The Kundera Case and the Neurotic Collective Memory of Postcommunism

History is a battlefield of present politics. Dealing with the past reveals the power struggles and strategies of the present. Past events are both denounced and glorified by political agents of the present hoping to weaken their enemies.

However, the past also contains injustices and political crimes and any decision not to deal with them in the present only reaffirms them and confirms the unjust status of their victims. Not to contend with the past injustices thus compromises the legitimacy of the present system of positive law.

To deal, or not to deal with the past, indeed, is an important question. However, it is also inseparable from questions of which past is to be dealt with and how.

The Kundera Case

On Monday, 13th December 2008, a Czech weekly magazine Respekt published information that Milan Kundera, the most distinguished Czech novelist, apparently reported a young man and agent Miroslav Dvořáček to the state police on 14th March 1950. The denunciation nearly resulted in a death sentence for Dvořáček who eventually spent 14 years in communist prisons.

At that time, Kundera was a student of the Academy of Film Arts who had just been expelled from the communist party. These circumstances led to speculations regarding his possible fear of further persecution, including the possibility of criminal charges for not reporting a suspect stranger who stayed overnight at the student dormitory of which Kundera was a senior student supervisor.

Kundera, a former enthusiastic young communist who nevertheless distanced himself from the official ideology in the early days of the Czechoslovak communist regime in the 1950s and subsequently dedicated a number of his novels to the unmasking of the ‘communist kitsch’, thus became suspected of hiding his own skeleton in the closet like so many other intellectuals and artists of the last century ...

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