In one of his books, my friend Josef Skvorecky tells a true story. Several years ago, an engineer from Prague was invited to a conference in London. So he went, took part in the proceedings, and returned to Prague. Some hours after his return, sitting in his office, he picked up Rude Pravo – the official daily paper of the Czech Party – and read the following: ‘A Czech engineer, attending a conference in London, has made a statement to the Western press which is slanderous to his socialist homeland, and he has decided to stay in the West.’

Illegal emigration combined with a statement of that kind is no trifle. It would be worth about twenty years in gaol. Our engineer can’t believe his eyes. But there’s no doubt about it, the article refers to him. His secretary, coming into his office, is horrified to see him: ‘My God, you’ve come back! I can’t understand – have you seen what’s been written about you?’

Our engineer has seen fear in his secretary’s eyes. What can he do? He rushes to the Rude Pravo office. He finds the journalist concerned, who offers his excuses, saying that, yes, it is a really awkward business, but that he, the journalist, has nothing to do with it – he got the text of the article direct from the Ministry for the Interior.

Soul and Body
A Kidnapped West or Culture Bows Out