The unbearable betrayal of Milan Kundera?

The dissident Czech author whose books famously satirise the Communist system was accused yesterday of denouncing a young Western spy in the 1950s. As Anne Penketh reports, it is a claim he vehemently denies

In a sensational plot line that could have come straight from the pages of one of his own novels, the acclaimed Czech-born writer Milan Kundera has been accused of denouncing a Western spy to the Communist secret police when he was a student.

The author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being was identified by a Czech state institute yesterday as having betrayed the young man in 1950 at the height of the Communist show trials.

Kundera, one of Czechoslovakia's best-known writers, who moved to France in 1975 as a dissident, bitterly satirised the Communist system in novels such as The Joke and Life is Elsewhere.

The reclusive Kundera, now 79, categorically denied the accusation yesterday, accusing the institute and media of "the assassination of an author". He said: "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."

The spy at the centre of the allegation was Miroslav Dvoracek, a young pilot who fled Czechoslovakia after the 1948 Communist takeover, was recruited in Germany by US counter-espionage agents and sent back to his homeland. According to the government-sponsored Czech institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Mr Dvoracek visited a woman in Prague and left a suitcase in her student dormitory. She told her boyfriend, who later told Kundera, and Kundera, it is claimed, went to the police.

Mr Dvoracek was arrested when he came to collect the suitcase, and it was initially believed that he had been betrayed by his girlfriend. He was later sentenced to 22 years in prison for desertion, espionage and treason, although he served a total 14 years, mainly spent working in uranium mines as a political prisoner. The institute said that a document written by the Czech secret police, and unearthed by a team of historians, identified Kundera as the person who informed on Mr Dvoracek.

Although informers were a tool of the totalitarian system which blackmailed its citizens to ensure loyalty, the charges against Kundera could seriously undermine his reputation in his native country as the scourge of Communism. The former Soviet bloc has been torn apart by the revelations of its Communist-era secret files, and Czechoslovakia was one of the first to publish the identities of informers, in 1991. Germany followed suit by releasing its East German Stasi documents in 1992.

In Poland, authorities have been accused of using the files in order to settle political scores, with the former president Lech Walesa accused of being an informer by the current President, Lech Kaczynski, and his twin brother, and former prime minister, Jaroslaw.

In the Czech Republic, the institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes – which is widely viewed as credible – has been tasked with collecting and publishing the Communist-era files. Among its goals it mentions the "research and nonpartisan evaluation of the time of oppression and the period of Communist totalitarian power, research of antidemocratic and criminal activities of state structure, namely its security forces, and the criminal activities of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and other organisations based on its ideology."

Like most Czechs of his age, Kundera joined the Communist Party as a student, but was expelled after criticising its totalitarian nature. He wrote about his experience in his first novel The Joke, in which a playful anti-Communist message on a postcard leads to tragedy.

He went on to examine the difficulties of personal relationships, often set against a political background, in subsequent works which included The Unbearable Lightness of Being. That novel was written in Paris but set against the background of the Prague Spring of 1968 and the liberal reforms of Alexander Dubcek, crushed by Soviet tanks. The book contributed to the writer's international reputation after it was turned into a film, although Kundera repudiated the filmed version.

Kundera's works were banned in Czechoslovakia until the Communist collapse, and he was granted French citizenship in 1981. But some say that his best works are behind him now that his Communist muse is gone. in later works, such as immortality and ignorance, he concentrates on the personal and the art of writing, rather than the political.

As for his alleged victim, Mr Dvoracek is now aged 80 and living in Sweden in poor health after suffering a stroke. His wife, Marketa, told the AFP news agency yesterday that the couple was "not surprised" that Kundera's name had surfaced in the Czech media reports. He is "a good writer but I am under no illusions about him as a human being," said Marketa. As for her husband, he "knew he was informed on, so who did it makes no difference to him now".

From Prague to Paris A literary journey into exile

*During the 1980s, Milan Kundera became, without much doubt, the most fashionable and widely praised writer on the planet. He wrote rueful, sensual, ironic novels of Czech life in the dog days of a bankrupt communism. They established a benchmark for the sophisticated fusion of private and public life in fiction, with a blend of essayistic wit, "postmodern" ingenuity and erotic edginess that spawned a host of imitations.

Born in Brno in 1929, he studied literature and film, and taught at the Prague film academy as a reform-minded but still outwardly loyal member of the Communist Party. His first novel, The Joke (1967), satirised the Czech Stalinism of the 1950s, and heralded a final expulsion from the Party, which came in 1970. Kundera left for Paris in 1975. But the novels that established his reputation – The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) – remained rooted in the emotional, sexual and intellectual life of Prague. After Immortality (1990), he began to write in French, and many fans drifted away from the thinner and more abstract style in books such as Ignorance (2000). Yet his renown as a thinker and critic grew rapidly, with the essays of Testaments Betrayed (1992) and an elegant study of the meaning of the novel, The Curtain (2005).

Boyd Tonkin

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little