Stéphane Courtois is a French historian, probably best known for his Black Book of Communism. The following is a quote from Radio Romania International (RRI) of July 19.
[…] This is an important issue, all the more so as communism is one of the key phenomena of the past century. If we want to understand communism, we must understand the nature of this regime. If it was, as I personally believe, a totalitarian regime, we must draw some obvious conclusions. If it wasn’t totalitarian, then obviously conclusions will be different. However, given that now archives are open, and also considering the large number of papers by historians, who for twenty years now have worked the documents we didn’t have access to before, it is clear that nobody can deny the totalitarian dimension of that regime.
There is one more question pending, though: did communism remain totalitarian after the death of Stalin? I believe it did, because it maintained the same structures. A single party, a political police force, a civil-war army, the same ideology and same people. What is true is that after Stalin had died, repression was less violent, less intensive. There were no longer large-scale massacres, just a general control over society, carried out by the political police and the political party.
Unfortunately, what happened, was that people internalized their fear – and when people start fearing, there is no more room left for democracy. Because the basic principle of democracy is precisely freedom of expression.