Sunday, 25 June 2017

Kundera – guilty or innocent?

By Barbara Bindasová |
Prague Daily Monitor |
17 October 2008

On Monday, the weekly Respekt published a long article by Adam Hradilek, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, and journalist Petr Třešňák, accusing Czech writer Milan Kundera of reporting Miroslav Dvořáček, a young aviation student who deserted the army and escaped to Germany in February 1949.

Dvořáček then became an agent for the Czechoslovak intelligence service supported by the US and was sent back to Czechoslovakia on a mission in December 1949 and again in March 1950. He met his friend, student Iva Militká in Prague, and she let him store his suitcase in her student dorm room and promised to put him up for the night.

A state police report from 14 March 1950 states that Milan Kundera reported reported that Militká told a student named Dlask that a man called Miroslav Dvořáček left his suitcase in her room. The report then lists the items they later found in the suitcase and states that Militká told police Dvořáček allegedly deserted the army and escaped to Germany.

Miroslav Dvořáček was arrested that evening and was tried in September 1950. The state prosecutor suggested capital punishment, but Dvořáček was sentenced to 22 years in prison, issued a CZK 10,000 fine, stripped of all possessions and deprived of civil rights for 10 years. Dvořáček served most of his sentence in the prison camp Vojna in Příbram and was released in 1963 after 14 years. He then left for Sweden, where he lives to this day. He refused to comment on the case.

Hradilek says he asked Kundera for an interview, before publishing the article, but Kundera, who is well-known for his reluctance to speak to journalists, failed to respond.

The publication of the article caused havoc. All newspapers came up with explanations for why Kundera did or did not do it, the Archive of Security Forces confirmed the authenticity of the document, saying it is "impossible that the report was put together outside the historical and geographical context". On Tuesday commentators questioned the lack of Kundera's signature and identification number in the report.

Historian Pavel Kosatík questions the fact that Militká was not interrogated or punished in any way for helping a western agent. He added there is a number of possible scenarios of what happened and the Institute failed to examine them, Hospodářské noviny wrote.

Vojtěch Ripka, from the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, told Hospodářské noviny, that Milan Kundera's appearance in the document cannot be a mistake. Ripka explained that everyone who entered the police office was recorded and that it was impossible to fake a document back then.

Kundera, in a telephone interview with the Czech news agency ČTK denied the allegations, saying he knew neither Dvořáček nor Militká. Later he also denied being contacted by either Respekt or the Institute prior to the publication of the accusations.

On Wednesday ČTK received a written statement by literary historian Zdeněk Pešat, Miroslav Dlask's colleague from school and the Communist party organisation, claiming Dlask had confessed he had reported Miroslav Dvořáček to the state police. Dlask explained that he had also wanted to report the communist organisation and so chose Pešat whom he knew best. Pešat said he thought Dlask reported Dvořáček in order to protect his girlfriend Militká and did not pursue the subject, which he later forgot completely.

The case has also re-opened the debate on the trustworthiness of the secret police (StB) files. Kundera's life-long friend Josef Škvorecký, a Czech writer living in Canada, told Právo that the state police and the StB "were almighty, uncontrolled and uncontrollable organisations. He who trusts their records like the Holy Script is an idiot".

Barbara Bindasová is a staff writer and translator at the Monitor. She is a graduate student of literature at Charles University.
You can reach her at barbara@praguemonitor.com. See more of her stories here.