the future." Chen responded by saying, "What if someone hit your taxi and left a dent in it. If they said to you, 'Don't worry about the dent. It's in the past. Think about the future.' Would you accept it? Of course not because there would be no justice.
The opening remarks were then given by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁總統）. He emphasized the issue of the KMT's assets as a key to transitional justice. The KMT's assets are like a mirror revealing a monster (國民黨的不當黨產是一面照妖鏡), he said. [Article in Chinese, see Yam News]
Former Prime Minister of East Germany, Dr. Lothar de Maiziere, then gave the keynote address. He spoke about the period of transition from the end of Communist rule in East Germany to German reunification. I think one of the most notable things that he said was that once the Communist regime collapsed the people rapidly seized control over the government's files. They also formed "round tables" to oversee the work of the transitional government.
Next there were three panel discussions. These provided the opportunity to learn from the experiences of the countries in Eastern Europe and also for Taiwanese experts to offer their opinions on how this relates to Taiwan.
The conference was well organised and there was a good range of speakers. However, they could have been a bit more strict on the time allowed for speakers and to have more time for questions and active debate and discussion. Admittedly language does make it difficult as none of the speakers spoke English as their first language. The last panel session featuring all Taiwanese speakers was conducted in Mandarin. Headsets providing simultaneous translation were available.
Overall I thought the conference provided an excellent insight into how some other countries have tried to achieve transitional justice. However, I think this also highlighted Taiwan's failings. Also the Taiwanese speakers seemed overly focused on the issue of party assets and I see this as only one part of transitional justice. There are other important issues such as prosecuting perpetrators of past crimes, releasing records of the past and how to achieve reconciliation without creating further divisions in society.
Something that concerns me is whether the academics were merely expressing their anti-KMT sentiments rather than going deeper into the issue. The DPP, although they have faced many obstacles, could have done more. The DPP might have strong principles about democracy and justice, but just like the KMT it is a party that serves the interests of big business.
The cynical might be inclined to say the current noise about the party assets issue is simply motivated by the upcoming elections. In the closing moments of the conference Calvin Wen of the Taiwan Green Party had a couple of minutes to put forward an alternative perspective that was not flattering to the DPP. Opposing the KMT doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with the DPP. However, perhaps it will only be when KMT's assets are returned to the people and Taiwan's democracy becomes more stable that these views will finally get the kind of political space they deserve.