By: Keith Miles
Milan Kundera the celebrated Czech writer wrote in the French magazine ‘Debats’ in November 1983 an article called ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’. This was published in English in April 1984 in New York.
Milan Kundera is an interesting man because he was initially as a young man an idealistic believer in communism. He was born in Brno, Moravia, Czechoslovakia, in a fairly well-to-do family and like many young people in that country, and in Slovenia for that matter, who had very little experience of pre World War Two society fell for the communist propaganda and joined the communist party as a young man. He was expelled from the Party in 1950 as a result of ‘anti-party activities’. In his first book The Joke he used this experience so that the book has an element of autobiography. He returned to the Party in 1956 but was expelled again in 1970s after the Russian/Warsaw pact countries invasion. He left the country for France in 1975 when the Czech authorities were happy to get rid of any difficult Czech intellectuals. Of course there are many similar examples of those idealistic communists who discovered to their cost the true nature of communist society. Angela Vode is a Slovene example, as is Joze Pucnik.
The article ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’ is well worth reading in the context of the current situation in the EU with the Visegrad countries, and in the context of a Russia that is flexing its muscles. Kundera perceptively explains that the countries of Central Europe are fully part of western culture but for a time became in the minds of Western Europe during the Cold War as part of Eastern Europe. In the very first paragraph he quotes the despatch from a Hungarian patriot during the 1956 uprising against the communist regime, when the Russian tanks were attacking Budapest, as saying ‘We are going to die for Hungary and Europe’. (It is to be noted that Tito in the end supported Soviet intervention in Hungary).
Kundera saw that Hungary and Czechoslovakia and Poland were part of Europe that was deeply connected with Roman Catholic Christianity. Although he did not mention it Slovenia and Croatia fit this description too. He saw that historically there was a drive by the Soviet Union to pull the newly enslaved countries of Central Europe into the Russian sphere under the banner of pan-Slavism and this was trying to draw them into the Russian Orthodox Byzantine culture.
He understood that this could not work not least because ‘communism deprives nations of their essence’ and he noted that in fact it had this effect on Russia itself. He says that the changes after 1945 for the small nations of Central Europe were both an attack on their civilisation and a ‘political catastrophe’.
Kundera identifies the fact that after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Central Europe was composed of small weak nations and in the case of the Poles there was an existential struggle by the Poles for survival as a nation.
The main area of conflict of understanding is that these small nations of Central Europe see Europe as a cultural entity and this brings them into conflict with the EU Empire ambitions of the French-German hegemony.
In France the small nations inside their borders have virtually ceased to exist as nations. Bretons and Basques are recognized but Provençal people and others are linguistic minorities rather than nations. The same is true of Germany where at one time Prussians and Bavarians were separate nations, and the Sorbs never achieved true nationhood for Lusatia.
So it is not surprising that the Visegrad group (Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary) are beginning to react to Brussels domination. Logically both Slovenia and Croatia should join this group and there should be a Treaty of cooperation similar to the Elysee Treaty and Aachen Treaty that exist for France and Germany. Of course anyone looking closely will probably conclude that these two treaties form the core of French-German domination and control of EU policy.
If the Visegrad group had a similar treaty to coordinate their policies you will hear the shouts and squeals of Brussels about factionism from the Straits of Gibraltar to Lapland. But it will give these four nations (or six if you include Slovenia and Croatia) real influence.
Do read Kundera’s article ‘The Tragedy of Central Europe’ with fresh eyes.
Keith Miles is an academic, retired financier and publicist. He is the honorary president of the British-Slovene Society. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in philosophy (MA) and has worked as a financier and auditor in both the public and private sectors for more than 40 years, mainly in the UK.