Kundera, Respekt and Contempt

Kundera Jana Prikryl in The Nation:

In early 2008, an investigative reporter named Janek Kroupa helped Vlastimil Tlustý–then a member of the conservative ODS Party who was waging an internecine contest against Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek–to stage compromising photos of Tlustý enjoying a bath with a young woman. Apparently animated by professional curiosity, Kroupa established a fictive detective agency as a front for shopping around the images to other ODS members to see if anyone in Tlustý's orbit had an appetite for blackmail. Jan Morava, then a 29-year-old ODS member of Parliament from a district just north of Prague, took the bait, trying to sell the photos to Mladá fronta Dnes, a national newspaper (in a deal prearranged by Kroupa). And in a remarkable twist, Morava told the “detectives” that by way of paying for the photos, he had a fresh commission to offer: he wanted to be photographed on the sly with another young woman, the 23-year-old daughter of Olga Zubová, a Green Party member whose support of ODS legislation was considered inadequate. Morava intended to use these images to suggest that Zubová's daughter was being watched, thereby pressuring the legislator to bolster her support of ODS. The entire scheme was finally exposed in September, when Kroupa had enough evidence–much of it footage from hidden cameras–to undermine Morava. Prime Minister Topolánek called for both politicians to resign and criticized the reporter's “provocative” approach to journalism. Morava broke into tears at the press conference in which he announced his departure. Tlustý rode it out and managed to remain in office. And despite the questions raised about his ethics, Kroupa seems only to have burnished his reputation with this manufactured exposé.

By mid-October, the Tlustý/Morava affair had been bumped from the front pages by a scandal with considerably more gravitas, though no less slavering by the media: a prominent weekly magazine claimed that in 1950, Milan Kundera had sent to prison a 22-year-old Czech who had been spying for the West. The furor this news aroused in the Czech Republic seems inseparable from the Czechs' persistent “allergy” to the expatriate novelist. Ivan Klíma diagnosed the ailment in a 1990 interview with Philip Roth, explaining that Czechs resent Kundera for being “an indulged and rewarded child of the Communist regime [before] 1968,” too hands-off in his opposition to the party even after he began to criticize it in the '60s, and all the while presenting his travails under Communism to the world beyond the Iron Curtain in a “simplified and spectacular way.” Now people were wondering how Kundera could have suppressed the 1950 incident for sixty years, even as he garnered international prestige for his opposition to Communism and his literary autopsies of the moral rot it breeds in the individual conscience. Perhaps he hadn't kept the episode under wraps. Could he have recycled it in his fiction?