Dissidence Police

In a guest column at Mobylives, Renata Dumitrascu questions Ismail Kadare’s right to call himself a dissident.

In accepting this year’s Man Booker International Prize, Albanian writer Ismail Kadare criticized people from ex-communist countries who claim they were not allowed to be writers by the repressive system. He contemptuously declared “The people entitled to speak about that period are the people who did something and not the people who kept silent and have retrospective nostalgia.”
There is a lot of similarity between Kadare’s rhetoric and that of other self-styled “dissident” writers from the communist period in Eastern European countries: a need to cast themselves into false roles of national anti-totalitarian heroes, when in fact, most of them led lives of privilege during the worst repression and continue to do so.

Michael Orthofer, of the Complete Review, disagrees:

These words [as quoted by Dumitrascu] are not — as implied — from the speech he made accepting the prize, but rather from comments made to the press (see, for example, this report) — and they don’t appear to target actual silenced writers, but rather poseurs.

Orthofer concedes that Kadare sounded a bit full of himself on accepting the International Man Booker Prize, but he says:

His insistence on a focus on literature rather than politics is obviously the only way for him to go (given his all-too-regime-friendly behaviour and privileged status). Given the alternatives — exile or silence (imposed, one way or another, by the all-powerful regime) — the path Kadare chose doesn’t seem the worst alternative. Sure, he’s not a poster-child for opposition to a horrible wrong, but as far as fellow-travelling goes, there’s an argument to be made that his form was justifiable.