Living in the fast lane

December 1, 1995

Julius Tomin ended a seven-day fast in Oxford on Monday with a bowl of chicken broth. "This was the best hunger strike of my life. Not eating for a week renewed my strength," he said.

Czech dissident and ostracised philosopher, 57-year-old Dr Tomin rejected food last week to protest against Oxford University's refusal to discuss his revolutionary analysis of Plato. According to Dr Tomin, the university's sub-faculty of philosophy will not give him a teaching post or even allow him to lecture because his interpretation of ancient Greek texts contradicts what has been taught at Oxford for the past 200 years.

"That's nonsense," says philosophy chairman Christopher Kirwan. "It's his childish contempt for others that makes him a very difficult person to deal with."

Dr Tomin, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from Prague's Charles University, appealed to a number of Oxford faculty members and administrators, including vice chancellor Peter North, to support his hunger strike but received no replies.

Dr Tomin organised underground philosophy meetings in the early 1970s when prevented from teaching at Czech universities because of his anti-communist views. Philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Thomas Nagel flocked to his flat to participate in the secret seminars. In April 1980, Czech authorities detained Sir Anthony Kenny, former master of Balliol College, for attending Dr Tomin's discussions; two months later, Sir Anthony invited Dr Tomin to Balliol to give a series of lectures on human rights.

Today, none of the scholars who risked arrest and deportation to argue with Dr Tomin behind the Iron Curtain ever visit the lonely philosopher's cramped bedsit in Oxford.

"When Julius realised he wasn't going to waltz into an All Souls fellowship, he became furious," said St Hilda's College philosophy tutor Kathy Wilkes, the first Oxford scholar to participate in Dr Tomin's clandestine discussions.

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