Bad habits are like a comfortable bed, easy to get into, but hard to get out of. The sad thing about the post-communist countries is that they are more ready to give up the good habits than the bad ones. In these countries authorities have been using communist-era’s police secret files to settle political scores.
The latest victim of this age old tactic is Milan Kundera, the world’s leading author. Allegations that he informed on a suspected western agent in 1950 have dominated the news all this week. Last week, the Associated Press reported that documents had surfaced that pointed to Czech author Milan Kundera as a possible informant during the Cold War. Kundera, who has kept silence and given few interviews in the last 25 years, called the attack “the assassination of an author:”
“I am totally astonished by something that I did not expect, about which I knew nothing only yesterday, and that did not happen. I did not know the man at all.” [here]
The allegations have sent shock waves across Europe’s literary establishment. But lots of questions, one might ask. For one thing, why the time for dragging the skeleton out of closet coincides with the opening of a major book fair in France, where Kundra has lived since 1975?
More strangely, the local police report reads like a plot line out of Kundera’s own writing. In his novel Life Elsewhere, Kundra portrays a poet named Jaromil, whose life we witness throughout the novel. Jaromil welcomed the Communist take-over of Czechoslovakia. But his revolutionary zeal is fired not by economic or political theories but by self-imag at romantic poses.
It is when Jaromil’s mother, who makes him a poet and accompanies him from his love bed to his deathbed, embarrasses him by combing his “carefully mussed-up hair” in front of her friends that he swears “eternal allegiance to radical transformation of the world” (LE, 114). When Jaromil turns in his girlfriend to the secret police, he is able to justify and even take pride in what he has done because it makes possible “a great poem.”
Jaromil, not being able to deal with reality, creates his own independent world – poetry, which gives him shelter. After scarifying his beloved girlfriend, He sat down at his desk and wrote and paced the room and it seemed to him that the poem he was creating was the greatest he had ever composed. (LE, 265)
Of course, it is terrible to sacrifice a world-class author for the sake of the sensational story. Such a sacrifice, another genuine tragedy of our time, is worthy of a great poem.