Thursday, January 5, 2017

Another futile appeal?

This morning I wrote to Jakub Jirsa, the Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Religion at the Faculty of Arts (Filosofická fakulta) at Charles University in Prague:

Dear Mr Jirsa,
Allow me to bring to your attention the recording of my discussion with Dr Štáhlavský, which was broadcasted on the Czech Radio on the 7th of December. You can listen to it on
Dr Štáhlavský created a very good atmosphere for our discussion, for he was clearly interested in what I had to say about the importance of Ancient Greek literature and philosophy for a healthy cultural development of our nation, allowing me to express my conviction that every generation should find an authentic access to the cultural treasures of the Ancient Greeks. He was clearly convinced that his audience would be equally interested in it. I should greatly appreciate it if you listened to the recording, thought again about my offer to present the two papers on Plato at your Institute, which I wrote in the Czech Republic during my stay there in February of last year, and revised your rejection of the offer.

Allow me to use this occasion to present to you a letter I wrote to President Gorbachov on the 3rd of April 1989:

Dear Mr Gorbachov,
May I use the opportunity of your visit to Britain to express support for glasnost and perestroika in your country, and to protest against the lack of both in Czechoslovakia? In an attempt to give my support and my protest more weight, I shall begin on Wednesday, the day of your arrival, a ten-day hunger-strike.
The lack of glasnost and perestroika in my country is for me not a matter of academic concern. In 1981, while visiting Oxford University to devote my time to Ancient Philosophy, I was deprived of my citizenship. The law which made this possible had been enacted in 1969 in consequence of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries. The responsibility for the decision therefore falls on the Soviet Union as well as on the Czechoslovak authorities.
Would you join the voices of hundreds of British students and academics who in recent years have petitioned the Czechoslovak authorities to restore my citizen’s rights?
In the summer of 1977 I held a seven-day hunger strike in support of basic religious freedoms. A few months later I defended, by a ten-day hunger-strike, the philosophy seminar that I had opened for young men and women deprived of higher education because of their parents’ participation in Czechoslovakia’s attempt to bring about socialism with a human face – I was being summoned to the police headquarters every time I held the seminar. My third, twelve-day hunger-strike was held in 1978 in support of the right to visit a friend: the police were ‘guarding’ day and night Ladislav Hejdánek (a leading Charter 77 signatory), banning everybody except his family from entering his flat.
When my citizenship is restored, I shall use the expert knowledge in my academic field acquired during my stay in Britain to the benefit of my country. My ambition is to open at Charles University in Prague an International Center for the Study of Ancient Philosophy where academics from Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and other East European countries would regularly meet their colleagues from Britain and other Western countries to maintain our common cultural roots.
The case, which I bring to your attention concerning an individual, bears on the rights and freedoms of all Czechs and Slovaks.
With best wishes,
Julius Tomin

My plan to create an International Center for the Study of Ancient Philosophy at Charles University, of which I write in my letter to Gorbachov, must sound ridiculous in a situation when I am not allowed to present two papers on Plato at Charles University. This is why I am asking you again: please, rethink and revise your rejection of my offer. I have devoted fifty years of my life to the study of Plato, and my work on Plato is still going on. The latest series of entries on my Blog has been devoted to Anthony Long’s and Richard Sorabji’s objections to my dating of Plato’s Phaedrus.

Wishing to you and to all Members of your Institute all the best in the year 2017,
Julius Tomin

PS The readers of the Daily Telegraph were informed about my letter to President Gorbachov by R Barry O’Brien on April 5, 1989.

I must confess I set great hopes on my letter to Gorbachov and my hunger-strike. I wrote about it to Margaret Thatcher, and the Daily Telegraph informed its readers about both my letters. I held the hunger-strike in Swindon in the Beehive Public House, in which I had held three lectures in 1988-9. Duncan Watt, whom I met as a bright student of philosophy during my lectures at Leeds University, organized ‘The Restore Tomin’s Citizenship Campaign’ during my hunger-strike. I was visited by people from the BBC Television (or was it ITV?) and we agreed that they would come with their cameras when I end the hunger-strike. I started the hunger-strike in the morning of April 5 and ended it in the morning of April 16. But there came no cameras, no further information about my hunger-strike in the press. What happened? Let me quote the Wikipedia:

“The Hillsborough disaster was a human crush at Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield, England, UK, on 15 April 1989, during the 1988–89 FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. With 96 fatalities and 766 injured it is the worst disaster in British sporting history, The crush occurred in the two standing only central pens in the Leppings Lane stand, allocated to Liverpool supporters. Shortly before kick-off, in an attempt to ease overcrowding outside the entrance turnstiles, the police match commander chief superintendent David Duckenfield ordered exit gate C to be opened, leading to an influx of even more supporters to the already overcrowded central pens.

The next time the British Press became ‘interested’ in my work was in Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’ published in The Independent Magazine on November 18, 1989, a day after the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in my country. The article opens with the words: ‘The judgments passed by Oxford dons on Julius Tomin seem outrageously brutal. “I don’t wish to sound East European,” said one, “but perhaps he does need psychiatric help … But you can disguise paranoia in the East. There are so many real conspiracies. There aren’t the same excuses when you come to the West.” Younger philosophers, who do not have the personal ties, will go on the record. Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, impatiently brushed aside the suggestion that the Conservatives’ reduction in funding for British philosophy since 1980 might explain why there was never an academic post for Tomin at Oxford. “That’s not the point at all,” he said, “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job. He’s like a recalcitrant student who can’t admit he’s wrong.”

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