The Joke

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Date: 1968

Region: Europe

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature


Kundera.jpg

Artist: Milan Kundera (b. 1929)

Confronting Bodies: Czechoslovak authorities

Date of Action: 1968

Location: Czechoslovakia

Description of Artwork: The Joke is the tale of a young communist party official who sends a postcard to his girlfriend. On it he writes the joke, "Optimism is the opium of the people! The healthy atmosphere stinks! Long live Trotski!" For this he is found to be an enemy of the state, expelled from his university, and sentenced to work in the coal mines.

The Incident: The Joke was published in 1967, but after the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968, it was banned completely. Not only that but Kundera was expelled from the Communist party, kicked out of film school, had all his works confiscated from libraries and bookshops, had his plays banned from theaters, and was forbidden to travel to the West, although he relocated to France in 1975.

Results of Incident: In 1969, Kundera worked with American publishers to make an English translation. Although the English version managed to keep the parts about the oppression of writing in eastern Europe, Kundera was disappointed that they did not follow his use of punctuation and reflect his writing style. Not until 1992 was an English version that satisfied him published.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Ed. Derek Jones. Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.