The hundreds of pages of documents include Ms. Kristeva’s supposed registration card as an agent of Bulgaria’s former Committee for State Security and extensive reports of alleged conversations with her handlers in Parisian cafes and restaurants between 1971 and 1973. But there is not a single intelligence-related document written or signed by her.
In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Kristeva vigorously dismissed the accusation as “fake news” and a “barefaced lie” — “mud being slung at me,” she said, by unspecified people who wished her harm.
After the release of the dossier, she reiterated her denials in an interview on Friday. She had never been approached by anyone claiming to be a State Security agent, she said emphatically, and certainly never agreed to collaborate.
“These allegations are completely false,” she said, speaking in French. “I find it quite extraordinary that the commission, which read these allegations, never thought that the secret services could have been lying.”
To Ms. Kristeva’s defenders, the case is murky, recalling something out of Franz Kafka — or perhaps one of her own murder mystery novels, which mix racy conspiracy plots with heady metaphysical speculation.
“Everyone is trying to keep an open mind, but nobody who knows anything about her or her work believes this,” said Alice Jardine, a French literature professor at Harvard who is writing an intellectual biography of Ms. Kristeva.
Instead of showing that Ms. Kristeva was a spy, she added, the dossier — which also includes intercepted letters and other surveillance of Ms. Kristeva — shows “how she was targeted and spied upon.”
In Bulgaria, where opinion is divided, the case has stirred debate about what counts as collaboration and the reliability of the state security archives.
Some have argued that Ms. Kristeva might have spoken to agents without realizing it. Others have called the evidence insufficient and have expressed doubt about the fairness of the procedure for branding someone a collaborator. (On Friday, after the release of the dossier, the commission announced that its website had been attacked by hackers.)
Martin Dimitrov, a Bulgarian political scientist at Tulane University who has written about State Security, said the documents do seem to show that Ms. Kristeva knowingly, if not enthusiastically, shared information on French intellectual and political life with the agency.
But her handlers, he noted, frequently complained about her lack of commitment, and in 1973 dropped her as an associate after deeming most of the information she provided “of little interest.”
“Was she a spy? State Security thought so; she says otherwise,” Mr. Dimitrov said. “This raises a question that is more moral than legal: Namely, who is a spy?”
Ms. Kristeva was born in Sliven, Bulgaria, in 1941, to Christian Orthodox parents. In the recent documentary “Who’s Afraid of Julia Kristeva?” she describes arriving in Paris in late 1965 to study literature on a French government scholarship, with the equivalent of $5 in her pocket.
By 1971, the year of her alleged recruitment, she was established and well-connected enough to be deemed a useful source of information by State Security. She was writing prolifically and was part of a group of politically engaged intellectuals around the avant-garde journal Tel Quel, including the critic Roland Barthes, the novelist Philippe Sollers (whom Ms. Kristeva married in 1967) and the philosopher Jacques Derrida.
The radical politics and intellectual glamour of that generation of French intellectuals were sent up in Laurent Binet’s recent novel “The Seventh Function of Language,” which imagined them as theory-addled James Bond wannabes embroiled in a conspiracy around the death of Mr. Barthes (who, in real life, died in 1980 after being hit by a laundry van).
In one scene Ms. Kristeva coolly confesses to murdering Mr. Barthes. There are also numerous deaths by poison-tipped umbrellas, a riff on the famous case of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who was assassinated in London in 1978.
The spycraft described in Ms. Kristeva’s dossier is far less dramatic. In January 1971, she reportedly asked to give testimony only orally, rather than in writing, and her handlers, who are identified by code names, agree.
In multiple reported meetings between that year and 1973, Ms. Kristeva allegedly offered information on French political and intellectual figures, Arab progressive movements, Bulgarian émigrés and other subjects, most of which is deemed “of little interest.” (Among other things, she reports back on a Bulgarian national who had a stomachache.)
The operatives expressed dismay when Ms. Kristeva and Mr. Sollers signed a petition in Le Monde in 1972 protesting repression in Czechoslovakia. By that time, the Tel Quel group, like others on the French left, had broken with the pro-Soviet French Communist Party in the wake of the crushing of the Prague Spring, and turned toward Maoism.
According to the dossier, the agency formally released Ms. Kristeva from the ranks in 1973 after handlers cited frustration with her “completely pro-Maoist” politics and her general lack of commitment. But operatives continued to communicate with her as late as 1978 with the hope of reactivating her.
At various points in the dossier, she is described as requesting travel permission for her parents, who were still in Bulgaria, and sister, who was in France on a limited visa.
In 1976, after she wrote a letter to a government office complaining that her parents were not allowed to visit their new grandson in Paris, a document reads: “Sabina is employing the same tactics once again — trying to get something from us without giving anything in return.”
In the interview on Friday, Ms. Kristeva acknowledged that she had known Vladimir Kostov, a former Bulgarian spy who is described in one document as having met with her in France in the 1960s to “psychologically prepare” her for possible work as an agent, and who some have suggested might also be behind one of the code names in the dossier. (After defecting, Mr. Kostov survived an apparent poison umbrella attack in the Paris Metro in 1978.)
But she said she was unaware that Mr. Kostov — whom she had worked with at a newspaper in Bulgaria, and recalled encountering again in Paris around 1974 or 1975 — had worked with State Security.
As for the commission, she said it had put too much trust in the story the dossier told. “They saw it as a document, and not as a manipulation,” she said.
Since 2007, when the state security files were opened, there have been questions about material that may have been redacted, destroyed or manipulated. Hristo Hristov, a Bulgarian journalist who has written extensively about the state security files, said that parts of Ms. Kristeva’s dossier appear to have been removed, but that the documentation that remained was persuasive.
“She was clearly aware who she was meeting with and what kind of information she’s providing,” Mr. Hristov said.
That the file contains only accounts of Ms. Kristeva’s alleged oral reports, and nothing written or signed by her, was not unheard-of, said Ekaterina Boncheva, a former journalist who has been a member of the commission for more than 10 years.
“The important fact is that she has a registration card” as an agent, she said.
Since the fall of Communism in 1989, Ms. Kristeva has been vocal about her harsh judgment of the former Bulgarian regime.
On Thursday, she reiterated her belief that her father had been “involuntarily assassinated” in 1989 in a Bulgarian hospital where, she said, “experiments were carried out on the elderly.”
She mentioned her 1991 novel “The Old Man and the Wolves,” a postmodern parable about a professor who is the only person to speak out about sinister animals that begin arriving in a sleepy Eastern European town, and who then dies in a hospital after his artificial lung is disconnected.
With the release of the dossier, Ms. Kristeva said, she felt like the old man’s daughter, who uncovers evidence of conspiracies she cannot untangle.
“But fortunately, freedoms exist and we can talk,” she said. “I am going to keep siding with freedom of speech.”
Continue reading the main story