OPINION

Betrayal

We might never learn if Milan Kundera really did rat on a compatriot who spied for the Americans and then spent 14 years in a Czech jail. From his books, it seems possible that the young Kundera may have committed such a crime. His early work is a successful mix of bitter humor and satire, melancholy lyricism and rage against a totalitarian system that destroys lives. Humor, anger and melancholy befit a person who knows his own guilt as well as his society’s. With his cynical view, Kundera pilloried his country’s communist regime mercilessly. The revelation of his so-called betrayal by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes may never be confirmed – and Kundera has furiously rejected the claim – but its shadow will stay with him. Just two years ago, another giant of letters, and an even stricter judge of his compatriots, Guenter Grass, revealed that in his youth he was a member of the dreaded Schutzstaffel (SS). Although verdicts varied in the press, Grass’s image as his fellow Germans’ remorseless judge took a heavy blow. His confession looks like an effort to come to terms with himself after a lifetime of attacking the hypocrisy of others. It is human nature that those who break the bonds of the tribe, society or their own code of honor return with terrible tales – and the need to tell them. «I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never have become a writer but for Joan’s death,» William S. Burroughs wrote after accidentally shooting his wife dead in 1951. «The death of Joan brought me into contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.» Betrayal – the pain of both traitor and betrayed – breaks through the limits of feeling and ethics. The traitor learns what it means to fall, to be imperfect and becomes one with those who hurt, who do evil, who have evil done to them. He becomes a part of his time: In a dictatorship, he becomes a snitch, or he fights snitches. Or both.