French historian unveils the crimes of communism

  • 2000-06-08
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Nicolas Werth, French historian and one of the authors of "Livre noir du communisme (The Black Book of Communism)," visited Vilnius. The book became a bestseller in Lithuania.

Werth gave a lecture in Vilnius University and presented a Lithuanian translation of "Livre noir du communisme" in the French Cultural Center in Vilnius.

First published in France three years ago, the book has already appeared in many countries. The authors say the communists killed at least 100 million people. In the Soviet Union and China, victims are counted by several dozens of millions in each. In smaller countries, like North Korea and Cambodia, victims make up several millions. Such dictators as Nicolae Ceausescu managed to kill just thousands.

Still, Werth contends, those are just minimal estimates. Archives in China, Cuba, Cambodia, Ethiopia, North Korea are closed to historians. Werth said he was happy he took opportunity to work in Moscow's archives in 1990-1991 while these archives were open. Now, after a change of the political climate in the Kremlin, Moscow's archives are again closed to researchers.

Werth said the world's attitude towards Nazism and Communism was very different. Nazi crimes are well documented and displayed, while the crimes of communism are rather surrounded by silence. It is because the Soviet Union helped to beat the Nazis, said Werth.

According to him, "Livre noir du communisme," in unveiling communist crimes throughout the world was a success story in all countries except Russia where it was translated into Russian and sold. According to Werth, the reaction of the public was catastrophic.

"Russian people are afraid to look at their own past," Werth said, adding that it shocked him.

Werth said communism was born in Russia because this country had no democratic experience. During 80 years, one-third of the planet's population lived under communist regimes. Werth said the design of world communism was based on Leninism.

"The closer the country was to the center of repression [Moscow], the more the models of repression were similar to the Soviet ones: public trials, tortures, killings, deportations," said Werth.

A Lithuanian-language version of "Livre noir du communisme" became a bestseller after a week in bookshops here, reaching second place in the top 10 although it cost 46.75 litas ($11.69) - from two to four times more than the price of other books on the list.

"Livre noir du communisme" mentions Lithuania only in the context of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which divided Central Europe between the Nazi and Soviet superpowers .

Werth promised that a sequel would pay more attention to the killers than the victims and would include more material about Lithuania.

"My impression of the book is very positive. It is useful to Lithuanians to know the world context of events, not to concentrate only on their own former sufferings," said Dalia Kuodyte, director general of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania.