He is one of the world’s leading authors and political dissidents, whose books have been credited with shining a light on the darkest days of communist rule in Europe.
But Milan Kundera is embroiled in a scandal involving espionage and the secret police after being accused of denouncing a Western intelligence agent to communist authorities in the 1950s, a move that saw the man narrowly escape the death sentence.
Kundera, 79, allegedly reported the whereabouts of a fellow countryman to police, according to Czech academic Adam Hradilek, who is related to a woman who for years stood accused of turning the spy over to police.
The Czech magazine Respekt has published an alleged police report from March 14 1950, stating: “Today, at around 1600 hours, a student, Milan Kundera, born 1/4/1929 in Brno … presented himself at this department and reported that Iva Militka … had met … Miroslav Dvoracek … who had apparently deserted from military service.”
The report said Dvoracek, who illegally fled the country after the 1948 Soviet coup and was considered a traitor by the communist regime, was to pick up his suitcase from Militka’s flat that afternoon. When he went back to the flat, following the tip-off, he was seized by police. He faced the death penalty but was sentenced to 22 years in jail, of which he served 14, most of them in a hard labour camp.
Militka told Hradilek that she had informed her boyfriend and future husband Miroslav Dlask of Dvoracek’s whereabouts and that he had passed the information on to his friend Kundera, then a 21-year-old university student.
It takes a lot to make him break his silence — Kundera has given few interviews in the past 25 years. But the writer known for his loathing of hardline communism vehemently denied the claims, calling the attack “the assassination of an author”.
He told the Czech news agency CTK: “I am totally astonished by something that I did not expect, about which I knew nothing only yesterday, and that did not happen. I did not know the man at all.”
He said the allegations had been published to coincide with the opening of a book fair in France, where the author has lived since 1975 after fleeing Czechoslovakia, where he had become a hate figure for the Communist party.
Hradilek, who works for the Czech Institute for Studies of the Totalitarian Regimes (USTR), said Kundera failed to respond to his repeated attempts to contact him by fax. He said he published the allegations in Respekt only after extensive research. He said: “[Kundera] 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 … it indicates there may be other reasons for his reclusive nature than we previously imagined.”
He added: “I pondered for a long time as to 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.”
The story came to light when Hradilek, whose job at the USTR is to gather eyewitness accounts from the communist era, started researching the story of his distant female relative. Iva Militka, the student friend of Dvoracek, is now 79 and for 58 years has lived with the knowledge that she was responsible for Dvoracek’s arrest. “The feeling I had to live with afterwards was dreadful,” she told Hradilek.
Militka said she told Dlask not to visit her that evening as Dvoracek would be staying with her. Possibly out of jealousy, he is said to have passed the information to Kundera, who allegedly passed it to the police. Kundera, said Hradilek, possibly needed to score points with the authorities in order to get into the Prague Film Academy, where he studied.
Dvoracek, who lives in Sweden, refuses to talk and recently suffered a stroke. According to his family he still believes Militka betrayed him. Dlask died in the 1990s, but always refused to talk to his wife about the affair. Kundera has always resisted attempts to link his life with his writing, much of which focuses on the issues of betrayal and trust and the difficulties of life under communism.
In an interview with Ian McEwan, he said: “We constantly rewrite our own biographies and continually give matters new meanings.” —