Kundera Accused of Getting a Spy to Jail

There is a lot of talk about Milan Kundera these days. Not that his books would suddenly become so very popular. He´s in the news, supposedly disclosed as a snitch. In 1950 he assisted the Secret police in arresting Miroslav Dvořáček, a returned émigré, a CIC operative at the time. The man Kundera supposedly informed on spent next 14 years in jail.

No matter how tragic the case is, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Kundera did not give in a “politically unreliable” schoolmate or someone making anti- Communist leaflets, the motive was not political affiliation. The man whom he informed on was a spy, he was decidedly working against the state that Kundera, as a Communist, was at the time loyal to. Today we view Dvořáček as a freedom fighter, a man of courage, who sacrificed his safety for what he believed in. But in 1950 Kundera was one of hundreds of thousands, who saw him as an enemy, because he believed in the system. CIC, or Counter Intelligence Corps, was a US Army intelligence agency. In the eyes of those who believed in Communism, a CIC operative was something similar to a Russian FSB agent today. Most people would inform authorities, had they found out they have a foreign power’s secret agent next door.

Yes, there is a major difference: the then system was unlawful. But it was declared unlawful more than forty years later. And it proved unlawful clearly enough when the executions took place and when the Soviet forces were allowed to stay. At the time this case took place it was not as clear. Kundera rejected the system only several years later. His fault was that he did not foresee the unlawfulness of the regime before it started the executions, before the death of Stalin, before the invasion. Yes, it probably was a failure, but he always admitted it. Also, we have no problem with people who were loyal to the regime in the 1980s, when nearly all knew the system was sick right from the start- they are among our political elite. What does the new information, provided by the relatively new The Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, really say? No matter how I look at it, it basically says that Kundera was red as a cherry in 1950. Everyone knew that. Now we just have it on paper.

However, I agree that if the facts are right, Kundera probably should have revealed his deed. It is difficult to accept that he did not specifically address the case, he never apologized for it, he obviously didn’t contact Dvořáček or his family. I agree that’s not admirable, if he really id what he was accused of.

The truth is he did reflect his red years in his art, more than many other artists with a skeleton in the closet. He regretted his past and separated himself from politics for decades.

Anyway, opinions differ at this point. Some people will label Kundera as a traitor, a man not worthy of respect. It’s their opinion. What I see as the main truble here is the way it was presented. It was released by an Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes employee and with the institute’s support. But it’s more of a journalist scoop than work of a historian.
The institute has quite a pompous name, considering what it managed so far. Not only oes it pay no attention to theory of totalitarianism and „studies“ only the Czechoslovak case (though the name implies general scope), it seems to concentrate on merely picking up docments from the Secret Police archives. It has, maybe unknowingly, already served political purposes during the last presidential election. Now is it going to contribute to our understanding of the past by releasing single documents proving that a celebrity’s name is in some police file? That’s not much of a contribution.

The Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic has recently criticized the institute for the manner in which it approached the information. It was published as a magazine article, with little verification and no reaction from Kundera himself. He denies any wrongdoing and seems to be determined to go to court.

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