Books in the dock


Two books published recently in this country - one a couple of years ago and the other at the end of last year - raised very strong reactions among the lay and expert public. In 2000, a Prague-based publishing house put out a new Czech-language edition of Adolf Hitler's notorious book "Mein Kampf". This created uproar in the media, and publisher Michal Zitko received a three-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of two million crowns for spreading fascist ideas. Last year, the Supreme Court annulled the verdict but Mr Zitko is to stand trial again in mid-June on different charges. In the meantime, another book was published by an Olomouc-based publisher, called "Taboo in Social Science". Its author, 32-year-old psychologist Petr Bakalar, elaborates among other things on the relation between race and intelligence. Mr Bakalar is also facing legal action. Today we take a closer look at the two books that have so often been compared by Czech press.

Political analyst Zdenek Zboril from the Institute of International Relations is the country's leading expert on extremist movements. He was asked to write an expert opinion on the Czech edition of "Mein Kampf" for the court proceedings.

""Mein Kampf" was first published in the Czech language in full translation two years ago. In fact, it's for us a document now. The book by Mr Bakalar is a very different book. It looks like a scientific book but, in my opinion, it's a compilation of a few English and American authors. Mr Bakalar quoted more than 450 books, but in fact it's based on no more than six. And as I said, "Mein Kampf" is an ideological document which has been published without a critical distance from the historical source, and the book by Mr Bakalar is a book in which it is possible to find a hidden, more intensive, interest of the author concerning the problems of racism, anti-Semitism and eugenics."

To a lay reader, Petr Bakalar's "Taboo in Social Science" looks like a serious academic work, full of references and charts. Critics say that its scientific appearance is a great danger of the book. Political analyst Zdenek Zboril says, though, that he believes few of the most vocal critics have actually read either of the books, and he also suggests that judges dealing with such cases are not informed and educated enough to come up with an independent opinion.

"People don't know much about either. For example, the fifteen reviews of "Mein Kampf" by historical institutes and historians focused on the problems of the history of Nazism and not an analysis of the text. On the other hand, it was a problem of the Supreme Court which did not accept the accusation of the publishing house in relation to current existing neo-Nazi or Nazi movements. The book of Mr Bakalar has about 400 pages and the people who came up with the comments or analyses did not even read it. In the whole of Prague I know only two men who read it and it's a horrible job to read it. But on the other hand, they put into these texts their own interpretations of the book. And in my opinion, it's a great problem - people are afraid, it's clear. They worry about some new similar anti-Semitism and racism which is a problem among some young people between the age of fifteen and twenty-five, and on the other hand [critics of "Taboo"] are afraid of a more sophisticated interpretation of this text by somebody unknown, and the possible appeals which are in the contents of this book."

Following a district court ruling, the distribution of "Mein Kampf" was banned two years ago and the rest of the print-run confiscated. But there was a certain inconsistency in those measures. At the time when police were confiscating the books and newspaper editorials took turns in defending the freedom of the press on one side and condemning the publisher for his "outrageous" act on the other, "Mein Kampf" was still displayed freely on the shelves in certain bookshops without anyone raising an eyebrow. Which bookshops were they? No illegal neo-Nazi dens, nothing of that kind - but foreign-language bookshops. I spoke to Jasmina, an assistant in one of Prague's English-language bookshops.

"We sell "Mein Kampf" in English. It is a book with an introduction by Professor Donald Cameron Watt and it has like a historical explanation of the book. We have been selling it for a few years. We don't sell that many copies. The book has a historical introduction and people don't think of it as some propaganda, it's just like a regular history book. It is available in bookshops in Britain where it is published, it is not forbidden to buy it."

The British publisher Pimlico puts out a new edition of "Mein Kampf" every other year and around 3,000 copies are sold every year in the UK. You can also get hold of the book legally in Russia, Romania and the United States. Hitler's manifesto is not available in Germany, Israel, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland and Hungary - where it was published and consequently banned in 1997. In Sweden publication has been forbidden for copyright reasons, and the Hungarian authorities banned the English version, issued by Pimlico, as well.

While the infamous Czech edition has a rather tacky black hard cover, featuring a golden eagle and a swastika, and lacks a respectable foreword, the English translation looks just like any other paperback and certainly would not appeal to anyone who is primarily interested in the symbolic value of the text. I asked Jasmina from the bookshop just what kind of people bought "Mein Kampf" there.

"We don't have a specific profile of who is interested in it, so I wouldn't be able to specify. I have to say it's mostly younger people or people with a university degree, I would assume."

So not neo-Nazis...?

"No, not at all. We haven't had anybody like that even coming to the bookshop."

The Czech translation of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was first banned on the grounds of "supporting or promoting a movement that aids the suppression of the rights of man." Last summer, the Supreme Court rejected the verdict as the prosecution was not able to specify which movement it was. But publisher Michal Zitko has been charged again on different grounds. Mr Zitko maintains his innocence, saying that he only wanted people to see for themselves the destructive nature of Hitler's ideology. The court files say that Michal Zitko's chief motivation was financial profit.

Petr Bakalar, photo: CTKPetr Bakalar, photo: CTK Within two weeks of the mid-February release of Petr Bakalar's "Taboo in Social Science", a lawsuit was filed to halt the book's publication. The author, too, rejects a racist label and says that one of the motivations for writing "Taboo" was annoyance. "I was annoyed with the conformist nature of Czech social science and by political correctness," says Petr Bakalar and adds that "political correctness and science cannot go together." His primary interest, Petr Bakalar says, was that of a scientist.

"It was above all my academic interest. Also I intended to uncover a certain impotence of our social scientists, and I think I succeeded in it. I say in the book that social sciences have been and are to a great extent subject to ideology. There are only few facts and theories independent of the ideologies, based purely on empirical findings - and I tried to challenge this. But of course, now I am being accused of being ideological."

Critics of "Taboo" say the book presents racist and antisemitic ideas and Mr Bakalar uses quotations in a manner which suits his intentions. The 300-page book, which is presented as scholarly research with about 400 footnotes, presents theories suggesting that intelligence is based on race and ethnicity. The Olomouc-based publishing house Votobia printed 4,500 copies of the book and almost sold them out within one week. Michal Zitko managed to sell 93,000 copies of "Mein Kampf" before the remaining 10,000 were confiscated by the police when his prosecution started.

Tomas Jelinek, the chairman of the Jewish community in Prague, described Petr Bakalar's book as being more dangerous than Hitler's "Mein Kampf", saying it could become a manual for Czech racists and anti-Semites. Does political analyst Zdenek Zboril think that books such as "Taboo in Social Science" could really encourage someone to racial hatred and racist acts?

"Only indirectly. It doesn't look like a scientific book but it has the style of a scientific book. It is very difficult for such a youngster to read it. But the other book, "Mein Kampf", could give some new impulse to neo-Nazis. But not through a reading of the book - they usually don't understand the historical context - but probably as a book or text of cult. "Mein Kampf" was not only a book for reading but it was published in more than forty editions in Germany as a book of "cultus" of some new hero or a new god. And this could stimulate some people to more intensive activities and to a new form of anti-Semitism."

Although the level of anti-Semitism is generally considered to be quite low in the Czech Republic, it is no reason to lose vigilance. On the other hand, the two controversial publications are but books - one of them a historical document now, and the other a compilation of perfectly legal sources. As political analyst Zdenek Zboril says, books are not guns and there is a great distance between a word and an act. He suggests that perhaps distribution of such documents should be somehow limited and there should always be an explanatory note, putting such works in context, as is practiced in some other countries.

The two cases have been given a great amount of publicity in this country - which some say might be counterproductive. Zdenek Zboril says that every new generation has to find their own attitude to Nazism and the atrocities of WWII, and perhaps that's something a wide public debate on issues such as this might facilitate.