Quelle Surprise

This amused:

“This is astonishing!” say people in the responses underneath. Sure, a French-Bulgarian academic studying liberal arts in Paris in the 1970s turning out to be a die-hard lefty working for the communists is just incredible, isn’t it?

Now I have no idea who this woman is and perhaps she did or said things which had everyone believing she was a loyal follower of Hayek, Adam Smith, and Ayn Rand but I doubt it. Shit, even today it’s a fair bet most academics on Paris’ left bank are hardcore lefties if not out-and-out communists mourning the day the Eastern Bloc collapsed.

What will be interesting is whether these revelations will see her hounded out of polite society. I highly doubt it. She’ll be given a sympathetic interview with softball questions and with a smile and an airy wave of the hand the entire thing will be dismissed as happening a long time ago and it was all a bit of a giggle anyway. I doubt this will dent her social and professional standing one jot, at least in the west. The Bulgarians might think a little differently however, especially those who lost family members at the hands of the Bulgarian communists.

Whatever the case, she ought to be grateful she only collaborated with the security services of a brutal communist regime since the age of 30, and wasn’t a teenager working a telephone exchange when the Nazis were in town.


21 thoughts on “Quelle Surprise

  1. I cannot begin to imagine the value of having a spy who has only ever worked in universities. It is reminiscent of the fuss about Anthony Blunt except that he had actually worked for MI5 during WW2. It would be like learning that someone like Roger Scruton or ACGrayling or Germaine Greer was a spy. Why would anyone bother unless it was an attempt to subvert the university or education system?

  2. Kristeva is a Continental/postmodern bullshit artist, a fairly prominent member of the whole Derrida-Foucault-Lacan-Barthes set. So not that much of a surprise.

    These people forgive their own even if it turned out they worked for the Nazis (eg. Paul de Man). Working for the Commies will barely raise an eyebrow.

  3. Why would anyone bother unless it was an attempt to subvert the university or education system?

    Could it even be subverted, more than it already is? I always suspected the lefties in western academia were a lot more keen on socialism than even their KGB handlers, who probably thought them somewhat deluded.

  4. Graeme, she moved in a lot of artistic and intellectual circles in Paris. While that may still not sound as useful as working for MI5 (and it isn’t), I expect the Bulgarians wanted to keep tabs on what was happening in those circles at that time, because a lot of influential leftist ideas came out of there.

    Also, the University system, even in Paris, was a lot less radicalised in 1971. There was still work to do, which has now largely been carried out.

  5. I always suspected the lefties in western academia were a lot more keen on socialism than even their KGB handlers, who probably thought them somewhat deluded.

    I bet they had a good laugh about it if they were in safe company.

    The irony of the whole thing is that a lot of academics saw Soviet Communism as a way for them to be relatively privileged, both politically and materially, compared to people they look down on. I can see from their perspective that they don’t think that the current system rewards their true worth as they see it, neither financially nor in terms of influence, and why they’d mentally contort themselves into supporting a horrific totalitarian system while denying its horrors.

    They thought they’d be in charge and ordering the bullets to the nape of the neck, rather than those receiving them.

  6. I’ve mentioned this before, but I spoke to a French guy at a party once who was very senior in EDF in the 1980s and 1990s. He said it was an out-and-out communist organisation. He found himself on VIP trips to the USSR, China, and North Korea where he visited nuclear facilities the technology of which had been, in part, supplied by people in EDF. He said in one top secret bomb-making facility in the USSR there were portraits of the Rosenburgs and other traitors hanging in the offices.

  7. The end of innocence! Julia Kristeva is big name in… I don’t know if there’s a proper term for her field of inquiry – let’s say she’s a celebrity in certain academic circles. She would have been a useful asset as an influencer and disinformation channel. But it’s a bit odd that she, the wife of a major French author, was recruited by a mere first lieutenant. Perhaps it is a hoax after all.

  8. ” Perhaps it is a hoax after all.”

    Or a deniable story to fend off one you don’t control that is closer to the truth (c.f. John Major’s strenuously denied affair with a No.10 caterer to spike th guns of the real story – that he actually was having an affair with Edwina Currie – still need mind bleach for that…)

  9. Or a deniable story to fend off one you don’t control that is closer to the truth

    So you think she might have planted the story that she worked for the security services of a brutal communist regime so nobody would find out a real scandalous story, such as her not being fully on board with the #MeToo movement?

  10. @Tim – there are plenty of people in that milieu who see nothing wrong with working for the bullet-in-the-back-of-the-brain brigade. Whereas not being #MeToo enough is beyond the pale.

  11. Sorry, désolé mon gars, I misgauged your sarcasm. Ees so easy to do on ze intartubes!

  12. Sorry, désolé mon gars, I misgauged your sarcasm. Ees so easy to do on ze intartubes!

    You’ve been in Switzerland too long, you’ve forgotten what humour is!

  13. Swiss joke (sounds best in dialect):

    “A Zürcher goes to Geneva and speaks French. A Genevois goes to Zürich and speaks French”.

    I’m here all week. Try the fish.

  14. “That’s the sound of my head hitting a wall.”

    Like the sound of my head when I was at a supermarket in the first blède over the border into France and the people in the shop didn’t understand the totally simple and descriptive Swiss French term for kitchen paper when I asked where it was… I had to remember what my French colleagues had called it.

  15. lefties in western academia were a lot more keen on socialism than even their KGB handlers, who probably thought them somewhat deluded.

    The KGB and the GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence and part of the Red Army) called such people “shit eaters”. I’ll leave you to puzzle out the meaning of the term.

    Vladimir Bogdanovitch Rasun who writes under the pen name of Victor Suvorov describes his time in the GRU in a book called Aquarium. Worth reading for the way that the GRU in particular operated in Western Countries and how they were promoted and rewarded for recruiting westerners. So a Lieutenant recruiting a high grade contact would not be unusual.

    Read about it on line here:


    And while the mood is on you, you might want to read about the Speznaz, if only the chapter on The Agent Network (and their fate) here:


  16. @Phil B: I’ve read Suvorov’s Aquarium. One of the things that struck me is the inefficiency of the system: the GRU was recruiting the smartest and most ambitious young officers from the army only to have them steal a minor patent or two in the West.

    The Spetsnaz sounds impressive in Suvorov’s description, but it was an elite army unit, not an intelligence service. GRU was mostly staffed with men trained at military colleges and academies, like Suvorov (Rezun) and, by the way, like Skripal. Recruiting highbrows was not their forte.

  17. @Alex,

    Not the way I read it – they knew that going after the BIG contractors/organisations was difficult and/or too risky. Yes, they WOULD like to steal the complete plans of the latest submarine from Barrow in Furness but that would be unnecessary.

    Instead, the myriads of small, high tech companies that supply essential and possibly unique sub assemblies or components to the MoD or to bigger contractors (GKN, Aerospace companies etc.) is likely to give a bigger insight into the capabilities of military kit than simply having the plans to the complete assembly. As a “for example” the high speed switching circuit or timer circuit for the multi pole directional radar would be far more significant than the whole overview of the array They know the principle of the thing, they need the “difficult to design and get to work” bits that are the heart of the array.

    Similarly, if a new alloy steel was produced and the details of its properties known then it would be trivially easy for them to calculate the diving and crush depths of a submarine built from that steel. But if the composition, heat treatment and method of production was obtained, that would be far more valuable than knowing the tensile and yield strength of the steel.

    Such improvements or new develpments would most likely be developed by small, private companies at the cutting edge of technology. Hence the “minor” patents and companies targeted. Indeed, Suvorov describes trade shows and how they did not expend effort on big contractors such as BaE, Vickers, GKN etc. but concentrated on the smaller companies that may have just developed something and were trying to find a buyer or partner to get it recognised by the armed forces/procurement chain.

    The Speznaz (Voyska Spetsialnogo Naznacheniya – special operations troops) are the pre-assault sabouteurs that would be infiltrated into the target country before the main assault to destroy command centres, nuclear response weapons, ammunition and petrol dumps etc. I mentioned the document for the chapter on agents and their fate, not to imply that they were agent handlers. They are not and their role is quite different from the GRU.

    I doubt that the Soviets would waste time, effort and resources on something with a poor payback. I recall from Aquarium how Suvorov described the kudos that went with recruiting an agent and the more important the asset, the more promotion and kudos there was. Again, this implies that this was considered to be an important activity.

  18. @Phil B: That’s a good summary of the Soviet approach to stealing technology. Thanks for refreshing my memory. On the other hand, when it came to influencing public opinion via friendly journos and intellectuals, it was mostly the KGB’s mission, not the GRU’s. The payback from those operations was not always obvious or tangible and was sometimes only clear in retrospect.

    As for Kristeva, it turns out that sixteen officers were assigned to her case. Her dossier is now available online (so far in Bulgarian only).

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