"The Last Czechoslovakian Marxist": An Interview with Egon Bondy

By Steinhardt, David L. | Monthly Review, October 1991 | Go to article overview

"The Last Czechoslovakian Marxist": An Interview with Egon Bondy


Steinhardt, David L., Monthly Review


Dr. Zbynek Fiser, better known by his pen-name Egon Bondy, lives with his wife in the picturesque southern Bohemian village of Telc. An ancient archway overlooks all visitors to the town and Bondy's flat is just next to it. His home sits outside the town's walls, much the same way he (nearly alone among prominent Czech dissidents) managed never to spend a night in jail unde the old totalitarian regime.

He is frail and invariably referred to as "old" by himself and others, though he is just barely the far side of sixty. His intellectual stamina remains enormous, however: He is currently overseeing the first legal publication of his political work in Czechoslovakia, a twelve-volume set of poetry, novels, plays, philosophy, and history. His reputation in several areas is great: Considered by many to be one of Czechoslovakia's greatest living poets, even Vaclav Havel so praised him some years back in the underground journal Revolver. His song lyrics enhanced the reputation of the pivotal, political Czech rock band, The Plastic People of the Universe (now, as "Pulnoc," set to release an album in the United States in October). He is an expert in East Asian culture and religious and never lost his mainstream academic credentials despite forty years of political dissidence. And in politics, he gained a worldwide reputation as an often lonely Marxist voice speaking out against the horror and stupidity ofthe Soviet-backed totalitarian regime that governed Czechoslovakia until the last days of 1989.

When I joined him in his study in late 1990 for a three-hour interview, he was surrounded by hundreds of handwritten pages of a "highly theoretical religious manuscript" to which he was planning to devote most of the next few months. He receives few visitors. I was fortunate to be introduced by a friend, and even then it took a pleading note to gain admittance to his study.

As he himself noted at the outset, his English is rusty. I have adjusted his grammar only to the extent necessary for clarity, preferring to leave his distinctive phrasing intact as much as possible. He often speaks passionately and I would not want to lose that to unnecessary editing.

It was a sunny September afternoon when we spoke. His study, the only downstairs room in a two-story flat, looks out on water.

His views are extremely controversial in Czechoslovakia. In separate interviews I conducted with Ivan Martin ("Magor") Jirous ("artistic director" of Pulnoc), Pavel Tigrid (since 1956 exiled publisher of the Paris-based, Czech-language journal Testimony), and Petr Uhl (chief of the official Czechoslovakian press agency), the word crazy was invariably invked concerning Bondy, perhaps because he still believes the Communist Party can play a progessive role in his nation's politics. They also agreed on the word brilliant.

He spoke of the economic system of "robbery" under the totalitarian regime (only Bondy would compare it with the ancient Chinese imperial gentry!), his dissatisfaction with Civic Forum, the history of the Underground, the non-role of Czech students in the revolutionary movement, Havel's rise to power through the human rights petition-cum-organization Charter 77, the threat of "international monopolist capitalism" comgin to Czechoslovakia (with its attendant poverty), his belief that Czechoslovakians have no interest in privatization, and his fears that his nation will be coopted into joining the imperialists' war against the Third World. Throughout our talk, he lamented the lost opportunity to remake true socialism out of the "postcapitalist" rubble of the Stalinist Czechoslovakian economy.

Egon Bondy: You must forgive my English. For forty years we were like prisoners--we were allowed no contact with foreigners. For example, if one held state office [such as in academial and a stranger asked you on the street, "Which way to the castle?" and you answered him, the very next day it was required to go to an office and fill out a form with lines and lines of questions. …

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