Czech-born writer Milan Kundera, the author of acclaimed novels such as "The Unbearable Lightness Of Being," has been accused of informing the communist police about a Western agent while he was a student in the 1950s.
Kundera has broken a long media silence to deny the claim, made by a state-sponsored historical institute.
The accusations came in an article in the Czech weekly "Respekt," co-written by Adam Hradilek, a researcher at Prague's Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. He says he came across a key police report while leafing through police archives as part of research into the case of a Czech recruited by emigre intelligence in the 1950s.The 4,000-word article
reads like a thriller.
It is March 1950, and Miroslav Dvoracek, an anticommunist agent working for Czech emigre intelligence, has just arrived in Prague on an undercover mission to recruit a top employee in a chemical firm. Bumping into an old female friend, Iva Militka, he arranges to leave his suitcase at her dormitory for a few hours.
Surprised at the unexpected visit, over lunch she tells her boyfriend, Miroslav Dlask, who in turn tells his friend, fellow student Milan Kundera.
And, according to a police report the institute says it unearthed, Kundera goes immediately to the police, who then pay Militka a visit at her dormitory.
The police report, provided by Jiri Reichl of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, states that "the record in the wanted list showed the man is sought for arrest by Plzen regional police. Based on this finding, the above-mentioned officers stayed at the dormitory to guard the said Militka's room. Dvoracek came to the room around 8 p.m. and was detained."
Dvoracek initially faced the death sentence. In the end he was given 22 years hard labor, and eventual served 14 years.Idealist Turned Opponent
It's no secret that Kundera -- like many of his contemporaries -- was in his youth an earnest believer in socialist ideals.
But like many others, Kundera later transformed into a fierce critic of the communist regime, his novels dealing in a darkly humorous way with themes of betrayal, denunciation, and the erasing of uncomfortable history.
So it's hard to exaggerate what a bombshell the claims represent -- that the young Kundera turned informant to the regime.
Kundera, now 79, has lived in virtual seclusion in France for more than 30 years. But he broke a long media silence to give an interview with the Czech news agency CTK, in which he called the story a "lie," an attempt to discredit him before an upcoming international book fair.
"I'm just astonished by something that I did not expect, about which I knew nothing only yesterday, and which did not happen. It's just not plausible," Kundera said. "When someone does something like this he has to have some motive for doing it. I know my name is there; how it got there is a mystery. How could I denounce someone I don't know?"
To be sure, the institute admits they don't have all the answers. Some of the key people in the case -- like Militka's boyfriend, Dlask, are now dead. There is no police document signed by Kundera.
But the institute's Reichl says the researchers are sure the police document is authentic, and is dismissive of Kundera's reaction.
"I reject the idea that it was some 'assassination' of the author ahead of the Frankfurt book fair opening; that's a construction we couldn't have thought up," Reichl said. "The institute stands by the findings by Adam Hradilek because they're backed up not just by one bit of paper from the archives, as one person has said, but the statements of other people who played a role in the case."
Ultimately the case raises more questions than it provides answers. Are the findings genuine -- and if so, what could have led Kundera to inform on someone he didn't know?
The case also raises the question of whether the evidence of denunciation even matters. Speaking from Sweden, Dvoracek's wife, Marketa, says that after all these years, it doesn't make any difference to them who informed on her husband.
"I have to say that for Mike it's not in the least bit important if it was someone really famous who turned him in or someone who wasn't famous at all," Marketa Dvorackova said. "He ended up spending 14 years in the uranium mines, that's the main thing."
Kundera himself once asked a question that could also be applied to the case, in the context of his 1967 novel "The Joke," itself a story of communist-era betrayal: "What if history plays jokes?"