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Embarrassment Embarrassment
by Alexander Mikhaylov
2008-11-06 09:27:17
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Surprise, surprise… Is it true or not? Notorious critic of the Soviet Invasion and Russia-hater Milan Kundera is a former Secret Police spy. Wow! I wonder how many people are gloating over this fact now. I am not sure if I feel like gloating myself although I must admit that Kundera’s political biases and his opinionated views have always annoyed me (for instance, his blaming the Russians for the Invasion of Czechoslovakia.

What about the other five countries of Warsaw Pact that participated in it? Besides, his mentioning Prague Spring in virtually every book turns into one huge repetitive sentiment– really, it does not matter what story he writes –you might be sure that the Prague Spring would be mentioned there). Of course, it is his right to do so. Why should he forget it? Then again, it looks like he wishes to preserve himself as a perpetual prophet in exile, a victim and a living remainder for those, who now try to dismiss past as a mere bygone history.

I understand: it is undeniably wrong and dangerous to forget the past, or to attempt to distort it for the sake of modern ideologies, but it is equally strange to continue blaming one’s contemporaries for what had been done by their fathers.  

It is pointless to deny Kundera’s literary talent, but it is just as hard to justify his hatred, bitterness and his offhand political statements that give his books a certain political aftertaste. 

I may only add that it is beneath a serious writer to portrait a whole nation as a bunch of scoundrels, no matter what his or her private feelings towards this nation might be. In Kundera’s case, for instance his hatred towards the Russians, as a sole cause of all troubles that befell on the Czechs smacks of an obsession. In fact, while reading his books, I always feel that these works have been written by a person, who truly believes that ‘it is never enough’. It is never enough to condemn, to ridicule, to hate and to repeat ‘the truth’ although now Kundera’s truth, due to the new revelations regarding his personal history, acquires a touch of irony.  What is this then, this never-ending, poisonous rage – an everlasting anger of disillusioned political idealist (or should I say ‘ex-communist’?) or simply an artistic motto?

It would have been more fair to try to remember that those evil Russians, who supposedly upheld tyranny of the Regime single handed were (and still are) the people who had the worst deal of all. Indeed, unlike Eastern European Socialist Democracies, that once had been designed as Show Cases of the Glory of Socialism, the Soviet Russia suffered the most from the Regime: chronic food shortages, excessive number of prisons and labor camps, awful living conditions and so on.

Even though the things have changed somewhat, (even Russians, and especially their money are welcomed in the Czech Republic now) Kundera continues to live in the past and he still shares a deep hatred of some Czechs towards the ‘occupants’. Funny enough, but it seems now that he also shares political embarrassments of the Czechs regarding their own socialist past as well. (According to some post-Soviet Era research of former classified materials, one in every four citizens of the former socialist Czechoslovakia was a Secret Police spy).

Moreover, speaking of those spies, it is not always easy to issue ready-made moral judgment to each and every one of them. Some had been naturally browbeaten into it while the others had welcomed it as their civil duty. I can personally recall a certain episode, related to this topic. I was only seventeen years old when I became blacklisted by Secret Police. Once, after a questioning (and I had experienced plenty of them back in those days), the KGB guy suddenly handed me a phone number. It had been the only instance in my life when the KGB officer said to me ‘If you will learn something interesting about your friends, like what they are up to, whom they see and so on, give me a call.’  

I accepted it without saying anything. Later on, when I left the police station, I threw it away, placing the end to my ‘informer’s’ career. (I still have no idea, why I had been offered this ‘job’ only once. Perhaps I was that untrustworthy, who knows?). On the other hand, I used to know many guys and girls of my age, who were real police informers. Some of them did not even bother to make a secret out of it. It all depended on circumstances, you see… In any case, I learned rather early how people could be driven to it. And some accepted it as a legitimate career opportunity.
Of course, I do not know what Kundera’s feelings, circumstances or intentions had been. I do not think he is likely to write an honest book about it, somehow.

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Emanuel Paparella2008-11-06 16:05:58
"...his hatred towards the Russians, as a sole cause of all troubles that befell on the Czechs smacks of an obsession."

Indeed, he was not the only one who was obsessed with the failures of an ideological movement. It would be enough to read the autobiographical writing af Ignazio Silone and Arhur Koestler ("Stranger on the Square," "Darkness at Noon") or other ex-Communists ("The god that Failed" by Hilton Kramer) to get a glimpse of how failed ideologies at first enthusiastically embraced, can easily become an intellectual obsession. Indeed if there is one lesson to be learned by the reading of "the god that failed" it is that the greatest victims of Communism were the Russian people themselves. Also, that just as people take pride for the history of their ancestors they ought to also acknowledge their failures and make some amends for them (which is not the same as assuming their guilt). There is such thing as collective responsibility. Tony Judt calls that kind of failure or responsibility "misremembering." We erect monuments and museums and then carry on.

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