Someone is peeling Kundera's onion for him.
October 14, 2008 4:02 AM   Subscribe

The czech magazine Respekt, known for its investigative reporting, has published a story claiming prize winning author and anti-communist dissident Milan Kundera denounced a young exile who was back in Prague to the communist secret police.

“Today at around 1600 hours a student, Milan Kundera, born 1.4.1929 in Brno, resident at the student hall of residence on George VI Avenue in Prague VII, presented himself at this department and reported that a student, Iva Militká, resident at that residence, had told a student by the name of Dlask, also of that residence, that she had met a certain acquaintance of hers, Miroslav Dvořáček, at Klárov in Prague the same day. The said Dvořáček apparently left 1 case in her care, saying he would come to fetch it in the afternoon. (…) Dvořáček had apparently deserted from military service and since the spring of the previous year had possibly been in Germany, where he had gone illegally” a police report says.

Dvořáček was "given a sentence of 22 years’ hard labour, a fine of 10,000 crown, forfeiture of all his property and loss of civic rights for ten years". He spent 14 years in labor camps and lives now in Sweden.

Milan Kundera denies and is talking about the assassination of an author.
posted by lucia__is__dada (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
But...but that could only be True if being True were occasionally pretty Complicated, sometimes a bit Ugly, and often very Painful!
posted by freebird at 4:11 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


the unbearable lightness of being a hypocrite.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:22 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know what communists never do? They never falsify evidence to discredit a political opponent. Nope. Never.

Seriously, if this entire accusation is all based on the contents of a police blotter and no other evidence, then I think Hradilek and Třešňák are jumping the gun, printing it without corroboration of witnesses or anything else.

Here, give me a pen: "On October 14th, 2008 Mathew Haughey came to my office and denounced Jessamyn West as a traitor to the open source movement. He had seen her in the possession of several overdue library books and a copy of the Financial Times on the morning before last, October 12th." See? Easy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:37 AM on October 14, 2008


Hey, where's Jessamyn?
posted by chillmost at 4:42 AM on October 14, 2008


Unfortunately, this being East Germany,
Jessamyn patriotically volunteered to be sent on a labor
beautification course of the countryside north-west of Dresden.
And never seen again.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:42 AM on October 14, 2008


You know what communists never do? They never falsify evidence to discredit a political opponent. Nope. Never.

this very plausible theory explains exactly why the communists didn't discredit the guy whilst they were in power, but left a seed for later, so that after their regime had crumbled some fifteen to twenty years earlier, they could have a great post-emptive victory against their enemy.

as opposed to, say, trumping up a charge & shooting him in the head all those years ago.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:46 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Milan Kundera touched me in my swimsuit area.
and I liked it
posted by Meatbomb at 5:34 AM on October 14, 2008


First they came for Kundera....

...and I was all like, "Thank Christ, now I don't have to keep pretending I've read that damned book."

And then they came for Okri, Seth, Heller, Atwood and McEwan...

...and I was all like, "Sweet. Now to curl up with an Iain M Banks while all my art-school friends are outside getting pistol whipped by the secret police."
posted by Jofus at 5:40 AM on October 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


left a seed for later

Oh, wait, you're right, lemme fix that:

"On October 14th, 1988 a young boy named Mathew Haughey came to my office and denounced Jessamyn West as a traitor to the open source movement. He had seen her in the possession of several overdue library books and a copy of the Financial Times on the morning before last, October 12th."

Why, I just discovered this little gem in a police blotter from the eighties!

I'm not saying it's impossible that Kundera did it. Many people did horrible things under totalitarian rule for petty reasons, and some of them may have gone on to write some pretty nifty novels. In truth, I've always found Vaclav Havel's criticisms of Kundera to be spot on: he was the kind of guy who retreated into romanticism and irony instead of facing the political situation and acting. Check out Havel's "The Politics of Hope," where he accuses Kundera of both that ironic retreat and of supplying the Communists with a "historical alibli," a world-historical justification for their crimes, because it was the Czech's national destiny to be dominated and to turn that domination into an opportunity to resist and disobey. That's poetic, but not revolutionary. So, yeah, maybe he was a dirty informer, and maybe his later work was all an attempt to justify the sins of his early years. But let's be sure to gather a bit more evidence before we try him in the press. It's the least we can do, what with our aversion to show trials and all.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:48 AM on October 14, 2008


Hradilek contacted Dvoracek, who is now living in Sweden. He refused to comment on Hradilek's findings. He has since suffered a stroke and continues to believe that Militka betrayed him.

So the guy who he supposedly turned in doesn't think it was him, and the woman's husband is the only one who's claiming that he told Kundera, who in turn told the police?

Sounds kosher.
posted by jnaps at 5:52 AM on October 14, 2008


On October 14th, 1988 a young boy named Mathew Haughey came to my office and denounced Jessamyn West as a traitor

mathowie: "you give me back my Mr Men pencil case or I'll dob on you!"
jessamyn: "oh yeah? who you gonna tell?" *kicks mathowie in the shins*
mathowie: *pulls jessamyn's pigtails*
cortex: *intervening* "finders keepers, losers weepers!"
mathowie: "you're in so much trouble!" *heads off to principal's office*

posted by UbuRoivas at 6:10 AM on October 14, 2008


the woman's husband is the only one who's claiming that he told Kundera

Actually, it's worse than that. Dlask, the husband, died in the 90s. The woman claims she told Dlask, and the parents blamed the husband, but nobody, except the police blotter, has ever said anything about Kundera in connection with these events. That's why it's too flimsy, and the authors know it.

Just look at how much time the Respekt article spends painting the picture of Dvořáček's suffering, and how little it spends actually arraying the evidence against Kundera. It's pretty classic prosecutorial tactics: "Look at how badly the victim was hurt! Somebody must be held responsible for this crime!" All the while, the actual evidence is ignored in favor of speculation on the defendant's probable motivation. "Maybe it was jealousy, maybe it was greed, maybe he was just trying to protect himself from prosecution...."

Even assuming that the blotter is legit, I can count at least three other parties that are more guilty than Kundera: the police, for arresting him, the husband, for betraying his wife's trust, and the regime that made travel illegal and punished it with labor camps. But all that really matters is that only one of the parties involved is a famous author, so he must be the real evil doer.

Of course, this all went down the same year that Kundera was expelled from the party for anti-communist activities, so that might be vindicating or it might be motive:

In1949, Kundera had been sent a letter by his friend Jaroslav Dewetter criticising a highly-placed Communist official. Kundera answered in similar vein. However, both letters were intercepted and read by the secret police, and the young party members found themselves in a pickle. They both underwent disciplinary proceedings, as also did their common friend Jan Trefulka, who stood up for Dewetter. The eventual sanctions were fairly unequal: Trefulka and Dewetter were expelled from the Party and the university (one of them receiving his call-up papers, the other being forced to earn his living as a tractor driver), while Milan Kundera was simply expelled from the Party. He was allowed to remain at the film academy, where he pursued a fairly successful academic career in the fifties and sixties.

The suggestion is that Kundera was able to keep his position because of this work on behalf of the police. There's an awful lot of speculation here, and too little fact. Kundera himself told the story of his 1949 escapades in "The Joke," where the protagonist gets a much harsher penalty than Kundera or his friends received. That's a whole lot of chutzpah if this story is true, since the protagonist basically abnegates responsibility and acquits himself of wrongdoing, blaming the whole matter on History's sense of humor.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:21 AM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Actually, it's worse than that. Dlask, the husband, died in the 90s. The woman claims she told Dlask, and the parents blamed the husband, but nobody, except the police blotter, has ever said anything about Kundera in connection with these events.

All we have is the police blotter but its a piece of compelling evidence and hard to explain away. Why would the entry be incorrect? Absent any context whatsoever, its still a strange document.

But the context is that it was Dlask that was the close friend of Kundera. So it makes sense in a way that police couldn't contrive if they were just sticking a random name in there.
posted by vacapinta at 6:34 AM on October 14, 2008


it was Dlask that was the close friend of Kundera.

He was? How do you know? Where's your evidence for that claim? Who interviewed him on this close relationship with Kundera? Where does Kundera talk about his ol' buddy Dlask?

All we know for sure is that they were students at the same time. Hradilek weaves a persuasive tale, but in doing so he acts as a story-teller and not as an investigative journalist. Was there a connection between the two men? Hradilek claims they were "closest friends." On what basis? He doesn't tell us.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:47 AM on October 14, 2008


And how in the world did Iva Militká and her husband not get punished if Kundera is the one who told the authorities? Wouldn't they be in trouble for harboring Dvořáček?
posted by jnaps at 7:07 AM on October 14, 2008


Even assuming that the blotter is legit, I can count at least three other parties that are more guilty than Kundera: the police, for arresting him, the husband, for betraying his wife's trust, and the regime that made travel illegal and punished it with labor camps. But all that really matters is that only one of the parties involved is a famous author, so he must be the real evil doer.

Flagged as blame-shifting.

Good points otherwise.
posted by ghost of a past number at 7:18 AM on October 14, 2008


So what does this have to do with Palin?
posted by cjorgensen at 7:28 AM on October 14, 2008


good point, ghost. I wanted to make a more subtle point about the wierd ways that.totalitarian regimes turn citizens against each other, like Primo Levi in The Drowned and the Saved, but on reflection that part of my argument looks pretty weaselly.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:36 AM on October 14, 2008


I should start out by saying that I'm a teenie-bopper for Milan Kundera. I think there's a reasonable chance he did this. I think the man is brilliant, but he's never stuck me as honest or noble. There's very little morality in his books. His characters simply try to find a semblance of comfort and meaning in their difficult, often absurd lives. He often looks at arguments and contentious relationships from several sides. He's a relativist and a romantic. anotherpanacea quotes Havel:poetic, but not revolutionary. He may have been an activist at one point, but the political tone of his novels in fairly cynical. Politics are the spectacularly arbitrary stage against which human dramas are set.

That is, Kundera isn't interested in the morality of what his characters do, so much as the individual and her actions as a meeting place between large social and ideological forces and intimate psychological and emotional forces. In his novels, he often introduces several explanations for a turn of events, and then picks the reading what is most aesthetically pleasing, that fits best within the metaphorical framework of the narrative. And his male protagonists are almost always scoundrels of some type, even the more heroic ones.

It would not surprise me that the man has skeletons in his closet. His books are full of their meat.
posted by es_de_bah at 3:13 PM on October 14, 2008


the unbearable lightness of being a hypocrite

There's no compelling evidence in these articles that Kundera in fact informed on Dvořáček. Kundera himself denies it. Yes, communist regimes often trumped up charges to shoot their opponents in the head. They also held secret files on their victims that held to the same standards of truth.

But even supposing that the current charges are true and that Kundera informed on a defector 17 years before the publication of his first novel, at the age of 22 and still a member of the communist party: in what way does having once engaged in an activity that one later comes to understand as most totally reprehensible constitute hypocrisy? Is one committed to forever declaring the goodness of everything he has done?

Oh, and Kundera left Czechoslovakia for Paris in 1975, 25 years after supposedly informing. So we're to believe that the man goes back to his homeland rarely and only then incognito lest someone recognize him as the man who did this terrible thing 25 years before even leaving the country? Huh?

One thing Kundera is not guilty of is writing such trite and insipid commentary as, duh, "the unbearable lightness of being a hypocrite"
posted by farmdoggie at 7:46 PM on October 14, 2008


Václav Havel comments:

You will have guessed what I am driving at: even if Milan Kundera really had gone to the police to report that there was a spy somewhere around, which I do not believe was the case, it is necessary to try, at the very least, to see it through the lens of those days. You did not have to be a committed or fanatical communist to act in this way in good faith that your actions would smooth the way to a better world. You simply may have wondered if, or may have been „nearly sure“ that someone had laid a trap for you or someone close to you. You simply may not have been a war hero and just thought to yourself: why should I spend ten years in a prison camp just for „knowing and not telling“? Prison camps are for heroes, not for people like me.

I am saying all this just in case that what the young historians suspect really did happen. For my part, I have serious grounds for doubting that Milan Kundera rushed to the local police station to report that somebody told him that somebody had told them that a spy was about to collect a suitcase from somewhere. I don’t think and don’t believe that the events could have unfolded in such a stupid way.


Bernard-Henri Lévy offers a much snarkier commentary:

Et le problème c'est la jubilation, encore plus obscène, que l'on a sentie chez les rares qui l'avaient, quand même, un peu lu et qui ont eu le sentiment de tenir là, tout à coup, la clé qui leur faisait défaut, la pièce manquante du puzzle, la raison dernière, et forcément décisive puisque cachée, de tel texte de jeunesse, de telle page restée énigmatique d'un roman de la maturité ou, mieux, de ces particularités biographiques qui les énervaient depuis si longtemps et qui trouvaient brusquement leur humaine, trop humaine explication : son exil, par exemple... sa réticence à rallier, après l'exil, quelque mot d'ordre que ce soit, y compris ceux de la dissidence... ce choix suspect du français... cette façon, quand il retournait dans son pays, de descendre à l'hôtel sous des noms d'emprunt... son refus des interviews... hé, hé... il aurait dû donner l'éveil, ce refus de se livrer corps et âme à la curiosité, à l'exigence de vérité et de transparence, à la volonté d'indiscrétion, qui sont devenues le principe de ce qu'on appelle, de nos jours, une interview d'écrivain... et elle aurait dû nous alerter, cette manie, quand il finissait par en donner quand même une, de la récrire entièrement, de bout en bout, mot à mot-mais pour y effacer quoi, nom de Dieu ? pour y neutraliser quel obscur, quel ténébreux secret ? eh bien voilà... on sait, maintenant... on a compris, à la fin... oh ! le méchant homme... ah ! le salaud lumineux... un grand merci aux archives de la noble police stalinienne qui nous a aidés à y voir clair... un grand bravo au patient travail de la police de la pensée qui a su débusquer la précieuse pièce à conviction, la lettre écarlate, le procès-verbal que nul n'osait plus espérer... tout arrive... il suffit d'être patient... on respire...

posted by anotherpanacea at 10:10 AM on October 26, 2008


Funny, I was just thinking about this thread too. El Pais had a nice little story on the events too:

"En aquellos momentos, si un comunista escuchaba la historia de un agente debía informar. Es como si ahora alguien supiera de un terrorista islámico y no dijera nada". Lo explica en su estudio Ivan Klima, gran escritor checo, contemporáneo de Milan Kundera. Dice que la Checoslovaquia de los primeros cincuenta fue un estado "terrorista" hasta la muerte de Stalin, en 1953. "Si no informabas, te podían caer cinco años, o te podían ahorcar", dice revolviendo ese pelo que a sus 77 años aún se corta a lo Ringo Starr.

Klima fue un comunista convencido, como Kundera. Un impulsor de la Primavera de Praga, como Kundera. Cuenta que en aquellos días se encontró una situación similar. La información le llegó, también, por medio de una chica. Le habló de un antiguo oficial de las SS en territorio checo. Pero decidió no informar. "Lo que está claro es que en aquella época mantenerse firme requería ser muy valiente".


on the other hand:

El historiador Zdenek Pesat, que era profesor de la universidad en aquel entonces, declaró la semana pasada que Dlask informó a la policía, además de informar al partido. Lo cual no impide que Kundera también lo hiciera, dice Militka. La semana pasada, Pesat yacía en la cama en delicado estado, con oxígeno, según contó a EL PAÍS su hija en Praga. No se le podía entrevistar.

which in my mind changes things a bit even though it shouldn't. Dlask was an informer so all this would have still happened then without Kundera?
posted by vacapinta at 11:44 AM on October 26, 2008


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