The Kristeva Case: Reading Between the Lines of the Police Archives
For historian Sonia Combe, one should not take at face value the documents accusing the Bulgarian intellectual Julia Kristeva of having been an honorable correspondent of the regime.
By Sonia Combe
Translated by Patsy Baudoin
The accusation that Julia Kristeva collaborated with communist Bulgarian intelligence services ought to remind us of the difficulties of interpreting a police file, all the more when it comes from a political police. It requires being familiar with police vocabulary, having knowledge of the purposes and methods of these services - so many keys to reading that are often lacking when "revelations" are announced. It will be remembered that when the Stasi archives were opened in the former GDR, several people were denounced by zealous accusers because their file started with the sentence "X received us politely", until it is noticed that this was a ritual sentence found at the beginning of most reports of attempted recruitment. One could well imagine that this was the truth, because assuming that the intelligence services introduced themselves this way - which was not always the case - the person they were contacting was probably not going to show them the door. Had anyone done that, it probably would not have been recorded in the report. The political police was satisfied with closing the file without dwelling on its failures.
Before interpreting these documents, certain points need to be considered, among which the main ones are: Under what conditions did the "informant" inform? Did he know whom he was talking to? Did he understand that he was a source for the political police? Is he blackmailed? Assigning a pseudonym to the "source" is not proof that he has accepted to become an agent. It is only proof that an attempt was made to recruit or put him under surveillance. Even if the recruited person accepted using a pseudonym, like the GDR author Christa Wolf (1929-2011) did, one still had to read about why she was recruited and about the content of the information she had provided.
When she was contacted in 1959 to inform on writers about whom she, Christa Wolf, working for a publisher, might detect a "negative disposition" toward the regime, she warned them that they would have to seek the advice of others since she was not sure she was always objective. When she was to meet in an "unmarked" apartment, as was the rule, she objected that it would be much more pleasant to meet at her home. Finally, she refused to not tell her husband about these meetings, as she had been asked to do. Which caused the Stasi officer to write in his first report: "It seems that she does not understand what is expected of her ..." Indeed, she provided some literary expertise of no use to the Stasi, then moved to another city and her file was closed: she was of no interest, as was stipulated at the closing of this pretty meager file.
On the other hand, her own surveillance file remains one of the largest of Stasi victims’. The journalist who discovered the Christa Wolf file did not bother with such "details." It was a time of denunciation, and he held someone important, the most famous author in the GDR, with whom they had a score to settle: had she not opposed the reunification? Victim this time of a media lynching, Christa Wolf eagerly tried to explain, nothing worked, the damage was done.
The Czech, Milan Kundera, also later faced denunciation, but it would not long resist an analysis of the facts. He emerged a little better off than Christa Wolf did, and the complexity of the situation, often the basis of such suspicions, was, in his case, quite quickly cleared up. Now it's Julia Kristeva's turn to face this type of accusation.
Before deciding who was an informant and an informer - an extremely serious charge since, in the absence of freedom of speech, statements contesting the regime could lead to prison in the GDR as in Czechoslovakia or in Communist Bulgaria - precautions and rules are needed. They are, however, far from being respected, beginning with the presumption of innocence, which must accompany any accusation, and which seems to have been put aside. Nobody asks about the authenticity of the document or about the context of its fabrication, which are the only ways to avoid the trap of a hasty interpretation. It is taken at face value. The aura of the police archive is such that we forget that it can also be a source of misinformation, or even never deliver what are called its "secrets."
Le Monde, 05.04.2018, p.23