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Czechia had pride in writer Milan Kundera

Hořovice, CZECH REPUBLIC – The work of the incredible novelist Milan Kundera, who died this month at 94, is well-known worldwide.

But the only place where Kundera is also celebrated as a fighter for a democratic system and as one of the most vocal voices calling for the end of Communism is his home country, Czechia.

Yes, we Czech people know he had been living in France for a long time, precisely because of the Communist regime here in Czechoslovakia in the second half of the 20th century.

But we get very upset hearing the French say that Kundera was French. No, he was not. He was always proud to be Czech and this feeling is easily recognizable in almost all of his art.

Born in an eastern Czech city called Brno in 1929, the expectations were that Kundera’s life would be all about music. His father was a musicologist, so Kundera had a sense of music in his blood and might have been actually very successful as a musician. It is not clear how it happened, but he eventually ended up studying at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.

After graduation, young Kundera focused on literature.

Surprisingly, his first poems were strongly pro-communist. As an 18-year-old, he joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. But he questioned the regime more and more and was expelled in 1950, after just three years.

The Joke, his first book criticizing the Communist Party, was published in 1967 and banned in Czechoslovakia a year later.

In 1973, his second book, Life Is Elsewhere, came to light first in French, which convinced Kundera to emigrate to France in 1975. From there, he could freely inform the world about the terror caused by communism, not only in his home country, but all around the world.

The most popular novels and essays Milan Kundera wrote include The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, published in 1979, and what many say is his best work, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, published in 1984.

In 1979, Kundera’s Czech citizenship was revoked by the Communists and he became a French citizen just two years later. It was seen as a big symbolic act when he was given his Czech citizenship back after 40 years, in 2019.

Kundera received many awards and honors during his life and was even a candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature – a great achievement even though he did not win it.

Czech people are proud of Milan Kundera despite the fact that he found a new home in France and wrote the majority of his novels initially in French.

Therefore, his death on July 11 made headlines both in Czechia and France. But tributes went beyond these two countries. The European Parlament, held a moment of silence in memory of this late, great novelist with Czech roots.

Renata Pernegrová is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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