Culture & Society Czech Republic News

Milan Kundera’s Czech citizenship restored after four decades

Prague, Czech Republic – Czech literary master Milan Kundera, who’s been living in France for more than 40 years, has had his Czech citizenship restored.

Milan Kundera once again Czech citizen after four decades

In an interview with French daily Le Figaro, Czech ambassador to Paris Peter Drulak announced that the country had decided to restore Milan Kundera’s Czech citizenship after more than forty years.

Calling it a “very important symbolic gesture, a symbolic return of the greatest Czech writer in the Czech Republic”, Peter Drulak also said that he handed Kundera, 90, his citizenship certificate in person on November 28, in presence of the world-famous writer’s wife, Vera Kundera.

Prague’s envoy in the French capital noted that, considering Milan Kundera hates the “ceremonies and the pathos”, it was “a very simple moment, but of great conviviality and human warmth”. “He was in a good mood, just took the document and said thank you”.

Citizenship revoked forty years ago by Czechoslovak authorities

In November 2018, Prime Minister Andrej Babis had already mentioned the possibility of restoring Milan Kundera and his wife’s Czech citizenship after meeting them in Paris. “It was a great honour for me’, the Premier said at the time.

Arguably the most famous Czech writer alive and widely seen as one of the most influential authors in Czech and Central European literature, Milan Kundera, born in Brno in 1929, was expelled from the Communist party in the 1950’s and fled then-Czechoslovakia in 1975. He received French citizenship in 1981, two years after his Czech nationality was revoked by the communist authorities, who banned most of his books throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Having reached worldwide fame with novels like ‘The Joke’, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’, Milan Kundera published in 1988 his last book in Czech, ‘Immortality’. He has since then been writing his novels and essays directly in French, including his latest 2014 novella ‘The Festival of Insignificance’.

A French or Czech writer?

“Do I consider my life in France as a replacement, a substitute life, and not a real life?”, Kundera told New York Times reporters back in 1984. “Do I say to myself: ‘Your real life is in Czechoslovakia, among your old countrymen’? … Or do I accept my life in France – here where I really am – as my real life and try to live it fully? I chose France,” he said.

He has also often argued that his books and literary work should be considered part of French literature, a position that has put him at odds with many of his countrymen.

Having lived in Paris for the past several decades, Kundera first went back to his homeland in 1996, and has, since then, reportedly made several incognito trips, staying out of the spotlight and never speaking to journalists. Every year, his name is being floated as one of the main contenders for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Whether French or Czech, Kundera is one of our very own favourites, here at Kafkadesk. To get a glimpse of the depth of his literary universe, check out our own literary critic’s analysis of his work.