The unbearable lightness (or weight) of European history

A panel discussion on the relevance of Milan Kundera’s works in today’s geopolitics

There are plenty of reasons to read the books of Czech-French author Milan Kundera. An essay from the New York Public Library points that, “Kundera's witty experimental style gives us some of that rebellious woomf enriched by inimitable irony, metaphysical reflections, and philosophical mind games.” We read Kundera because we want to be him, or at one time in our lives, we were Kundera. The article continues, “We read them because we do not want to be told what to do—because we despise being told what to do.”

Milan Kundera’s early works bear the stigma of the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968. In August of that year, Soviet tanks rolled into the country to repress the Prague Spring, a brief period of greater political and cultural freedom that challenged the leaders of the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War.

The Embassy of the Czech Republic, the Embassy of France in the Philippines, and the Alliance Française de Manille will be holding an in-depth discussion on Milan Kundera’s works titled, “The Unbearable Lightness of European History: Czech-French Writer Milan Kundera on the Trauma of Foreign Invasion.” The event will take place on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Alliance Française de Manille.

Adéla Gjuričová (Czechia), Nicolas Tenzer (France), and Sarge Lacuesta (Philippines) will be examining Kundera’s work to address the questions of individual experience in the face of tragedy, patterns in European history, and the “struggle of man against power, which is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” This forum may also put a historical context to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

A senior researcher at the Institute of Contemporary History at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, Adéla Gjuričová focuses on politics and society during the late socialist era, the 1989 revolutions, and post-communist transformations in Central Europe. She is the head of the Institute’s Political History Department and of the Working Group on Parliaments in Transition. In addition, Adéla leads the “City as a Laboratory of Change,” a large interdisciplinary project within the Strategy AV21 scheme of the Czech Academy of Sciences. She is a co-author of the books Divided by the Past: Political Identities in the Czech Republic after 1989, The Life-Worlds of Members of Parliament, 1860-1990, and The Return of Parliament: The Czechs and Slovaks in the Federal Assembly 1989-1992.

Nicolas Tenzer is a senior civil servant as well as an academic and public intellectual. His current interests and writings are focused on political risk analysis, European issues, Russia and Ukraine, disinformation warfare, the Middle East, US foreign policy, human rights, and corruption. He is a graduate of the École normale supérieure, Sciences-Po Paris and the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) and has a Master's degree in history. Since May 2021, Nicolas has been the editor of Desk Russie, a newsletter on Russia and the countries of the post-Soviet space and the chair of the connected NGO A l’Est de Brest-Litovsk.

The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything. —Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Nicolas is a former adviser to the French Minister of Economy and Finance. He was an investigator at the Court of Auditors and Head of Department in Strategic Planning Commissariat (Prime Minister’s Office). He also served as head of a special mission on international issues for the French government, and has led several missions for international organizations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Algeria, Ukraine, Montenegro, Egypt, Serbia, Haiti, Morocco, and Jordan.

Sarge Lacuesta has written several books, including five short story collections, two non-fiction books, and a collection of graphic stories. He has participated in many writing residencies, fellowships, festivals and conferences in the Philippines and abroad, and is a board member of the Philippine Center of PEN International. Sarge has won several awards for his writing including three National Book Awards, the NVM Gonzalez Award, numerous Palancas and Philippines Graphic Awards, as well as the inaugural Madrigal Gonzalez Best First Book Award. His most recent book is the novel JOY, published by Penguin Random House SEA in 2022.

Mediating the event will be AA Patawaran, author of books Write Here Write Now, HaiKu and Other Poems, and Manila Was a Long Time Ago. He is also the lifestyle editor of Manila Bulletin.

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