Historian Discusses Communist Policies of Terror and Control

When it was released in France in 1997, “The Black Book of Communism” created an uproar among many left-wing thinkers, who refused to believe that a philosophy advocating workers’ rights and social equality had led to systematic repression and mass killings in the 20th century.

“Those communist regimes operate solely on the basis of terror,” French historian Stephane Courtois, who edited the book, said in an interview last week.

“Of course, I don’t have to explain to Cambodians what terror is. I believe that, unfortunately, it is one of the people who have suffered the most under a communist regime,” he said, referring to the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s that was mentioned in the book.

A university professor, Mr. Courtois is the editor of the university journal “Communisme” in France. He will deliver a lecture tonight at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh.

In “The Black Book,” published in English in 1999, researchers confirmed with hard data that communist regimes turned terror and killings into policy to keep control.

“If communists set up terror as a government tool,” Mr. Courtois said, “it’s not because they are ‘nasty’: It’s because they are fully aware of the psychological effects of terror.”

“Terror is meant to annihilate people’s will so that they fully submit to power,” he added. “Moreover, such terror must be carried out behind a veil of secrecy.”

As during the Khmer Rouge era, when all government decisions were attributed to “Angkar” (the organization), communist regimes’ policy of secrecy extend to hiding a country’s economic situation to the outside world. Leaders may broadcast an image of improving living conditions while people starve in reality, Mr. Courtois said.

Control also means cutting off communication with the outside world, he said. “As long as a population is kept with no possibility of escape and submitted to a regime of extreme terror for a period of time…there are…a large number of traumatized families who will carry the scars of such regime even after it has fallen.”

“It takes one and even two generations of young people who have not lived through this in order to see change,” he added.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has led the ruling party’s move away from a socialist state since taking power in the 1980s, though “communist” continues to be a favorite word among his critics in the opposition.

Long accused of being subservient to the communist government in Vietnam, Mr. Hun Sen has in recent years moved ever-closer into China’s orbit as the superpower seeks influence in Southeast Asia.

During his visit to Cambodia this month, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged some $237 million in aid, erased nearly $90 million of Cambodia’s debt and offered close to $15 million in military support—the latest example of largesse.

“One should remember that China remains the foremost communist country in the world,” Mr. Courtois said.

“Communists never make gifts. Communists have a very simple principle: All that is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable,” he added. “There is no reciprocity in relations.”

The lecture, given in French, starts at 6 p.m. in RUFA’s meeting room.

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