Vol 2, No 12
27 March 2000
Č U L Í K ' S C Z E C H R E P U B L I C:
Hitler's Mein Kampf in Czech:
Books are still being banned in Europe
Last week, a Prague publisher brought out a new Czech edition of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, the work summing up the beliefs and the political programme of the German dictator, which was later implemented in Hitler' s Third Reich. The publication of Mein Kampf in Czech has brought all-round condemnation from Czech commentators, public figures and politicians. Germany has also protested and will try to suppress the Czech edition. It is obvious from this that Central Europe has still not grasped the concept of the freedom of the press and does not realise that anti-democratic views cannot be fought by administrative measures in a democracy.
The full Czech edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf was published on 21 March, 2000 by the Prague publishing house Otakar II. The publisher, Michal Zítko argues that he has printed the work as a historical document, not as a work by a "contemporary fascist". Zítko says that he decided to publish Mein Kampf in Czech because he had become very angry when he heard a Czech Communist MP say that Communists were democratic. "I really worry that the Fascists will also say they are democratic, so I after publishing Hitler's Mein Kampf, I will publish Karl Marx's Das Kapital, so that both sides would come to their own and would understand that they cannot lie to us."
Originally, Zítko did not expect a large demand for the Czech edition of Mein Kampf, although he seems to have printed some 10,000 copies. With the exception of tabloid bestsellers, most books, published in Czech, now sell very few copies. According to Milan Jungmann, a Prague literary critic, the average printrun for works of contemporary Czech fiction is now 400 copies. There are serious problems with book distribution in the Czech Republic. At first, Zítek was told by a book distribution firm that he was unlikely that more than 800 copies of Mein Kampf in Czech. Since the publication of Mein Kampf has now provoked such controversy, it is very likely that many more copies will be sold.
Early last week, Zítek told journalists that he felt Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was out of copyright. He was aware of the fact that the publication of Mein Kampf is disallowed in Germany, but allegedly found that "there are no restriction on publication in other countries".
This information seems to have been incorrect. The German authorities have pointed out that the state of Bavaria apparently holds the copyright for Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf for all countries of the world except the United Kingdom and the United States and it has recently used these rights to prevent publication of the work in several countries. Bavaria has managed to prevent the publication of Mein Kampf in Sweden, in Croatia and in Turkey. In some cases, according to information from the Bavarian Finance Ministry, the Bavarian authorities have forced the publisher to pulp the printed book.
Even in the Czech case, said the spokesperson of the Bavarian Finance Ministry, Bavaria would do its utmost to prevent the dissemination of Mein Kampf in Czech. The German Embassy in Prague asked the publisher Michal Zítko on 23 March, 2000 to stop the dissemination of this work. Zítek said that he was not going to comply with this request "It would be interference with the sovereignty of the Czech state," said Zítko. "My main argument is that Germany, which has banned Mein Kampf, has the largest number of neo-Nazis in Central Europe."
Most Czech politicians and commentators have condemned the decision to publish the Czech edition of Mein Kampf. Many of them have also expressed regret that the edition does not contain any commentary or an introduction. As if the Czech public could not make its own value judgments about the "quality" of the work and would need to be told how to think by "specialists". Zítko says that he would have like to include a commentary in the book, but allegedly no Czech historian felt competent enough to write one.
To ban or not to ban?
Controversially, according to Czech law, it is a criminal offence to disseminate Nazi and Communist ideology. Commentators have pointed to the fact that publisher Zítko may have infringed this law. Czech politicians and commentators are uncomfortable with the concept of free movement of ideas, especially if these ideas are thought to be detrimental to democracy. Under Communism, people were expected to praise Communism, and, anti-Communist ideas were banned. Czech politicians and commentators do not seem to understand that in a democracy, people are not required to praise democracy and that anti-democratic ideas cannot be banned.
A number of politicians in the Czech Republic are shocked that Zítek decided to publish Mein Kampf. Thus Jiri Payne, an MP for Klaus's Civic Democratic Party, said that he would study the work in detail and would consider whether to initiate legal proceedings against the publisher. Jitka Kupcová, a social democratic MP and Chair of the Czech Parliament's Legal and Constitutional Committee, also said that the publication of Mein Kampf in Czech was "absolutely unsuitable and incorrect".
On the other hand, Czech lawyers are sceptical about whether the publisher could be accused of a criminal offence. Aparently, it would have to be proven that the book has been published with the intention to disseminate ideas of racial or national hatred.
A quote from a comment by Ondrej Neff, the editor of the tabloid internet newspaper Neviditelny pes, which was published on Friday 24 March, demonstrates how remarkably narrow-minded some Czech commentators can be:
Censorship Vs democracy
I have argued in Britské listy on Friday, 24 March, 2000 that the amount of shock, felt both in the Czech Republic and in Germany over the publication of Mein Kampf in Czech is surely inappropriate. It stems from a subconscious (proto-totalitarian?) desire to control all life around us. Why should we be upset by the existence of controversial or even disgusting views around us? The fact that they exist - that is the essence of pluralism. We cannot control all the views in society. Attempts to do so are somewhat foolish - one is reminded of the aging Czech pop-singer Karel Gott, who was so upset by a criticism, published in a Czech newspaper recently, that he decided not to take part in a music event in Germany. His argument seemed to be: unless you ALL, UNCONDITIONALLY LOVE ME, unless you ALL, UNCONDITIONALLY HOLD THE SAME VIEWS AS I DO, I will not cooperate, I will withdraw and sulk in a corner. But it is unrealistic to expect that everyone will conform to conventional views.
Surely democracy must give space to all possible views. Democracy will flourish if we make sure that a lively, hard-hiting, rational debate takes place in between all existing views. It will not flourish if we try to ban those views that we do not like.
On Friday 24 March, 2000, Vít Novotný argued convincingly in Britské listy for freedom to publish even "unsavoury views":
(...) We should know the arguments of Nazi sympathisers and racists so that we could fight them. Zítko is right in saying that we should be able to condemn Nazism on the basis of first-hand information, that Mein Kampf should cease being a "mysterious and mythological work". The booksellers who sell Mein Kampf are not any more degenerate than those booksellers who sold textbooks of Leninism before the fall of Communism in 1989.
(...) The publication of Mein Kampf is not an 'insult to all honest people', just as it is not an insult to store Marxist-Leninist texts in Czech libraries. I hope no one will decide now to destroy all the Marxist-Leninist literature, held by Czech libraries, for fear that the immature Czech citizens might, under the influence of reading such stuff, wish to repeat the 1948 Communist coup d'etat and again set up labour camps for antiCommunists. Not only students, but even "ordinary citizens" can now still go to the library in the Czech Republic and borrow books by Lenin or Gottwald [a Czech Stalinist CP leader]. I hope that nobody decides, within the framework of the struggle against the dissemination of fascism and Communism, to remove all works by Stalin from Czech libraries, to burn all copies of [Communist daily newspaper] Rudé právo or to start inspecting private flats and arrest anyone who might be in possession of such works.
Unfortunately, the burning of these books would be in line with the logic of the current absurd provisions of the Czech criminal law which ban the dissemination of "dangerous ideas". We should get rid of the illusion that by banning some ideas we will persuade people to change their political views. The Czech version of Mein Kampf should be freely available not because, as Prague lawyers say "it might be difficult to prove that the publisher has committed a criminal offence", but because the government has no right to limit freedom of speech.
Czech politicians and the Czech police would do much better if instead of looking for the publishers of anti-Semitic and racist rags they consistently protected members of religious and ethnic minorities from personal assault by skinheads. We should not limit freedom of speech if the attack is not directed against concrete individuals. In concrete cases, however, we should punish all the personal attacks which have a racial motive. Victims of racist or anti-Semitic acts will not be helped if the state banns Mein Kampf or if the police arrests a group of skinheads, demonstratively using the Nazi greetings in public. Romanies, Jews, blacks and Pakistanis need assurance that they can freely move about the streets of Czech towns and villages. The unwilling Czech police and the indifferent Czech politicans have not helped them very much in this so far.
Jan Čulík, 24 March 2000
The author is the publisher of the Czech Internet daily Britské listy.
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