Julia Kristeva is one of the 20th century’s most famous female intellectuals who has won numerous gongs and awards for her contributions to linguistics, philosophy, psychoanalytics and semiotics. She was part of the top-level French philosophical clique that included Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. She was also, it is alleged, a spy for the Bulgarian Communist government’s foreign intelligence division.
The accusation emerged in March, when the (deep breath) Committee for Disclosing the Documents and Announcing the Affiliation of Bulgarian Citizens to the State Security and Intelligence Services of the Bulgarian National Army issued a document saying that she had been a spy from 1971-73, during her time in the Paris intellectual scene. Kristeva denied the allegations, so they published the full 270-page file from the archives of the First General Department of the State Security bureau, responsible for foreign political intelligence. Kristeva continues to deny the allegations.
She dismissed the dossier as ‘fake news’, calling the allegations ‘mud being slung at me’. ‘These allegations are completely false’ she added, ‘I find it quite extraordinary that the commission, which read these allegations, never thought that the secret services could have been lying.’ While some of her readers were shocked by the news, given Kristeva’s explicit opposition to all ‘totalitarianisms’ that she perceives, this overlooks her support for numerous authoritarian Communist states, including endorsing the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In short, Kristeva was an outstanding intellectual who was extremely talented at identifying underlying assumptions and prejudices in arguments or lines of thinking, but like everyone (including me) she harboured some pretty contradictory views and rarely turned her critical eye onto those contradictions.
However, no amount of impressive literary theory makes any difference to the simple historical question of whether the dossier is real and therefore whether she was a spy. I cannot read Bulgarian so I cannot do a full analysis but it says that she was first approached in 1965 just before she left Bulgaria to go to Paris. She was asked if, should she become useful to them later, whether she would provide information and Kristeva agreed. She was formally recruited in 1971 and for the next two years informed on various people in the French intellectual scene, as well as any random Bulgarian nationals she happened to meet.
The majority of this information was, in practical terms, useless. It provided Bulgarian intelligence with nothing actionable, and only offered insight into a social scene that had very little relevance for them, if any. In 1973 they decided that Kristeva’s pro-Maoist views were making things too difficult and that she wasn’t provided any important information. While she was formally dropped, they maintained some sort of contact with her for another five years, according to reports in the file.
Some have expressed doubt about the ability of even an intelligence service to fabricate an extensive dossier. Others have pointed to the surveillance on Kristeva as proof she was being spied on, and not a spy herself. Neither of these arguments are convincing to me because a skilled forger can produce almost anything, and the documents were released in PDF format and very few have seen the paper originals. No assessment of their authenticity has been done. Likewise, all spies are spied on by their parent agencies, whether they are fully paid up employees or agents or assets in the field. This is especially true of covert sources who aren’t being paid, and whose commitment and loyalty are considered questionable.
There is also the question of why someone would go to the trouble of faking a 270 page dossier that basically says she was a spy for a short time and provided no information of much importance to anyone. It’s not like she’s being accused of spying on France’s nuclear program or infiltrating NATO. Yet Kristeva’s denials have been vociferous and have mostly consisted of vague counter-accusations that unnamed people are up to something nefarious. She has refused to address the rather inconsequential allegations posed by the dossier’s existence and has simply branded it a forgery. Someone as intelligent as Kristeva is knows that this is a weak argument that reeks of deflection.
From all this I conclude that the dossier is probably authentic, though it is interesting that, if she was an informant for the Communists, it appears the CIA didn’t know. The only reference to Kristeva in CREST is in an edition of Propaganda Perspectives – what appears to be a regular internal CIA publication in the early 1970s, almost a regular diary of Cold War events and analysis of their likely consequences. It refers to the Czechoslovakian government crackdown of late 1971 and early 1972 which saw hundreds of critics arrested. Kristeva’s name was among those who signed a statement published in Le Monde and other papers criticising the government and to ‘contribute to banning silence about the fate of the victims of repression’.
Kristeva’s somewhat schizoid politics – at once criticising a repressive government and supporting its repression by another government – leave open the possibility that, for a fairly brief time, she was a spy for a repressive Communist government. Indeed, it is for largely political and psychological reasons, and not the evidence itself, that Kristeva’s fans and supporters are denying the allegations. To admit it would be to admit an ugly truth that the Left would mostly prefer to ignore – that many of those who criticise oppression are more than willing to participate in it when the power dynamic is reversed. Bizarrely, Kristeva is precisely the sort of Leftist intellectual who did confront such unpleasant truths, but like all humans she is (perhaps) unable to confront it in herself.
Bulgarian Intelligence file on Julia Kristeva
CIA memo on French Left’s opposition to Czech government crackdown