Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A reply to Professor Koch from Heidelberg University

Dear Professor Koch,

A fortnight ago I invited you to my ‘Three days in Prague devoted to philosophy’. You replied that it is a pity, but that you have forgotten where we had met [leider habe ich vergessen, woher wir uns kennen]. You apologize with an exclamation mark [Verzeihung!] asking me to give you a helping hand and jog your memory [Helfen Sie mir doch bitte auf die Sprünge]. And then you ask in brackets: (Why have you invited me to your lectures? [Warum haben Sie mich zu Ihren Vorlesungen eingeladen?]) In the same bracket you add: ‘I live in Heidelberg, not in Prague’ [Ich wohne in Heidelberg, nicht in Prag.]

To answer your question: You specialize on Kant, and Kant is one of my themes.

In my invitation I wrote: ‘My invitation is similar to the invitations I sent in 1978 to Oxford, Harvard, Heidelberg and West Berlin Universities.’ This of itself should explain why I should like to see in Prague a philosopher from Heidelberg University. But there is more to it.

In 1966 I gave a talk on the Marxist-Christian Dialogue at Heidelberg University. Big posters announcing it were everywhere to be seen, the lecture-room was packed. It was a great event.

In 1977 I opened a philosophy seminar in Prague for young people excluded from higher education, like my son Lukáš, simply because their parents were engaged in Prague Spring of 1968. In the spring of 1978 I invited to my seminar academics from Oxford, Harvard, Heidelberg and West Berlin Universities. I sent the invitations by post, but I contacted as well Helmut Clemens, the Head of the Prague ARD office, and asked him to communicate my invitation to Heidelberg and West Berlin Universities. He did so; not long afterwards he told me that the Rector of Heidelberg University was pleased to receive my invitation and was interested in coming to my seminar; he would soon write to me himself.

Clemens asked me for permission to film my seminar as part of an hour long TV program to mark the tenth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. I agreed. My seminars were on Wednesdays. I asked him to bring all his equipment on Tuesday evening to my flat, after dark, and to come on Wednesday at 7.20 p.m., about twenty minutes after the beginning of the seminar. When he came on Wednesday with his crew, I asked those, who wanted to be filmed, to stay, but those who did not, to go behind the bookshelf screen that divided the room in two.

And then all hell broke loose. Among those who stayed were two sons of Ludvík Vaculík, one of the most prominent dissidents, the main organizer of the Samizdat Petlice, in which everything important in Czech literature of the 1970s was published. He came to beg me to ask Clemens to withdraw the seminar-scene from the program. I told him I would do so, if the majority of those who had been filmed would agree. They wanted it to be screened. Helmut Clemens paid the price. The ‘Chronik der ARD’ says:

CSSR weist ARD-Korrespondenten aus [CSSR expels an ARD corrfespondent]
Ohne Begründung [Without explanation] entziehen die Behörden der Tschechoslowakei dem ARD-Hörfunk- und -Fernsehkorrespondenten in Prag, Helmut Clemens vom HR, die Akkreditierung [the Czechoslovak authorities withdraw the accreditation from Helmut Clemens, the ARD Radio and Television correspondent from HR] und weisen ihn aus [and expel him]. ARD und HR protestieren vergeblich gegen diese Maßnahme [ARD and HR protest in vain against this measure], die vermutlich mit einer von Clemens geplanten Fernsehdokumentation über den 10. Jahrestag der gewaltsamen Beendigung des "Prager Frühlings" am 21.8.1968 in Zusammenhang zu bringen ist [which is presumed to have been taken in connection with Clemens’ planned TV document concerning the 10th anniversary of the violent suppression of the ‘Prague Spring’].

I saw the new Head of ARD only once, in the Autumn of 1979. Those were the days when two policemen were sitting day and night behind the door of my flat. And so I was really excited. ‘It must be something very important,’ I thought. I hoped he was bringing me the long delayed message from the Rector of Heidelberg University. At that time I was not aware that the whole matter was by then already monopolized by Oxford University.

Not quite, I had to go first. And so I was invited by Oxford and Cambridge Universities, but I would not go, as long as my seminar was running. The Czech Secret Police had to fulfil their part; they destroyed my seminar by brutal force. And so Roger Scruton could later report in ‘A Catacomb Culture’ (published in the Times Literary Supplement, February 16-22, 1990): ‘The publicity-conscious Tomin then emigrated and … Kathleen Wilkes, Alan Montefiore, Bill Newton-Smith and myself … We decided that, although our purpose was charitable … it should not be openly pursued, and that we could henceforth best help our Czechoslovak colleagues working secretly.’

But back to the new Head of ARD; he came to ask: ‘What can you tell me about your brother Marian?’ – ‘Why do you ask me about my brother?’ – ‘He emigrated to the West.’  I told him I knew nothing him: ‘The only way I could protect my brothers from the Secret Police was to sever all contacts with them.’

After I came to Oxford, my brother contacted me; he had emigrated to Britain via Yugoslavia. His emigration had nothing to do with Germany. On whose behalf did the new ARD man come, if not on behalf of the British MI 6?

In the Easter Holidays of 1981 I visited my friends in West Berlin; I used the opportunity to visit the Philosophy Department at the Free University. I was received by Professor Tugendhat: ‘Didn’t you have something to do with the Philosophy seminars in Prague?’ were his first words.’ – ‘Yes, I had’ – ‘I’m asking, because I am going to Prague.’ – ‘But Dr Kenny, the Master of Balliol, told me, just before I left Oxford, that the foreign visits would stop; the British Foreign Office has become unhappy about the turn of events concerning the seminars.’ – ‘Roger Scruton wrote to me and told me that he ironed it all out. Shall we go into a park? I should like to discuss a few things with you concerning Roger’s letter.’ And so we went into the park. ‘Roger sent me money for the Czechs. I am to stay in the Hotel Meteor and give the money to the Receptionist.’ – ‘In the Hotel Meteor?’ I asked. ‘Two prominent dissidents worked there as stokers; this on its own would guarantee it to be a Secret Police stronghold. When I was still in Prague, a journalist from Island, a lady, came to visit me. This was obviously something she was not supposed to do; she stayed in the Hotel Meteor. In the following night there were four men bushing on her door. She dressed up and went to the Reception to complain; those four men followed her and stood provocatively behind her as she was complaining. The Receptionist laughed: “Lady, what are you talking about? I don’t see anybody standing behind you.” When Roger Scruton tells you to give the money to the Receptionist at the Hotel Meteor, it is perfectly safe for you to do so. But if I were you, I would give it directly to those, whom you are going to visit.’

My scholarly controversy with Oxford and Cambridge philosophers has been about the dating of Plato’s Phaedrus, which I have dated as Plato’s first dialogue in agreement with the ancient tradition. But it was the work of German classical philosophers that ‘established beyond any reasonable doubt’ the late dating of the dialogue. And so I sent the first paper I wrote at Oxford on that theme, ‘Socrates in the Phaedrus’, to a few German philosophers. One of them wrote to me that he could not even consider my dating of the dialogue: ‘I feel as if I had drunk the late dating of the Phaedrus with my mother’s milk.’ Those words have become engraved in my mind, for they brought me back to the Soviet invasion of 1968. I asked a Russian soldier: ‘Why have you come  here?’ – ‘To protect you against counter revolution.’ – ‘Have you seen anywhere any counterrevolution? Can’t you see that it is all propaganda?’ – ‘I sucked this propaganda with my mother’s milk,’ the soldier replied.

In 1997 the ‘First Symposium Platonicum Pragense’ took place in Prague, and the Czech Platonic Society was founded on that occasion. It was decided that the International Symposia would take place every two years, the Czech Symposia in the intermediary years. In 1998 it was decided at the Czech Symposium that the Third International Symposium would be devoted to the Phaedrus. But the Second International Symposium was opened with Aleš Havlíček announcing: ‘At the end of the Symposium we shall have to decide whether to choose the Phaedrus or the Protagoras for the next International Symposium.’ I was surprised, but did not say a word. At the end of the Symposium Aleš announced: ‘It has been decided that the next International Symposium will be devoted to the Protagoras.’ – And so I asked, how it had happened: ‘It was decided by the Czech Platonic Society that the theme of the Third International Symposium should be the Phaedrus.’ Havlíček wanted to answer in Czech. I did not allow it: ‘Answer in English, so that everybody can understand you.’ And so he sat down without answering my question. I then learned that the foreign participants threatened to withdraw their financial assistance if the Czechs insisted on the Phaedrus as the proposed theme.

The volume devoted to the Protagoras acknowledges: ‘Die Herausgabe dieses Werkes wurde aus Mitteln von dem Deutsh-Tschechischen Zukunftsfond gefőrdert.’ [The edition of this work was supported by the Czech-German Future-fund.’]

Since nobody from Heidelberg and Free Berlin Universities intends to attend my ‘Three days in Prague devoted to philosophy,’ I shall invite philosophers from other German Universities. My view on ‘Plato’s Parmenides in the light of Aristotle’s criticism of the theory of Forms’, which I shall present on the third of my ‘Three days in Prague’, is as controversial and as alien to the thinking of German classical philosophers as my dating of the Phaedrus, to which it is closely linked. Will any German classical philosopher come and defend against me the institutionally accepted view on Plato’s Parmenides?


Julius Tomin

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