In a revelation that could tarnish the legacy of one of the best-known Eastern European writers, a Czech research institute published a report on Monday indicating that the young Milan Kundera told the police about a supposed spy.
According to the state-backed Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, in 1950, long before he became famous for darkly comic novels like "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" and "The Joke," Kundera, who was then 21, told the local police about a guest in a student dormitory where he lived.
The police quickly arrested the man, Miroslav Dvoracek, who had defected to Germany in 1948 and was said to have been recruited by United States-backed anti-Communists as a spy against the Czech government. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Dvoracek narrowly escaped the death penalty, a common punishment for espionage, and eventually served a 14-year sentence, including hard labor in a uranium mine.
The allegations could diminish Kundera's moral stature as a spokesman, however enigmatic, against totalitarianism's corrosion of daily life.
In a statement, the reclusive Kundera vehemently denied the account.
"I object in the strongest manner to these accusations, which are pure lies," he said in a statement released by his French publisher, Gallimard.
In a rare interview on Monday with the Czech CTK news agency, Kundera also accused the news media of committing "the assassination of an author."
The story is the most dramatic recent episode in Eastern Europe's fitful reckoning with its Communist past, an era that Czechs, with their soft Velvet Revolution against the Soviet system, have been loath to explore deeply.
The report about Kundera also recalls the case of the German writer Günter Grass, a Nobel laureate, who first disclosed in 2006 that he had been a volunteer in the Waffen-SS as a teenager during World War II.
The revelations also speak to Kundera's vexed relationship with his former homeland. He was a staunch member of the Communist Party until the Soviet invasion in 1968, when he was fired from his teaching post and his work was banned. Expelled from the party in 1970, he emigrated to France in 1975 and has lived there ever since, taking French citizenship. He is respected but not loved in the Czech Republic, where many of his recent books, written in French, have not been translated.
In the interview with the Czech news agency, Kundera said: "My memory has not tricked me. I did not work for the secret police."
Yet the revelations do not link him to the secret police. Instead, with its combination of specificity and mystery, the local police report reads like something out of Kundera's writing.
Dated March 14, 1950, it states that "Milan Kundera, student, born on 1 April 1929 in Brno, resident at the Prague VII student hall of residence," went to the local police at 4 p.m. and made a statement about Iva Militka, another student from the residence.
According to the report, Kundera learned that Militka had told a fellow student that she met Dvoracek, who said he had deserted Czech military service and fled to Germany. He asked her to hold a briefcase "for safekeeping." Informed by Kundera about the briefcase, police officers waited for Dvoracek to return, found that he had a false identity document and arrested him.
The suitcase contained "two hats, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of sunglasses and a tube of cream."
The revelations emerged only now, more than 50 years after the arrest, when a researcher for the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes stumbled onto the police report "by accident" earlier this year, said Vojtech Ripka, the director of the institute's documentation unit. The institute, which opened in February, was created by the government to research the country's Communist and Nazi past.
The researcher, Adam Hradilek, was investigating cases like that of Dvoracek: Czechs who fled to Germany after the Communist invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1948 and returned to spy on the Prague government.
Hradilek and a co-author, Peter Tresnak, published their findings on Monday in Respekt, a Czech political weekly magazine. Martin Simecka, the editor in chief of Respekt, said he had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the police report.
Simecka said that if the Czech authorities had known about the document in the 1970s, they might have used it against Kundera.
For his part, Dvoracek suffered a stroke in June and can no longer speak, his wife, Marketa Dvoracek Novak, said in a telephone interview from the couple's home in Sweden, where they have lived since Dvoracek's release from prison in 1964.
She said Hradilek had shown her a copy of the police report naming Kundera in June, and she had shown it to her husband. "Yes, he understood it, but it didn't make much difference," she said. "He just waved his hand. After a whole life, it doesn't matter. It's too late."
She said her husband did not care who had turned him in. "It doesn't really matter to him whether it was some very famous bad guy who was the informant, or someone who was not famous at all," she said.
Nor did she expect an apology or explanation from Kundera. "No, no, no — that is irrelevant," she said. "To apologize after 58 years? No."
Ripka, of the institute, said he was disappointed that Kundera had not responded more fully.
"We regret that he doesn't speak more specifically about the case because he definitely knows more information," Ripka said. He denied Kundera's claim that the institute had unjustly singled out the author. "We really don't search archives for attractive information for the media," he said.
Roberto Calasso, a close friend of Kundera's who is the director of Kundera's Italian publisher, Adelphi, said the revelations stemmed from "a strong acrimony that his country has for him."
Some others saw the report in a different light.
"I would say this would not be out of character for Kundera or anyone who was so young and so dedicated to the Communist cause," said Michael Kraus, a Prague native and professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, who served on a committee that helped establish the research institute.
Although Kundera's views later evolved, Kraus said, back then he was "a true believer."
"If in fact this is what he did," Kraus added, "he was just simply doing his patriotic duty."
In an interview published in The New York Times in 1985, Kundera discussed his belief in privacy.
"We live in an age when private life is being destroyed," he said. "The police destroy it in Communist countries, journalists threaten it in democratic countries, and little by little the people themselves lose their taste for private life and their sense of it," he said then.
"Without secrecy," he added, "nothing is possible — not love, not friendship."
Walter Gibbs contributed reporting.
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