It was a piece of news nobody really wanted to hear. Earlier this week, acclaimed Czech writer Milan Kundera ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being") was said by a Czech state institute to be the student-informant who in 1950 denounced a Western spy to the Communist secret police.
The man denounced served 14 years of hard labor as a result.
Kundera, who is now 79, immediately and entirely denied the report. "I am totally astonished by something that I did not expect, about which I knew nothing only yesterday, and that did not happen," he said. "I did not know the man at all."
Yesterday, French playwright Yasmina Reza ("Art") wrote an impassioned defense of Kundera in a column in Parisian newspaper Le Monde. You can read the whole thing (as translated in the Guardian), but here's one piece of it.
"[T]here is the absolute impotence of a man faced with such a chain of events," Reza writes. "He has no possible response. Having made an immediate denial, anything he might say would only feed the process of accusation. In thirty seconds it is possible to sweep away the life of a man with an honest sense of having done one's job and one's duty."
The wife of the man informed upon says it could well have been Kundera who did so – although she also says that it no longer matters.
Others have raised their voices in defense of Kundera, raising questions about the accusation, including the question as to why, if this is true, the Czech government made no use of this information in the years of Kundera's dissidence, when discrediting him to the Czech people would have been greatly in their interest?
We will probably never know exactly what happened in a dorm room in Prague almost 60 years ago. But that's exactly what makes Reza's words so chilling: " In thirty seconds it is possible to sweep away the life of a man" over a matter that we will most likely never be able to prove or disprove.