From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons

Milan Kundera affair

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 13.10.2008

"The book of betrayal under Communism has just gained another chapter," reports Karl-Peter Schwarz. "In March 1950, as a student in Prague, the writer Milan Kundera informed on an anti-Communist resistance activist. The victim, 22-year-old Miroslav Dvoracek was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 22-years in prison. The State prosecutor at the time demanded the death sentence for espionage." The young Czech historian, Adam Hradilek of Ustr, who discovered the police report containing Kundera's, gives a detailed account of the affair in the magazine Respekt. The Slovakian internet magazine Salon then published an English translation of the report. The article reads like a sinister novel about love, betrayal, freedom, Communism, heroism and failure. The commentary, by Respekt editor-in-chief, Martin Simecka, is also available in English here. Read the full story in English at the New York Times.

Die Welt 17.10.2008

In the Milan Kundera affair Hans-Jörg Schmidt reports on a witness, literary historian Zdenek Pesat, whose testimony could exonerate the great Czech writer. According to Pesat, it was not Kundera who betrayed the western agent, but Miroslav Dlask, the man originally suspected of the denunciation. "Dlask, Pesat says, personally confided in him about betraying Miroslav Dvoracek to the police. ... Pesat's testimony is music to the ears of people in Prague who, since the affair came to light, have been fighting to save Kundera's name, preparing a case against the Ustr bureau of investigation, for using dirty methods. Ustr, however, is sticking to its story."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

At this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the guest country Turkey is celebrating its diversity under the motto "Turkey in all its colours". Günter Seufert is pleased to be able to report that the country is showing signs of pluralisation. "Slowly but surely change is taking place. In the 90s conservative intellectuals discovered the 'multicultural heritage' of the Ottoman period, and secular thinkers started to postulate on a 'second republic', which would overcome the teething problems of nationalism such as forced egalitarianism and authoritarianism. Terms such as democracy, rule of law and human rights, state citizenship and cultural and religious freedom are seeing increased currency. For the first time, people are thinking about the political ideal of diversity in Turkey, which offers everyone space to breathe."

Kurdish-Turkish author Murathan Mungan describes how east-west polarisation affects his reception as a writer: "Writers from Turkey who are looking to establish a readership in the west, are alone, shadowless. Western readers have no sense of the past, the cultural heritage of these writers. The societal and historical references are foreign to them, as are the shadows of the old masters."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Beat Stauffer traces the history of slavery in the Islamic world, a subject of long-standing taboo and which, only now, is being researched by anthropologist Malek Chebel. "The clear emancipatory tendencies that characterised the beginnings of Islam could not sustain themselves through the following centuries, and instead made way for a widespread acceptance of slavery. One of the 'most shocking and sad results' of his research is that even prominent Islamic scholars contributed to the codification of slavery. 'That means that the Mosque was not neutral towards this evil', Chebel writes."

Die Welt 13.10.2008

Thomas Lindemann interviews the writer Christian Kracht who now lives in Buenos Aires: "I am surprised by how interesting it is here now. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek has also moved here to marry an Argentinian model. Her father is a Lacanian psychoanalyst and the good lady goes by the name 'Analia'. (The photo shows the couple on their wedding day found here.)

Süddeutsche Zeitung 13.10.2008

"The Thracian is the grey mouse of antiquity," writes Ingo Petz. This is an image Bulgarian architect Jeko Tilev is out to change, with his plans bring the Thracian city of Seuthopolis, which lies at the bottom of a reservoir, back into the public eye. "He wants to raise the city to the surface of the water in a vast 20-metre cement cylinder which, in the model at least, looks elegant. It will then be accessible to visitors via lifts and boats. The whole thing will sit on a cement wall built on the base of the lake with a radius of 430 metres, and a length of 1,300 metres. The inner wall will be fitted with terraces and hanging gardens. To keep this artificial island aloft, the water level will have to be lowered by 2 percent. The vast construction will cost an estimated 100 million euros, and will take around a year a half to build. Tilew hopes that the island will then become a Unesco heritage sight."

Die Tageszeitung 14.10.2008

Dirk Knipphals welcomes the announcement that Uwe Tellkamp has won the German Book Prize for his GDR novel "The Tower". It is "this autumn's weightiest, most chameleonic and most brilliant book," he writes. "The lifeblood of Tellkamp's characters is art and culture. But if would be a mistake to see this as pure conservatism becuase the book's narrative construction is extremely modern, alone in the multiplicity of narrative perspectives." Read more about "The Tower" here and an English excerpt here.

Die Zeit 16.10.2008

Petra Reski writes a lengthy reportage about the Sicilian mafia hunter Giuseppe Linares: "Linares is so successful that he has to live his entire life with a bodyguard and no-one greets him on the street any more. He is also the numbe one target for a mafia pig head filled with faeces."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 17.10.2008

In Saudi Arabia, Ramadan has got off to a bizarre start, as Usahma Felix Darrah reports on the media page: "At the start of Ramadan, many Arabs were shocked when a prominent Saudi cleric announced that in view of the 'outrageous' programmes shown on a number of satellite channels, it would be permissible to kill the TV network owners. This statement by the chairmen of Saudi Arabia's top legal authorities, Sheik Saleh al-Luhaidan, is only the latest high point in an ongoing controversy over Arab Ramadan TV. Al-Luhaidan condemned the highly popular soap 'Noor' as 'full of moral degradation and as a 'war against virtue' and he forbade Muslims from watching the programme. The programme violates religious taboos by showing Muslim characters drinking wine and making love before marriage, and even putting one of the main characters through an abortion. (Find out more about 'Noor' in our Magazine Roundup)

The writer Steinunn Sigurdardottir, explains how Iceland became a victim of the finance crisis. "It is certainly doubtful whether the reaction of the Icelandic government and the central bank was sufficient to alleviate the situation. But the coup de grace for the Icelandic economy was delivered by Britain. Gordon Brown explained that Iceland was on the brink of bankruptcy and froze Icelandic bank assets in England, with the help of anti-terror laws. Friendly British diplomats attempted to de-escalate the warlike situation between the two countries, but the less diplomatic words of the president of the Icelandic central bank, were what caused the turnaround by guaranteeing British savers' deposits. In the meantime the British Prime Minister took great pleasure in using colonial warlord rhetoric towards crisis-hit Iceland, as if it was the Falklands of the North." - let's talk european