From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons

The Milan Kundera case


In an article (available in English) published in the Slovakian internet magazine Salon, Czech writer Ivan Klima discusses the allegations (in English) against Milan Kundera: "Those who have been convinced by the authenticity of the police document have been asking questions. Are we responsible for our own actions? What is the responsibility of an artist and do his actions, even if they were committed in his youth, influence society or at least his readers? Can one separate one's moral stance from one's work? Will a writer's later work not be discredited by such actions? It is not possible to answer any of these questions without ambiguity."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 20.10.2008

Journalist Sonja Margolina looks at the treatment of informants in Eastern Europe who, today, are in the media spotlight much more than official secret police agents. And she also recounts her own experience with the KGB in 1984, when they tried convince her to report on the activities of her friends and colleagues. "A second grim week passed before my official summons arrived, and a week after that I made my way into the reception room of the Lubyanka KGB headquarters. I have only vague memories of the content of the interrogation, but the feeling of existential abandonment which came over me in that bare room, is something I won't forget. What preyed on me most after the event, was that I could not stay calm during the questioning. For a half-way experienced blackmailer like my custodian, it was child's play to crack my 'secrets'. In those three hours, which lasted an eternity, I had to learn that the border to betrayal does not start with torture, but with much simpler things in life, such as the threat of annulling my right to live in Moscow."

Der Freitag 23.10.2008

Hungarian writer György Dalos is deeply suspicious about the interests of the "investigative journalists and historians" in the Milan Kundera case. He quotes Vaclav Havel's advice to Kundera (published in Respekt in Czech and in English at in which he wrote: "Milan: try to stay above things! As you know, worse things can happen in the course of one's life than being defamed by the media." But should the denunciation charges turn out to be true, Dalos believes it is "extremely important" not to lump together "all the intellectual perpetrator-victims who have been outed since 1990", but to "examine each case individually." Because, he says, "we are dealing with a generation that is dying out and which, after all the hard lessons under years of Communist rule, has tried to free itself from the curse of its own history. The saddest thing about many of these protagonists, is that they were constantly wanting to make amends for their human and moral failures, without being able to admit them. Obviously it was easier for them to behave honestly than to speak candidly."

Le Point 24.10.2008

In a way, Milan Kundera is the first French author to be involved in a secret-police debate. In Le Point, Bernard-Henri Levy joins a list of French authors who have commented on the case, in expressing his doubts about the authenticity of the incriminating document. And although in France not one person has spoken out against Kundera, Levy reprimands the media for the spectacle it has created, and issues a impassioned plea in Kundera's defence: "My thoughts are with Milan Kundera. I am thinking about this literary war which has been choreographed with the precision of a ballet, where the first blow leaves the enduring mark and a newspaper, which has the audacity to call itself Respekt, takes it upon itself to destroy you, and all you can do is sit out the beating, bend over double and live out the rest of your days with an infamous shadow which is not your own."

Perlentaucher 24.10.2008

Milan Kundera should speak out says Anja Seeliger. "If Kundera has been falsely accused, then he has the right to defend himself. He had the chance to do so before the publication of the article in Respekt, because the magazine sent him a fax about its findings well in advance. But before he talks about 'the assassination of an author' and demands an apology from Respekt (more here in English), he and rest of the world should spare a thought for Iva Militka and Miroslav Dvoracek. They deserve the truth."

Other stories

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 20.10.2008

Anselm Kiefer has just been awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. For Julia Voss, the painter and his whispering admirers are trapped in a fairytale forest. "You would never reproach a child for imagining Nazism as an evil kingdom ruled by dark powers. But when grown men stand before us and once again portray Nazism in these terms, when they declaim the expression 'the fall of man' as naturally as they would a love poem, when on a gorgeous sunny day they suddenly have to talk about the 'pointlessness of our existence', when they turn politics into a fairytale, then you really start to get scared."

Die Tageszeitung 21.10.2008

Björn Gottstein sends an enthusiastic report from the Donaueschinger Music Festival, where three top ensembles competed against each other in interpreting newly composed pieces: "The Ensemble Intercontemporain began with their version of Aureliano Cattaneo's 'Sabbio' (sand): a soft, velvety flow with seamless transitions, all dark sparkles and heady flashes. Then came Klangforum and everything became more robust. Their interpretation was like an analysis: motifs were set free, transitions became cuts, and drifts revealed grains. French elegance with an Austrian bite. Cue: Ensemble Modern with a performance of Arnulf Hermann's "Fictitious Dances". But the musicians don't really leave the spot and stomp about more than dance."

Frankfurter Rundschau

Last weekend 19 European historians launched an appeal warning against an EU proposal which seeks to impose penal sanctions on genocide deial and thereby construct state truths. Arno Widmann echoes their concerns: "It is not up to the state to determine what is true and what is false. ... Holocaust denial is being punished as if the point was to defend the fact of the Holocaust. But by making the discussion of the facts a punishable offence, you turn an – always discussable – fact into an article of faith, which cannot be questioned. A fact is a fact because all attempts to deny it fail and not because you stand to spend five years in jail for doing denying it." (Read an article on the subject by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian) - let's talk european