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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 4 chapter 2)

2006-08-22 20:21

  2

  It was a program about the Czech emigration, a montage of private conversations recorded with the latest bugging devices by a Czech spy who had infiltrated the emigre community and then returned in great glory to Prague. It was insignificant prattle dotted with some harsh words about the occupation regime, but here and there one emigre would call another an imbecile or a fraud. These trivial remarks were the point of the broadcast. They were meant to prove not merely that emigres had bad things to say about the Soviet Union (which neither surprised nor upset anyone in the country), but that they call one another names and make free use of dirty words. People use filthy language all day long, but when they turn on the radio and hear a well-known personality, someone they respect, saying fuck in every sentence, they feel somehow let down.

  It all started with Prochazka, said Tomas.

  Jan Prochazka, a forty-year-old Czech novelist with the strength and vitality of an ox, began criticizing public affairs vociferously even before 1968. He then became one of the best-loved figures of the Prague Spring, that dizzying liberalization of Communism which ended with the Russian invasion. Shortly after the invasion the press initiated a smear campaign against him, but the more they smeared, the more people liked him. Then (in 1970, to be exact) the Czech radio broadcast a series of private talks between Prochazka and a professor friend of his which had taken place two years before (that is, in the spring of 1968)。 For a long time, neither of them had any idea that the professor's flat was bugged and their every step dogged. Prochazka loved to regale his friends with hyperbole and excess. Now his excesses had become a weekly radio series. The secret police, who produced and directed the show, took pains to emphasize the sequences in which Prochazka made fun of his friends-Dubcek, for instance. People slander their friends at the drop of a hat, but they were more shocked by the much-loved Prochazka than by the much-hated secret police.

  Tomas turned off the radio and said, Every country has its secret police. But a secret police that broadcasts its tapes over the radio-there's something that could happen only in Prague, something absolutely without precedent!

  I know a precedent, said Tereza. When I was fourteen I kept a secret diary. I was terrified that someone might read it so I kept it hidden in the attic. Mother sniffed it out. One day at dinner, while we were all hunched over our soup, she took it out of her pocket and said, 'Listen carefully now, everybody!' And after every sentence, she burst out laughing. They all laughed so hard they couldn't eat.

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