A European in phrase and deed

Antonín Liehm, the founding father of Lettre internationale, handed away on Friday 4 December in his native Prague. He was 96.

Few folks have accomplished extra to bridge the hole between Europe’s east and west, a minimum of intellectually, than Antonín Liehm. When the primary French version of the European journal Lettre internationale was revealed in 1984 – adopted by the Italian Lettera Internazionale the 12 months after, the Spanish Letra Internacional in 1986 and the German Lettre Worldwide in 1988 – western-European writers and students not solely may however needed to begin participating with mental life behind the Iron Curtain.

Antonin Liehm (centre) (l-r) André Lange, Kirill Razlogov, Liehm, Michel Ciment (Competition des movies interdits, Moscow, January 1991). Supply: Wikimedia Commons

The connection between intellectuals within the east and within the west was ‘uneven’, as Frank Berberich, editor of the still-successful German Lettre, put it in a latest interview. One of many fundamental motivations behind Antonín Liehm’s cross-border, multilingual and translation-centred initiative was to make that relationship extra mutual.

The truth that this European publishing community didn’t survive the closing of the French mom journal solely ten years later takes nothing away from the achievement. Quite the opposite, the publishing historical past of Lettre reveals how cultural and mental endeavours are crucially depending on extra than simply nice concepts. Antonín Liehm knew that higher than anybody.

He was solely 21 years-old when he co-founded Kulturní politika in Czechoslovakia in 1945. Firstly of the Nineteen Sixties,  he grew to become the editor of Litérarní noviny. Below his reign, the previous Stalinist publication of the Writers’ Affiliation began publishing texts beforehand unthinkable beneath the communist regime. Circulation soared, reaching an unimaginable 130,000.

In these days he labored with Ludvík Vaculík, Milan Kundera, Pavel Kohout and Ivan Klíma. Whereas many would describe Liehm as a seminal determine within the Prague Spring (a time period that he may need been the primary to use to the political occasions of 1968), he all the time insisted that the dissidents of the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties – Václav Havel and others – belonged to a special technology. They’d their very own journals, as he poignantly put it in a dialog with Roman Léandre Schmidt.

After the hopes of the Prague Spring had been dashed, Liehm left Prague for Paris. He taught movie at universities there and within the US, earlier than he may lastly understand his plans of a brand new journal in 1984.

He was 60 when the primary subject of Lettre internationale got here out. Modelled on what he had accomplished with Litérarní noviny 25 years earlier, there was nothing prefer it in western Europe. It introduced collectively the divided continent marked by the Chilly Battle: a typical European discussion board for mental debate.

However it was simply as arduous to maintain the challenge alive because it had been to boost the cash to start out it. In 1993, in a speech held in entrance of European bureaucrats and fee representatives in Brussels, Antonín Liehm declared that he was uninterested in operating after individuals who although they might assist financing his transnational endeavour, didn’t perceive why they need to. He was about to show 70 when he introduced that Lettre worldwidee could be cancelled.

Some 15 years later, in Could 2009, I spent most of the twenty second European Assembly of Cultural Journals within the firm of Tonda, as he was known as amongst pals. These spring days have been pleasantly heat, however he was not in significantly good well being, so we both very slowly walked the streets of Vilnius, or sitting in taxis, tried to bridge the brief however nonetheless difficult distances between the convention venues.

On the way in which to the presidential palace, the place he was to ship the keynote, Antonín leaned over to me within the again seat of the taxi, whispering: ‘By no means get previous, Carl Henrik. It’s not value it.’

It was clear that he meant what he mentioned. And but, when he addressed the Eurozine community from the podium in that spectacular reception corridor – within the presence of the host of the night, the Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus – the 85-year-old publishing legend managed to pep extra vitality into the viewers than any of us may have. The problem for a youthful technology of cultural staff, he mentioned, was to type a world physique that united all fields of inventive exercise, from music to theatre to publishing. ‘When that monster opens its mouth’, he mentioned, ‘politicians must take notice.’

After which he acquired concrete. ‘It’s one factor to dream, to have concepts. All of us have them,’ he declared. ‘However then comes the uninteresting work, the each day grind, which can not have a lot to do with massive concepts and grand cultural, philosophical or social tasks, however simply organizing and getting folks collectively who need to hold their concepts alive. This gruelling work is probably not terribly attention-grabbing – we favor to maneuver in a subject of desires, concepts and artwork and sweetness – however we should not neglect it.’

Antonín Liehm’s ‘each day grind’ speech grew to become a continuing reference for these of us concerned within the journals community Eurozine on the time. A guideline. And the perception it communicates is not any much less legitimate in the present day. If these paying courtroom to the thought of a typical European public sphere would stroll their speak, and have been ready to place in a minimum of a few of that ‘gruelling work’, then Europe could be a really completely different place. No less than intellectually.

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