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Respekt in English13. 10. 200831 minut

Milan Kundera's denunciation

Milan Kundera has always carefully covered his tracks. He has given no interviews for the past quarter of a century. He visits his native country only incognito and stays in hotels under assumed names. He has sworn his Czech friends to silence, so not even they are willing to speak to journalists about who Milan Kundera is and was. A murky and convoluted story has now accidentally surfaced from the past of the best known Czech writer. It indicates that there may be other reasons for his reclusiveness than we previously imagined.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt
Fotografie: Milan Kundera - Autor: Profimedia.cz/AFP, www.profimedia.cz • Autor: Respekt
Fotografie: Milan Kundera - Autor: Profimedia.cz/AFP, www.profimedia.cz • Autor: Respekt
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Inzerce Budvar

Milan Kundera has always carefully covered his tracks. He has given no interviews for the past quarter of a century. He visits his native country only incognito and stays in hotels under assumed names. He has sworn his Czech friends to silence, so not even they are willing to speak to journalists about who Milan Kundera is and was. A murky and convoluted story has now accidentally surfaced from the past of the best known Czech writer. It indicates that there may be other reasons for his reclusiveness than we previously imagined.

The fourteenth of March 1950. Two years have just elapsed since the Communist putsch. For over six months now Milada Horáková has been held in Ruzyně prison, and subjected to interrogations and torture. Her trial is due to take place in a month‘s time and in three months’ time she will be executed together with her co-defendants. In various police stations in Prague the first interrogations of ten world-champion ice-hockey players, arrested yesterday evening for “public incitement against the the Republic” are already under way. They will be convicted of high treason and sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment, some of it spent in the uranium mines near Jáchymov. Over ten thousand people are already interned in the camps there.

It was on 14 March 1950 that the paths of two young men, Miroslav Dvořáček and Milan Kundera, crossed for the first and last times. The former escaped a death sentence only by a whisker and spent many years in prisons and labour camps. The latter was soon to become a rising star of “constructive” (i.e. pro-communist) literature, who then gradually emerged as one of the key Czech intellectuals of the 1960s and a world-renowned author.

For fifty-eight long years Milan Kundera was probably the only actor in the drama of those days who who knew what actually happened at the “Kolonka” student hall of residence in the Letná district of Prague. It was not until the spring of this year that a typewritten official document unexpectedly fell out of the archives of the Communist security agencies and shed light on the long-forgotten incident. But let us take things in the proper order.

The end of a dream

Miroslav Dvořáček was born in 1928 at Kostelec nad Orlicí, a small town in Eastern Bohemia, into the family of a civil servant. While at gymnasium (secondary school) he made friends with Miroslav Juppa, a boy of his own age, who had transferred to the school in Kostelec when the gymnasium at nearby Rychnov was closed by the occupation authorities. The two young men were to share the same ambition – to become airmen. The Czechs’ wartime humiliation combined with the heroism of Czech pilots flying with the RAF caused their juvenile yearning to become a firm determination. After leaving school they were both gained entrance to the Air Force Academy at Hradec Králové. The year was 1947.

“I can remember how happy they were to be accepted. They had set their hearts on going there,” recalls their common friend Iva Militká, who plays a crucial role in the story. Miroslav Dvořáček she had known since childhood, Juppa she had fallen in love with when they were both at school and had started to go out together. ”Sometimes he’d fly over our house and wave to me with with the plane’s wings,” the now 79-year-old lady recounts. The two young men’s happiness was to be short-lived, however. After the Communist putsch in February 1948 a purge of the armed forces was carried out and the air force was particularly affected. Forty percent of the officers were former members of the British RAF, who hated the new regime. The pilots were demoted as unreliable and enemies of socialism, dismissed from the forces and sent to labour camps. Students didn’t escape the effects of the purges either. The class that Juppa and Dvořáček attended was disbanded. They were stripped of their rank, weapons and permission to fly,” Iva Militká recalls and the dry officialese of the documents preserved in the archives bear out her statement. “The named students of the Air Force Academy must be immediately expelled from Academy not only in view of their negative attitude to the democratic system of our state but also of their open opposition to the state and the Party,” reads the HQ memorandum dated 20 January 1949 relating to the purges carried out in Year III of the Academy to which both friends belonged. In February, the young men received orders to transfer to the infantry regiment in Plzeň and they left the barracks. They did not report to the infantry regiment, however. Realising there was no way out of their situation and that their future was uncertain, the two had already decided to flee to the West and join the air force there. They stopped off at their homes to pick up civilian clothes and then went to Prague where they were hidden for several days by some relatives of Iva Militká’s. “I paid them several visits and took them food. They told me they were due to be smuggled across the frontier in several days’ time. We said brief farewells. At the time I was still planning to join them abroad,” she recalls. The two men then bought a map and a compass in Prague and crossed unnoticed into the western zone of Germany through the thick Bohemian Forest.

The Communist who didn’t parade

At the same time and in the same country Milan Kundera’s life was taking a totally different course. He grew up in Brno, the Moravian capital, surrounded by books, in the family of the well-known musicologist, musician and scholar Ludvík Kundera. By the time he was attending secondary school, he was already outstripping his peers in terms of erudition, education and outlook. He shared the prevailing enthusiasm for the idea of socialism and admiration for Stalin’s Soviet Union. “For the generation that grew up around the time of the war it was very hard not to fall prey to that illusion,” Kundera’s fellow-writer Ivan Klíma explains. Klíma experienced the youthful infatuation with Communism at first hand, but unlike Kundera he is prepared to reflect on it: “We grew up cut off from information. Even in the years from 1945 to 1948 no one dared to write the truth about Stalin although people were already aware of his crimes. For the young left-wing intellectuals of those days, Stalin was the one who ended the war and socialism represented hope of a better world.”

Milan Kundera joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) and penned poetry and song texts in the spirit of the socialist ardour of those days. “Our friendship arcs across the sky like a rainbow. The Soviet Union and our country will be together for ever and ever. Our friendship towers over us like a rocky peak above the waves. The warmongers will crack their skulls against that rock,” run the words of one of the songs for which Kundera supplied the words. These days it sounds menacing, but the poet’s friends from that period all concur that in left-wing cultural circles of the forties and fifties, the talented Brno intellectual was one of the more critical devotees of Stalinism. The erudite aesthete loathed mass shenanigans and he apparently did not even attend May Day parades. He tried to provide a rational explanation for his attitude to Communism. “Milan was a totally different type of person from me,” the writer Pavel Kohout recalls. In the fifties Kohout was a prominent Stalinist propagandist, although he subsequently became a founder of Charter 77 and a dissident. “He was a very withdrawn and pernickety person, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t truly believe in the ideas of socialism. It simply that everyone expressed themselves differently.“

In 1948 Kundera moved from Brno to Prague and enrolled at the film academy to study direction. “I’ve sat on many admissions boards in my time but only twice in my life did it happen that a candidate walked in and it was immediately obvious that he stood head and shoulders above the rest,” recalls the director Antonín Kachlík, then an active member of the Party and head of the student council, who was an intimate friend of Kundera’s. “That incredible erudition, breadth of outlook and conceptual thinking – that is something one rarely came across.” The young Communist intellectual soon made a name for himself in the film faculty and the Prague cafés.

Happy days at “Kolonka”

At that time Iva Militká was also enjoying her carefree student days beneath the red banner. Juppa, her boyfriend from school days, had disappeared abroad with his friend Dvořáček, and she had enrolled at Charles University to study German and Scandinavian languages. “A new world opened up to me in Prague,” she recalls. “I was given accommodation at the “Kolonka” hall of residence. I had a little single room with a cherry tree outside the window that used to blossom. I spent the happiest days of my life there.“

Militká came to the university after the main wave of Bolshevik purges, during which a quarter of all the students and a thousands of teachers had been expelled. There chiefly remained loyal Communists, and life at the student residences was like an idyll of “socialist construction”. The young student soon fell prey to the infectious ideology too (but she never joined the party). “I expect these days no one would understand,” she says, in an effort to describe the atmosphere at “Kolonka”, “but I can remember, for instance, taking a walk on Petřín Hill with a fellow student. We stopped and chatted and he dreamed about how Czechoslovakia would one day become one of the union republics of the USSR”.

Not long after, a student of aesthetics and a fervent young Communist by the name of Miroslav Dlask would become part of her idyll. They got to know each other at a student work camp in Ostrava and were soon going out together. Dlask’s father, a social democrat, had survived Auschwitz, and the young student enthusiastically held forth to his new love about how humanism would emerge victorious only through the unity of social democracy and Communism. Dlask also introduced his new girlfriend to his like-minded friends. One of his closest friends was a student at the film academy, the charismatic intellectual Milan Kundera. Iva Militká decided at that time that she would no longer be emigrating to join her one-time boyfriend Juppa.

The mission of General Moravec

The Leopold Barracks refugee camp in Munich was far removed from that Prague student idyll. The international network of refugee camps then used the space of former concentration camps and barracks, into which 150,000 people were crammed. The conditions prevailing there were dreadful. The Czech emigrés who left after the Communist putsch of February 1948 suffered harassment at the hands of the expelled Sudeten Germans, and the intelligence services of the Communist and western countries vied with each other in luring refugees to work as secret agents .

Miroslav Dvořáček and Miroslav Juppa had no doubts about which side they wanted to work for. They underwent interrogation by the US army Counter-Intelligence Corps (CIC), in the course of which they described the Hradec Králové barracks, including the number of aircraft and personnel, and their training, and they drew maps of the airfields. In mid-November 1949, they were invited to an unassuming villa not far from the refugee camp at Ulm. There they met General František Moravec, war hero and legendary head of military intelligence, who offered them work for “the American-supported Czechoslovak intelligence services”. They were to work as couriers and carry out missions in Czechoslovakia that would help restore democracy. The young pilots accepted on condition that General Moravec would subsequently see they were reinstated in the air force.

They underwent special training and a few days after Christmas in 1949, equipped with false papers, they were smuggled back home through the Bohemian Forest on their first mission. Dvořáček was to contact a certain chemical engineer by the name of Václavík, a high-ranking employee of the Chemapol company, and recruit him to supply information about the chemical industry. When Dvořáček arrived in Prague he became convinced that he was being tailed. He started changing from one tram to another in order to shake off any possible pursuers. His feeling of being followed was so strong he decided it better to go back.

I can see it as if it was yesterday

Dvořáček set out for Czechoslovakia on 13 March of the following year accompanied by a clandestine guide. Wearing white camouflage clothing, they crossed the snow-covered frontier and made their way to a hamlet called “U Vítků” near the village of Pocínovice, where they given shelter by the Touš family. “He introduced himself as Karel, I think. We didn’t know his real name, of course,” recalls Josef Touš, who still farms the property. In those days he was twenty-one years old and used to assist his father, an experienced clandestine guide. “He made a strong impression on me. He was a pleasant young fellow, about my age.  assignments and mission didn’t interest us. Our job was to provide him with a his safe haven and somewhere to sleep, just as we did for the others.“

During the period of forced collectivisation following the Communist putsch, the village was riven with dissension and a bitter class struggle got under way, with the Toušes unequivocally adopting a stance in favour of freedom. They offered a safe haven for dozens of people, couriers working for western intelligence, underground guides, and refugees fleeing to Germany from the Communists.

Miroslav Dvořáček spent the night at the farm but continued on his journey the next day. When he reached Prague he tried to carry out his original assignment and make contact with Václavík. After spending several hours trying to locate him, he looked out of the tram window at Mánes Bridge and caught sight of Iva Militká, his childhood companion and his best friend’s former girlfriend. He quickly jumped off the tram to say hello to her.

“I can see it as if was yesterday”, the woman recalls. “I was immensely pleased to see him. I can’t remember how he explained his presence in Prague. I was naïve in those days and I didn’t give it much thought. I asked Miroslav how Juppa was and then he walked me back to the hall of residence. He asked me if he could leave his case there for a couple of hours. He told me he had some things to sort out in Prague and he’d come back for it in the afternoon,” Iva Militká relates.

Dvořáček then went off in search of Václavík. He tried an address in the Vinohrady district where the chemist was supposed to be living according to his instructions from Germany, but without success. When the man failed to turn up, he set off for the Chemapol building and waited outside to see if he could identify him among the crowd of employees, on the basis of the description he had been supplied with. He was unlucky once more. So he decided to postpone his search until the following day and went back to the student residence, where he had agreed with Iva he would spend the night. He entered “Kolonka” at around eight o’clock in the evening, but instead of his friend Iva, two armed policemen were waiting behind the door for him. Miroslav Dvořáček was arrested.

A scene never to be erased

“Today at around 1600 hours a student, Milan Kundera, born 1.4.1929 in Brno, resident at the student hall of residence on George VI Avenue in Prague VII, presented himself at this department and reported that a student, Iva Militká, resident at that residence, had told a student by the name of Dlask, also of that residence, that she had met a certain acquaintance of hers, Miroslav Dvořáček, at Klárov in Prague the same day. The said Dvořáček apparently left 1 case in her care, saying he would come to fetch it in the afternoon. (…) Dvořáček had apparently deserted from military service and since the spring of the previous year had possibly been in Germany, where he had gone illegally”

This bald police report, entered under the reference number 624/1950, enables us to reconstruct what actually caused Miroslav Dvořáček to end up in Communist prison camps. After offering her visitor accommodation in her room, Iva Militká went off for lunch with her friend Dlask. She mentioned the unexpected visit to him (Dlask was aware that the two had emigrated) and she requested Dlask not to visit her that evening as Miroslav would probably be spending the night there. Somewhat later, Dlask told the news to his friend Milan Kundera, who went off to the local police station to report it.

Iva Militká relates what happened to her: “When I got back to the student residence I was approached by two men who took me into the room next door. They told me that the person who was supposed to be coming to me was going to be arrested and I was not to try to warn him. Had I known beforehand I would have waited somewhere else and warned him.” She has never forgotten the scene she witnessed from the other room and it often comes back to her in dreams and nightmares. The unsuspecting friend arrived at “Kolonka” and was immediately taken away under police escort, She has never seen Miroslav Dvořáček since. “I still feel guilty about having talked about him. I was too naïve,” Iva Militká says. “I went to Kostelec to see my parents and told them I had caused Miroslav’s arrest. My father then paid a visit to his parents and told them. The feeling I had to live with afterwards was dreadful.”

Unclear motives

Before we describe the outcome of Kundera’s deed, it is necessary to ask what actually led him to do it. What motive did he have for denouncing someone unknown to him? At a time when the pages of the Communist Party’s daily Rudé právo was crammed to overflowing with propagandist articles about settling scores with the class enemy, and death sentences were being passed, the informer could not fail to be aware what sort of fate awaited Dvořáček. On the very day he made his denunciation, for instance, an article had appeared in the main Communist newspaper about two young Czech employees of the US embassy, who had been sentenced to eighteen and fifteen years’ hard labour.

The answer to the question why Kundera did it, is not as simple as it might appear. Kundera was indeed a convinced Communist and so it is possible he decided to destroy a human life for purely ideological reasons. But according to the testimony of all his acquaintances who are prepared to talk about him, he was a fairly critical Communist by the standards of the time, and far from happy with everything that was happening in society; he was definitely not one of those who was baying for blood. “He was a reserved sort of person and had no liking for stupid mass rallies,” the writer Milan Uhde says of his friend. “I tended to think of him as a someone with courage who wasn’t afraid to express inconvenient opinions.” When asked whether he expressed hatred of the “class enemy”, his friends of those days answer in the negative – Kundera was more a positive builder of socialism than a hunter of opponents. “It was others like Skála and Pilař who went in for frenzied attacks on the ‘kulaks’ and justification of the trials,” Ivan Klíma explains.

A personal motive must also be considered. It is possible that Dlask was jealous of his girlfriend’s (and future wife’s) anti-communist visitor and asked his friend Kundera to help get rid of him. That would then beg the question why Dlask did not denounce Dvořáček himself. Indeed, up to their deaths Militká’s parents always suspected him. She herself was unable to imagine that her future husband might have been capable of such a thing. Whenever she asked him directly what had really happened, he would refuse to answer. The only thing he admitted before his death in the 1990s was that he had mentioned their conversation to Kundera.

A third possible motive is to do with an incident that occurred just prior to the tragedy at “Kolonka”. It was to be the inspiration for the author’s first novel “The Joke”. In1949, Kundera had been sent a letter by his friend Jaroslav Dewetter criticising a highly-placed Communist official. Kundera answered in similar vein. However, both letters were intercepted and read by the secret police, and the young party members found themselves in a pickle. They both underwent disciplinary proceedings, as also did their common friend Jan Trefulka, who stood up for Dewetter. The eventual sanctions were fairly unequal: Trefulka and Dewetter were expelled from the Party and the university (one of them receiving his call-up papers, the other being forced to earn his living as a tractor driver), while Milan Kundera was simply expelled from the Party. He was allowed to remain at the film academy, where he pursued a fairly successful academic career in the fifties and sixties.

Was the denunciation intended to atone for his offence against the Party? The archives provide no answer. The only one of the survivors who knows, is Milan Kundera himself, but for the past quarter of a century he has refused to communicate with the public or journalists. No answer was received to a fax sent to his flat in Paris asking for clarification of the events of those days.

In-depth interrogation

What can be reconstructed fairly accurately from the archive and eyewitness accounts, are the consequences of Kundera’s act. It doesn’t make for easy reading. The regime reserved the harshest penalties for couriers who had the courage to take part in anti-communist resistance. In the period from 1948 to 1956, the State Security arrested about 500 couriers - “pedestrian agents” in secret-police parlance. Sentences generally ranged from twelve years to life. Over twenty couriers were executed, says historian Prokop Tomek of the Military History Institute.

Following his arrest, Miroslav Dvořáček went through the usual mill of interrogations that were intended to probe further information our of him by all available means. The archives also talk about “in-depth interrogations” at the prison at Hradčany. Military counter-intelligence had inherited a former Gestapo torture chamber dubbed “the Cottage”, where political opponents were interrogated using methods similar to their predecessors’. According to witnesses, in-depth interrogations at the Hradčany prison could consist of almost anything from slaps to torture using sophisticated equipment.

Interrogation records preserved in the archives of the security agencies are compelling evidence of Dvořáček’s efforts to shield the people who had helped him. Although he believed that Iva Militká had betrayed him, he never mentioned how she and her parents had helped him escape. From the time of his arrest until mid-April, he also managed to stay silent about having stayed at the Toušes’ homestead. It was not until 15 April that he first described the actual place where he had crossed the border and the hamlet ”U Vítků”. However, it is not apparent from the archive material whether the interrogators managed to break down Dvořáček or whether they pieced together information gained meanwhile from the Toušes and other members of their group arrested four days earlier. Quite independently of Dvořáček’s case, the StB had managed to place an informer into the group of courageous frontier guides.

In September 1950, Miroslav Dvořáček was convicted of desertion, espionage and high treason. The state prosecutor called for a death sentence. In the end, he was given a sentence of 22 years’ hard labour, a fine of 10,000 crown, forfeiture of all his property and loss of civic rights for ten years. Three months later, the Toušes, father and son, and other members of their group were also convicted. “It was a show trial that lasted three days and it was even broadcast by the local radio station,” Josef Touš recalls. “Apart from a couple of escort missions, they chiefly found me guilty of failing to report it when I knew about it.” As the youngest member of the group, he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment; the others received sentences of twice that length and one of the guides was even executed.

Sugar and mud

At the beginning of March 1952, after spells at Pankrác, Bory and other prisons, Miroslav Dvořáček was transferred to the Vojna prison camp near Příbram, one of the worst places in the Communists’ system of repression. After examination on arrival he was given the number A0–3016, brown prison clothes of coarse cotton, underwear, a towel, two mess tins, a spoon, a blanket, working boots, rubber boots and a forage cap. Underwear and the towel were changed twice a month. The overgarments were worn until they fell apart. During the first years at the camp, the inmates received only one set of clothes., The prisoners had nothing to change into after returning dirty and often wet from work in the uranium mines.

Life in the camp was exhausting and humiliating. In July 1955, Dvořáček was involved in the so-called “noodles affair” - a famed hunger strike and work stoppage that erupted because of the prisoners’ years of dissatisfaction. Forced to perform hard labour, the prisoners refused to eat the wormy and cold noodles that they were served up several days in a row, and they refused to go down the mines. The camp authorities had the entire area surrounded by a commando force armed with machine guns. The prisoners’ bedding, tobacco and sugar was thrown out of the huts into the mud. It took the camp guards four days to break the hunger strike and work stoppage.

Individual resistance continued, however. Miroslav Dvořáček’s record contains a whole number of instances of his offences against the camp regulations – 16 April 1956: five days correction and ten days solitary confinement without exercise for writing “inciting” slogans on the fourth level of Vojna II mine; 21 May 1956: three days solitary confinement for reading an English detective novel Design for Murder; 9 June 1956 – five days correction for studying English words. It should be added that the correction block consisted of small, concrete cells with no heating.

The one-time courier did not even benefit from the amnesty of 1960, when a large number of the political prisoners were released. Common criminals were now in the majority and the former solidarity among prisoners was gone, so that conditions in the camps worsened considerably. Miroslav Dvořáček spent three further years there. He left the camp at the end of 1963 after almost fourteen years’ incarceration. The counters of bookshops were then displaying a new collection of short stories that was then being hotly discussed by the entire Czech cultural scene: Laughable Loves by Milan Kundera

The beginning of doubts

At the time when prisoner No. A0–3016 was labouring in the uranium mines in his ragged prison garb, the person who had denounced him was forging a respectable career for himself. Having started out as an almost unknown student, zealous for the construction of better tomorrows, he was now a respected socialist poet. He had published two collections of lyrical verse that was was of a somewhat higher standard than the norm of those days, so he was regarded as an audacious reformer by the generation of young Communists. He became a popular lecturer at the film academy and a member of the leadership of the Writers’ Union.

Then some time around 1954, Kundera “saw the light”. “He returned at that time from a visit to the Soviet Union and I asked him what he’d brought back with him,” Kundera’s friend Milan Uhde recalls. “He replied: I’ve smuggled out a deep suspicion that the October Revolution was possibly the greatest crime of the 20th century.” Like a large number of people of his generation, Kundera subsequently turned away from Bolshevism, and in the 1960s he became a prominent reform-minded intellectual. His speech at the Writers’ Congress in 1967 and his polemic with Václav Havel entitled the Czech Destiny have entered the history text-books and readers as fundamental attempts to interpret the history of this country.

Milan Kundera stayed silent about his murky past and no one else (apart, perhaps, from Miroslav Dlask) possessed the key to it. Iva Militká, who had married Dlask at a difficult moment of her life, never managed to rid herself of a sense of guilt, and her husband never furnished her with an explanation. Miroslav Dvořáček believed that it was she who had caused his imprisonment. A fortnight after the Soviet-led invasion of 21 August 1968, he didn’t hang around but emigrated to the West, never to return home. And luckily for Milan Kundera, the earlier denunciation probably escaped the attention of the secret police, who had him in their sights at the beginning of the “normalisation” period as one of the key reformists. The StB did everything in their power to break his nerve, but they never tried to blackmail him on the basis of those events of twenty years earlier.

At home in denial

Knowledge of the past throws new light on an author’s work. Kundera was always at pains to prevent interpreters linking his life with his writing, but some parallels are only too obvious. In 1962, for instance, Kundera’s play The Owners of the Keys, set in World War II, came out in book form. The main hero, Jiří, lives with his wife at the home of his parents-in-law. One day a former lover of his, Věra, who is wanted by the Gestapo, asks him to shelter her. Jiří has to cope with the dilemma of whether to help his former lover and thereby place his family at risk. Eventually he does shelter her but they are discovered by the caretaker who intends to denounce them. Jiří kills the would-be informer… We can only speculate at what might have been the inspiration for the play, but several elements in the story tally in a remarkable fashion with the events of 1950.

After emigrating to France from Czechoslovakia, Kundera’s efforts to his conceal his own life story became almost an obsession. After one bad experience with journalists, the writer stopped according interviews and refused to comment in any way on his past life. He wrote that the only important thing were his novels; these had an independent existence and were on no account to be associated with the person of the author.

Since the revolution, he has only paid secret visits to his former homeland, staying in hotels under assumed names. He has asked a few of his old friends not to say anything to the press. “I’d happily talk to you about Milan, but we have an agreement that I won’t do while he is still alive,” explains Kundera’s old friend, the actor Mojmír Heger of Brno. “Milan is a trifle eccentric but I intend to respect his wishes.” Others react in a similar fashion, such as the writer Jan Trefulka or Kundera’s cousin Ludvík. They are very few who are ready to reminisce.

Is this covering of his tracks the natural need of a world-famous writer, who always was a reclusive introvert, or does it conceal an effort to hide an inconvenient past? We can only speculate. The only person who holds the key to the truth now is Kundera himself.


Uncovering secret informers and collaborators with the former regime has become a popular activity in the media in the recent period. This story had a somewhat different genesis, however. For several years now, I have been collecting the reminiscences of important eyewitnesses to events in modern Czech history. I initially recorded their narratives for the civic association Post Bellum, and at the beginning of this year I received an proposal to record them for the newly-established Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. I accepted the offer with pleasure, but also with slight trepidation at the thought of the tragic destinies I would once again encounter. The archives here offer valuable material for seeking out eyewitnesses and provide scholar with an unprecedented tool for reviving memories.

At the end of May, I received from my cousin Matěj some fragmentary information about the story of one of my female relatives. The story was over fifty years old and featured love, betrayal, agents, escape, a guilt complex and many unknown people. Iva Militká has never ceased to be burdened by that event of over half a century ago that fundamentally affected her life. I commissioned a search for material about the individual actors and studied the material obtained in my spare time. A fairly commonplace story from the early fifties, which was given a little spice because of a family connection, was suddenly transformed. when I came upon the report describing the arrest of Miroslav Dvořáček. It was in that report that there appeared a name that placed the incident in a completely different light. None of the surviving actors suspected that Milan Kundera was involved in their destinies in such a fundamental way.

After lengthy hesitation, Iva Militká agreed to recount her life story. I then decided to seek out the other people and assemble a mosaic of the fates of the different actors and their motivations. Essential for my investigations was locating the main victim of the denunciation, Miroslav Dvořáček, who has lived in Sweden since the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, finding him was to prove much easier than persuading him to talk about it. Initially he was willing to co-operate but then he suddenly had second thoughts. He had never spoken to even his closest relatives about his escape, his work for General Moravec or his imprisonment. “I always wanted to know the story of Dad’s escape and his time in prison, but he never wanted to talk about it. I respected his wishes,” says Dvořáček’s son Patrik, who lives in Canada. Two months after our first contact, Miroslav Dvořáček had a stroke and he is still recovering from its effects. He continues to live under the presumption that he was betrayed by Iva Militká.

Another direct participant in the story was Miroslav Dlask, but he had died in the 1990s. The last one is Milan Kundera, who failed to react to my request for an interview. Thus it is still a mystery what exactly happened that day and why he decided to go to the police and denounce someone who was a total stranger. The burden of what has been concealed for 58 years is not a light one. Dvořáček very nearly received the death sentence which the state prosecutor had demanded for him.

I pondered for a long time on whether I had a moral right to publish the story. But in the end I decided that its publication could throw light on some unanswered questions, as well as promote the recognition of courageous people like Miroslav Dvořáček, and enhance the discussion about post-war developments in Czechoslovakia.


The author works in the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes.

With the assistance of Petr Třešňák.

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