Cloak and Dagger philosophy in Prague

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The Independent Culture

IN THE decade since the Velvet Revolution, plenty of water has flowed under the bridges of Prague. As ever, the writers from such a culture in upheaval will tell more of the truth than a shelf of IMF reports. So the Arts Council has done well to promote a "celebration of Central European literature" next week.

IN THE decade since the Velvet Revolution, plenty of water has flowed under the bridges of Prague. As ever, the writers from such a culture in upheaval will tell more of the truth than a shelf of IMF reports. So the Arts Council has done well to promote a "celebration of Central European literature" next week.

The Czech novelist Ivan Klíma will be talking at the Cheltenham Festival on Monday, then at Swiss Cottage Library in north London on Tuesday. And Timothy Garton Ash, whose superb reportage did so much to flesh out life in the shadow of the crumbling Wall, discusses the rebirth of Central Europe at the Barbican on Thursday.

The anniversary has also prompted a fascinating history of the Czech "underground university" ­ the loose network of open seminars, often addressed by Western academics and authors, which waved a flag for free thought during the last years of the Communist regime. Barbara Day's book The Velvet Philosophers (Claridge Press, £16.95) is a minutely detailed roll-of-honour of those who braved arrest in undercover trips to Prague. Much of it reads like an absurd but sinister farce by one of the participants, Tom Stoppard. So Jacques Derrida was framed on a drugs charge; Roger Scruton ­ a creator of the "Jan Hus Educational Foundation" ­ was grilled as a likely "British spy".

Supporters ranged from Harold Pinter to Elton John; and speakers from Piers Paul Read to Geoffrey Robertson. Only one British figure refused all help, and wrote "scathingly" about the whole project. Day calls the letter "the only reaction of this kind" in her archive. A diehard Stalinist, maybe? Hardly. The sneering cynic was Anita Brookner.

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