The Make-Believe State

  Lately the media have been ringing alarm that Iceland is going bankrupt and that is has become the first victim of the global economic crisis. I follow the news with great amusement. I am no economist or politician, I write books. Two of them were written in Iceland where I lived for over 10 years. I studied at the university there. I had a very honest professor teaching the course on the history of Iceland, who never tried to convince us that Iceland was the seventh richest country in the world, that its króna was a super currency and […]

Crime in the circles of power

It’’s rarely good when my country makes world news, except about sport. Last week a car exploded in downtown Zagreb. It happened a couple of hundred metres from the parliament building. In this typical mafia execution, two people were killed: the publisher/journalist Ivo Pukanic and one of his employees. Why should the deaths of these two men be reported around the world? It is a symptom of something much bigger and more serious, of long-standing criminal activity going unpunished. The bomb was met by a frenzy of statements by Croatia’s politicians, the president declaring dramatically: “Now it is either them […]

It’’s too late now

My life began in the Reichsprotektorat Böhmen und Mähren and I am likely to end my days in the Czech Republic.  As it happens, at the start and at the end of my life there it was an entity from which Slovakia has been cut off. However, the majority of my life took place in Czechoslovakia. Does that make me feel a Czech or a Czechoslovak? I would say that things are more complicated, especially in my case. Let me explain. My grandfather on my mother’’s side was a Ukrainian. His name was Žyla and he was the grandson of […]

What do Hungarians and Slovaks mean to each other? / Dossier

In both countries have extreme right-wing forces have been inciting hatred of national minorities. Political scientist Miroslav Kusý finds attacks on the Slovak side completely irrational and points out that for a thousand years Slovaks were part of Hungary: We share more history with the Hungarians than with any other country. (this article is also available in Hungarian here.) What is homo intellectualis to do in this situation, asks Rudolf Chmel, Czechoslovakia’s last Ambassador to Hungary and Slovakia’’s Minister of Culture between 2002 and 2005. According to Rudolf Chmel, he should tell politicians what he thinks of them: I have long maintained […]

Our Success Story

  I was in Žilina the other day at the opening of the 5th Literature Festival. During a discussion someone asked me how I see the splitting up of Czechoslovakia today. I said I regard the birth of an independent Slovakia as a success story of Czech policies. My joke make the audience smile. But really, it has only just dawned on me. It was definitely the result of Czech policies – and what is wrong with that? Nothing, meaning it is a success story. Back in 1992, when I first heard talk of the split, it made me very […]

The Ballad of a country called Czechoslovakia

Nothing lasts forever and countries are no exception. They emerge and vanish. These days they vanish by separating into their previously delineated territorial parts, they vanish by splitting. What this indicates is that the international community does not want to accept the creation of entirely new borders. Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia as it was called in its last incarnation, no longer exists as a state, its two constituent parts having gone their separate ways. It continues to live, however, as a locus of memory and as such it deserves our attention. It inspires us to ponder the destinies of Central European linguistic nationalisms […]

A miracle

  Viewed from Poland, Czechoslovakia has always been a kind of miracle.Between the two world wars it was the only democratic country in our part of Europe. I am familiar with the critical views on the part of Polish historians and writers as well as with some of the works by Slovak and Czech historians. The Poles were upset that arms shipments were not allowed to pass through Czechoslovak territory during the Polish-Russian war and that the Zaolsze/Zaolší border region was annexed by Czechoslovakia. The Slovaks complained of Prague’’s centralism and discrimination against their nation by the Czechoslovak government, as […]


I am grateful to Respekt  for insisting on being the one to air my views and not letting in any other media publish my answers to the questions relating to Milan Kundera’s  guilt or lack of guilt. I do have a lot to say on the subject, for Zdeněk Rotrekl and I are the only two surviving authors of those who served time under the communists. It is if the two of us who have been at odds with this ideology all our lives, were now the only ones who can determine what took place fifty-eight years ago. But what this is really […]

The Generation of Forgetting

We were sitting on the terrace of a traditional literary institution in Berlin admiring the view of Lake Wannsee. Somewhere on the other shore was the building where seventy years ago top Nazis, in a matter of just few hours, hatched  out a plan for annihilating a whole nation. Did you serve in the army? an Israeli literature professor asked me.  No. None of my friends have done military service.   I fought in the war with Egypt.  Would you fight for your country?  I’ve never thought about it. Probably, yes. No. I don’t know….  I was dodging the answer. Maybe […]

Under fire

It was one of the great hopes after the fall of Communism that the problems of the East European and East Central European national minorities would be eased and their rights asserted, without the nation-states feeling that this would be a threat or a humiliation to them.To this promise was linked the hope of European federalism, that withering away of physical borders which the liberal Romanian foreign minister Nicolae Titulescu (1883-1941) promoted in vain between the two World Wars and which seemed to be about to be realized through the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union. In fact, […]