I’m shouting with the Ukrainian soldiers from Viper Island

We are watching the sacrifice of Ukraine live (since 2014). Aggression, war, arrogance of power. NO ONE is helping Ukraine. We are watching the failure of the European Union and European politicians. Russia and China have won. They have bought the world. We have shown that our values are shared with theirs. Their values? Business. Our values? Business. What is the value of human life? Human life cannot be quantified. I’m shouting with the Ukrainian soldiers from Viper Island: Go fuck yourself.

Illustration by Gosia Herba

Comment from 2015 (interview in: VašeLiteratura.cz, 19 June 2015):

Jiří Lojín: The current situation forced me to reread the conclusion of your book [A Contribution to the History of Joy], in which you depict, through Birgit Stadtherrová, a dramatic period in the life of Edvard Beneš and part of the diary of his interpreter. You portray Beneš as a weak intellectual, an aesthete, a coward and a man with strong narcissistic tendencies. We encounter this view very often. Do you think it is a realistic view, or does it reflect a typically Czech disrespect for authority and a complete lack of patriotism?

Radka Denemarková: Of course, we are not just the sum of our past. But we cannot escape anything from the past. The Ukrainians are now being used slavishly by the Czechs in our country also because the Ukrainians are “against the wall”. There is a war in their country and they feed their families. We do not have the right to rank with the Western world. We have sacrificed Ukraine. “Munich” [1938] sacrificed Czechoslovakia. But he believed it was to save the peace. We sacrificed Ukraine out of indifference. This is the condescending attitude towards Russian aggression against the until recently still neighbouring Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by the leaders of a country that has experience of both the Russian occupation and the Anschluss of “German” Austria and the subsequent secession of the Czechoslovak borderlands under the same pretext of protecting the minority there.

A realistic and finally unbending view. What patriotism are we talking about here? The term patriotism hides both primitive nationalism and chauvinism. The English proverb says that old sins have long shadows. Life stories are the thought constructs and frameworks of politicians and historians, which is why much is kept quiet. For me, 1939 is followed by a black hole and then 1989. The years between these points must be taken one by one under the magnifying glass and examined. It is necessary to sweep away the lies one by one from every day and night. It’s a delicate archaeology, with a broom in a shaky hand to plaster and glue together the fragile shards. There are no eyewitnesses. Survivors have mostly closed their eyes, unwilling to recall their past. A crowd of willing blind men.

After 1989, the ball began to unravel. Compared to Western countries, we had to get rid of the plague that swept the countries under the influence of the Soviet Union like an epidemic. Ideological lies. Lying was self-preservation, lying was the norm. After 1989, things had to be named. I’m not interested in mass abuse and mass murder, I’m interested in individual episodes of totalitarianism. They say the most about human nature. And if we don’t describe and clarify these “episodes”, we will never know who we really are.

Patriotism… Years ago, I didn’t understand the reaction to my books. It was as if in the Czech Republic my success abroad was seen as a betrayal. And it’s not talked about. That’s why the swallows in my novel A Contribution to the History of Joy have a different freedom in mind. The renunciation of all traditional views and traditional order: states, churches, organizations, means of power, money, weapons, education.

Jiří Lojín: Let me quote one of your sentences: why do I still feel that Beneš is more important for understanding the Czechs than Masaryk and Havel?

Why does Birgit Stadtherrová feel that way? Do you know that, since she has been part of you for so long?

Radka Denemarková: We are beyond literature, the political froth of the days… After 1989 we are still living in Bolshevik mud, wading in it up to our knees. Without any political vision. We don’t have any big themes in politics. And somewhere this alternating adaptation to the West or the East stems from. Beneš’s name is often spoken in the same breath as T.G. Masaryk, but they were different personalities. Just like Václav Havel. Both Masaryk and Havel were people with a sense of humour, full of interest in all aspects of life, no stranger to anything human, neither humour, nor awkwardness, nor passion. They were men of vision and spirit, not technocrats with economic and legal training.

In Beneš, complacency also plays a role. A complacency that is refined and refined. Which, figuratively speaking, needs a pipe in the corner of the mouth and a golf club in the hand. That’s what I’m interested in. What is petit bourgeoisie and what is the bourgeois syndrome. Andrej Babiš has said that he runs the party like a business. The most nonsense I’ve heard in a long time. A company is about transparency and profits. Politics is about the state. And life is colourful, politics is the art of compromise. Will such a man corrupt himself? Politics that is incapable of thinking in some historical context, or in the solidarity that is the basis of the international community, ceases to be politics. We are then “like” a state. That we don’t have statesmen, I know, but that we don’t even have politicians anymore is appalling.

If only all this male lecturing and history-telling would disappear, if only language would disappear. There cannot be a new world without a new language. Because language preserves all the shames and disgraces of yesterday. In the text A Contribution to the History of Joy, the addition about Beneš creates a “balance asymmetry”, a concept that the Slovak art historian Monika Mitášová, who also deals with philosophy, brought me to through architectural theory. As well as to the notion of the “clarity of the labyrinth”. Neither words nor literature can be embalmed; it is not yet born. Literature has to show that it does not lag behind music and painting, even if it stumbles over words. To immerse the reader in the story, to submerge him under the surface. Some drown. Some just stir up the sludge. And some emerge sprinkled with living water.

Read more

Radka Denemarková: Čemu nerozumím, si chci pokaždé propátrat literárním světem. Interview by Jiří Lojín. VašeLiteratura.cz, 19. 6. 2015.