Kundera and Real Socialism: The Absurd and the Terror

to benefit from The first from Prague in 1968Jan Kalina, exploding freedom in Czechoslovakia crushed by Soviet tanks, decided to write the first serious study of jokes during communism, titled 1001 jokes. calls Funny story They were masterpieces of black humor, which also served as an escape valve in the real dictatorships of socialism. Example: A man returns from Gulag After many years in prison. His mother, who is quite old, is waiting for him on the platform of the Moscow station. But he recognized her instantly. He asks, “How did you know without a shadow of a doubt that it was me?” He answered, “For the overcoat.”

But, things happened in the eastern countries, when Kalina sent her book to print, the paper ran out (oddly enough, the current turbo-capitalism also knows this shortcoming). When the materials finally arrived, Czechoslovakia had become an occupied country from before USSR He lived under the weight of fierce neo-Stalinist repression. But the printing operators did not care: they began to print all the work they had hanging, not caring whether it was a catalog of tractors or a subversive article that satirised communism.

It seems incredible, but the article appeared in 1969, was distributed without major mishap, and when the authorities learned of its contents, it had already sold 25,000 copies. Its author was sentenced to hard labor for “publishing a satirical book that deeply insults the state and society of the Czechoslovak Republic and its solidarity with the Soviet Union.” This story, which encapsulates the absurdity and horror of real socialist dictatorships, appears in a book by British journalist Ben Lewis entitled Hammer and tickle (Play on words between machete -Game tickle –tickles- which can be translated as Scythe and laughter), but may also belong to a book Milan KunderaCzech writer exiled in France since the 1970s, died on July 11 in Paris.

Kundera’s first novel, published in 1967, during the outbreak of freedom that preceded the Prague Spring, had the title the joke (Tusquets, transl Fernando de Valenzuela, journalist and author to whom Spanish readers have taken an eternal debt for their impeccable copies of the Czech writer’s works). A classic of the 20th century, this novel tells the story of a man who writes a political joke on a postcard – “Optimism is the opium of the people” -. When he is discovered by the authorities, who don’t much appreciate the irony about happiness in the socialist world, his life becomes a joke so bad he can’t get out of it.

The French journalist explained years ago that “humor is essential for him.” John Daniel, one of Kundera’s great Parisian friends. Irony is at the core of his life, the idea that one cannot take the world seriously. Yet the end of Kundera’s life, his last years of lucidity, is marred by a true socialist story, a terrible story, perhaps false, perhaps true. He was accused, based on a police document, of having convicted a fellow university student in 1950, when Kundera was a staunch supporter of the USSR. This fellow ended up serving 14 years in prison.

The journalist from EL PAÍS Joseba Elola He traveled to the Czech Republic in 2008 to gather as much information as possible on the subject and wrote a great report titled ‘Three Czechs, a spy and a cheetahReading this text, it is impossible to know whether it is true, the researchers argued, or a lie, as Kundera emphasized in a public statement, supported by most of his friends. It is difficult, however, to ignore the existence of Document 624/1950 of the Czech police, which is A signed report from Officer Roske: “Today, at approximately 4:00 p.m., student Milan Kundera, born on 4-1-1929 in Brno, resides in the student residence on St. George VI in Prague 7….” Many believe that those The scandal cost him a Nobel Prize.

Books of condolence in the Milan Kundera Library in Brno.Thomas Skoda (EFE)

Can Kundera be prosecuted for something that happened when he was a young communist, after World War II and after the defeat of Nazism, at a time when you did not report someone you suspected of a very serious crime? For dictatorships, whistleblowing is an essential tool of repression and in Eastern Europe some countries, especially the German Democratic Republic and Romania, as well as the Czech Republic, have used all state power to recruit all whistleblowers they can. Jean Echenoz describes this atmosphere of terror in Being (anagram), a fictional biography of the Czech athlete Emil Zatopek. A joke from the time says that if three Czechs met, the three would probably report on the others.

It is unfair and useless to judge from the present on a decision made at a difficult time, under a dictatorship. Whether this report is true or false does not change the greatness of Kundera, the novelist who knew how to use humor – like his teachers Cervantes or Rabelais– To talk about a world that does not make sense, and about a person who has learned to abandon his homelands and demand freedom as a supreme value at a time when many were willing to sell their ideas – and the world of others – for an idea. It is something that marked Europe’s past and could, unfortunately, define its present and future once again.

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