NEW YORK — On Aug. 2, 1914, Franz Kafka wrote in his diary: “Germany has declared war against Russia. In the afternoon, swimming.” Kafka, the reclusive and visionary Central European writer, gave his name to the 20th century. Seventy-five years had to pass before Kafka’s swim before Central and Eastern Europe would return to the broader European civilization. A Kafkaesque pause, some might say.
Central and Eastern Europe was never only a place of right and left dictatorships, of ethnocentrism and xenophobia, of perpetual and frozen conflicts, as some now caricature it. It was also the birthplace of a spiritual heritage, of thinkers and artists, of a specific mode of creativity and search for meaning beyond pragmatic negotiations with daily life.
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