The Persecution of Jiri Grusa

A.J. Liehm, translated by Tamar Jacoby

On June 1, ten years after the Soviet invasion, the Czech government arrested Jirí Grusa, who is, according to his older colleague Pavel Kohout, probably the most talented Czech prose writer to have appeared since the war. It seemed at first that Grusa was only one of the dozens of Czech intellectuals arrested on the eve of Leonid Brezhnev’s visit to Prague, and that like the rest he would soon be released. But the Czech authorities, perhaps encouraged by the example of the first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, decided differently. Jirí Grusa was put under close surveillance. He was released at the end of July, but is still awaiting trial. The warrant for his arrest, issued by the Administration for Investigation of State Security, and dated June 2, stated that

Jirí Grusa…is accused of the crime of initiating disorder. The facts prove that in 1974, for reasons of hostility toward the socialist Czech regime, he wrote a novel called The Questionnaire which contains grave calumnies against socialism and the Czech social system. He himself made nineteen copies of this work and distributed them to his friends. He sent three more copies to Switzerland, in the hope that the novel would be published there…signed: Chief of Instruction, Captain J. Skoblík.

That was the crime. The punishment could be three years in prison.

A delegation of dissident writers, made up of Václav Havel, Karol Sidon, and Ludvík Vaculík, tried immediately to intercede on Grusa’s behalf with the president of the Czech Writers’ Union, Josef Rybák. He refused to speak to them, explaining, “The Union is concerned only with its own members [who are carefully selected for political reasons]. Talk to the police. I have nothing to say to you.”

Since this attempt to intervene directly, a group of more than twenty Czech writers—including the internationally known Ivan Klíma and Pavel Kohout, Ludvík Vaculík, and the national artist and poet Jaroslav Seifert, who has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize for literature—has distributed an open letter which begins with the following description of the incriminating book:

“The hero of the novel,1 who is looking for work in a large business, is asked—as one always is here—to fill out a questionnaire about his past, his character and his political attitudes. Unlike many people, the hero gives serious attention to the inane questions of the typically stupid questionnaire, and he tries to answer them.2 The novel is thus his long response to the rather perverse questions that certain authorities ask of people: Where do you come from? Who was your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather…?

“The hero begins an introspective search that leads him to wonder about even his genes. He tries to remember what kind of substance he is made of, and what form that substance took before World War I and World War II and even the Austro-Prussian War of 1886. Grusa writes brilliant prose, and he is concerned here with his favorite subject:…

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