Different opinions of Communism
When the Russian Army suppressed the Prague Spring in spring 1968, all of the hopes of the CSSR for a socialistic reform died. It was at this time that all of the self-appointed communist heroes emerged to realize their ideal of “socialism with a human face”. It was not necessarily criticism of the system, which led to the revolution, rather the regime of conformist thinking. Consequently, most of the intellectual critics were persecuted and arrested. The government, which was under Russian influence, declared all of these people as enemies of the socialist system. To stay alive, there was no other choice than to flee the country in exile. In his novel “The Ignorance,” Milan Kundera talks about the consequences of living in exile. His story deals with flight, homelessness, nostalgia, return, and passion.
In 1969 Irena and Josef, independent of each other, escaped from the CSSR. Josef fled to Denmark, and Irena to France. They both adopted different lives, but never found a real home. After the iron curtain fell, the so-called “peaceful revolution”, Josef and Irena both made their way back to their home country. The experience of their return was bitter, as they had become strangers in their own country. No one was interested in the stories that they had to tell. People considered them emigrants who still belonged in exile.
In Czechoslovakian history, twenty-year time spans are important. From 1948 on, the CSSR was, for the first time, running under communist leadership. Twenty years later, in 1968, Alexander Dubcek became the first secretary of the CSSR, a great supporter of the Prague Spring and socialistic reforms. Almost another twenty years later, in 1989, the communist system broke down. Kundera utilizes the twenty-year symbolism in his novel, as it was significant in his personal life as well. He was expelled from the communist party the first time in 1950 because of individualistic tendencies, and the second time, a mystic twenty years later, in 1970, because his books were publicly prohibited.
In the novel, Kundera not only establishes Gustav, but also Josef as Irena’s senior. The age difference between Josef and Irena plays a big role in their relationship. They come from different generations, which is essentially why they cannot be together. The twenty-year symbolism continues as Irena and Josef recognize that they would only fit in their home country again when they were willing to completely forget the twenty years that they had spent in exile; they would have to ignore the lives that they had lived in their surrogate countries. They would have to sacrifice almost one fourth of their lives for a country they had abandoned once due to political reasons. No one understood his or her rationale for escaping from the country twenty years ago. Life had gone on for the Czechoslovakians who had stayed in the CSSR, as it certainly had for Irena and Josef in France and Denmark. They had experienced different situations for twenty years, which could not be erased from their lives. Their experiences, in turn, made the gap between their past and present lives even larger, preventing a quick reassimilation after the Iron Curtain fell.