ABSTRACT

This chapter is concerned with Milan Kundera’s famous essay, ‘A Kidnapped West or Culture Bows Out’, which first appeared in 1984. Kundera’s essay is considered in the context of the Reagan/Thatcher/Kohl years. In it Kundera explored culture and politics, the culture of politics, the politics of culture, how culture reflected national life, and the connections between these issues and identity. His main theme was the death of East-Central European culture through Soviet domination and, through that, the death of European culture as a whole, perhaps even the death of Europe. Kundera wrote the essay as an obituary, as if the death had already taken place. It was designed to upset and provoke. The chapter examines the mythical elements of Kundera’s ‘Central Europe’, its diversity and its unifying elements. Rather than regard the essay as a museum piece, the chapter reflects on Kundera’s lasting and unresolved concern with the impact of totalitarianism – communist, Nazi and capitalist – on European identity and culture.