Czech literature and culture: the long shadow of the curse of the Prague Spring
This is a lecture written for the annual conference of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, which takes place in Cambridge on 27th - 29th March, 1999
First, a few general remarks
The 1960s, in my view, belong to the most important literary periods in Czech literature this century . What was it that caused the dramatic flowering of Czech literature and culture, "such as most nations manage to achieve only once or twice in a century", as Igor Hájek wrote in 1977? Growing freedom? Surely Czech writers have been enjoying almost absolute freedom since the fall of communism, but the literary renaissance of the 1960s has not been repeated.
The 1960s Czech cultural flowering remains somewhat misunderstood in the contemporary Czech Republic. At a time, when the Prague Spring of 1968 is being dismissed by many contemporary political commentators in the Czech Republic as an irrelevant fight between two communist factions, even the Institute of Czech Literature of the Academy of Sciences sees the outcome of Czech literary flowering of the 1960s as a disappointment - that word is a part of the title of its forthcoming conference on Czech literature in the 1960s. And yet, the 1960s produced a number of major names whose work gradually became well known internationally, paradoxically in spite of the fact that they were banned in their native country - Hrabal, Škvorecký, Kundera, Holub, Havel. The horizon of Czech literature has broadened considerably since the 1960s. But, maybe, the international dimension is not very well visible to observers from within the Czech Republic.
The question why the cultural renaissance of the 1960s could not be repeated after the fall of communism in interesting. Recently, I watched with students the 1968 Czech film "All good countrymen", directed by Vojtěch Jasný. The film examines the period of forced collectivisation in the Czech countryside in the 1950s and analyses to what extent ordinary people were to blame for persecuting of their own initiative their colleagues, friends and acquaintances in the era of Stalinist oppression. The film is an honest examination of a difficult period of Czech history from the vantage point of twenty years later. A question immediately springs to mind: Why did in the 1990s no one make a film about the modus vivendi with the communist regime which the Czechs concluded in the post-invasion period of the 1970s and the 1908s? Is it only because communism was defeated once and for all in 1989 and so the whole issue of communism became suddenly irrelevant? Why were the Czechs willing to delve into their murky past in 1968, but not in the 1990s?
Jaroslav Hutka, a Czech essayist and folk singer, whom I interviewed for the radio in 1993, has this explanation: He said: "The 1990s have been oversaturated with politics. In a way, it has been like 1968. I did not write a single song then, either. Whatever I tried to write turned out incredibly simplified, politicised - just slogans. Rubbish. In the 1990s, the subconsciousness of the author has been hit by the dramatic social restructuring. Also, the collective consciousness of society has been shattered. Under communism, the social collective consciousness existed, and a writer defined himself/herself in relation to it. Writers used exactly that type of expression that society was sensitively tuned into. Depth resides in what is beyond words, what transcends the feelings of an individual. An individual just happens to be lucky to express what resonates with the collective consciousness on many levels. In the 1990s, the Czech collective consciousness has been shattered. Every person individually is forced to find a solution for himself or herself in this era, to decide what next to do with his or her own life."
What do I mean by the long shadow and the curse of the Prague Spring?
When the Prague Spring was defeated, Czechoslovakia was thrown into a motionless neostalinist mode, which survived until 1989 almost without change. These two hopeless decades of president Husak's "normalisation" felt as though they were for ever. After the euphoria of 1968, and in reaction to the purges of the neostalinist "normalisers", Czech society by and large adapted itself to the conditions of subjugation, which it expected to last forever. The society's brain, the independent writers and intellectuals, were isolated from the rest of society by the secret police by being herded into a dissident ghetto. To continue the metaphor, the headless body of Czech society, stalked away blindly into a corner and basically lost contact with independent Czech intellectual discourse. An idiosyncratic way of life developed in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s, as a result of the modus vivendi of the majority of the Czech population with the authorities. The new civilisation was hermetically isolated from the outside world, it had features of childlike consumerism and fairly intolerant collectivism.
This has proved to be a handicap for Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism. Czechoslovakia needed to emerge from its isolation and to deal with the new situation. Unfortunately, after a brief period of dissident rule, the ethos of the majority of society prevailed. Neostalinist collectivism was converted into the pseudo-thatcherism of the prime minister Václav Klaus. A single scheme, a single ideology was deemed to be able to bring about a quick economic revitalisation and social renaissance. Anyone, who raised a critical voice against the new social consensus was seen as strange, eccentric or alien. The atmosphere in the first half of the 1990s was not conducive to public debate. Since the Klausian post-communist model failed in the second half of the 1990s, the result has been confusion and fairly high degree of disillusionment with democratic politics. Even so, tolerance, plurality and diversity has not yet taken deep roots. Ideological dissidents are still frowned upon. Some people still argue along the Leninist lines of "democratic socialism". According to this view, you take a vote in a democracy and the majority decision is then binding for everyone. Holders of all minority views must shut up and conform to the majority consensus.
This social atmosphere is not very conducive to the creation of new, independent works of literature, considering also that with the arrival of the "free" media, the entertainment market has been flooded, especially in the area of television broadcasting, with agressive product, based on the lowest common denominator. Literature has lost its importance in Czech society. The Czechs have, by and large, not assimilated the glorious literary tradition of the 1960s and its fruits that have matured in the works of Škvorecký, Kundera, Havel or Holub in the 1990s.
An example may illustrate the situation. When in July 1997, Czech poet Miroslav Holub suddenly died, British daily newspapers published large obituaries, dealing with the life and work of this internationally well-known poet, whose work has been translated into some 40 languages. By contrast, Czech daily newspapers printed notices of only a few lines, if any. When I pointed to this in Britské listy, the Czech-language internet newspaper, it was explained by readers in the Czech republic that nobody knows Miroslav Holub very well in the Czech Republic, his poetry does not say anything to anyone, and anyway it is probable that he collaborated with the communist authorities in the 1970s and 1980s - among other things, his name is included in one of the - highly suspect - lists of alleged secret police collaborators.
Earlier this year, another author, banned under the communists, died in Prague. His name was Jaroslav Foglar, (1907-1999). He was the author of romantic novels for pre-adolescent boys, which, in line with the boy scout ideals, extolled the virtues of honest, civilised behaviour. These virtues were exemplified in the model figures of four young friends, members of the adventure club The Swift Arrows. Foglar also wrote popular strip cartoons about the adventures of The Swift Arrows.
Foglar's death was dealt with extensively in the Czech media. Full page obituaries were printed. His funeral became an occasion of almost national mourning. Even an important young literary theoretician, lecturer in Czech literature at Charles University Petr Bílek names the publication of the collected edition of Jaroslav Foglar's The Swift Arrows as the second most important literary event of the last quarter of 1998.
What does this mean? The Czech nation forever young? Is the world of romantic boy scout adventure nearer to the current Czech national psyche than the international sophistication of poetry by Miroslav Holub, which touches on the most important aspects of man and his existence?
It has been difficult for the Czech community to assimilate the work of the major Czech literary figures of the 1960s which reached maturity in the 1970s and 1980s and was published in samizdat or abroad. When communism fell, the floodgates opened and the Czech reading public was glutted by an avalanche of titles, banned over the past fifty years. It would be difficult to deal with the backlog of fifty years of banned literature at the best of times. It was even more difficult at a time when suddenly, a lot of new attractions competed for the attention of the public, the main of them being a new, commercial, hugely successful, low brow television station.
People were first interested in this "forbidden fruit" and a handful of titles sold hundreds of thousands of copies early in 1990. But then the reading public discovered that the hitherto banned books were maybe challenging to their way of life, were too sophisticated, or were deemed irrelevant. In 1995, was told by a leading young Czech journalist, who now works for the most popular Czech daily newspaper Mlada fronta dnes that he could not read Josef Škvorecký because his work was too experimental for his taste.
In fact, in the 1960s, Škvorecký had been sometimes criticised by Prague intellectuals that his work was allegedly not experimental enough: it was looked down upon as popular entertainment: his prose was regarded as being far too gripping a read to be proper literature. Most of Milan Kundera's work from the 1980s remains unknown in the Czech Republic, because three major novels by Milan Kundera, (Život je jinde, Life is Elsewhere, 1979, Kniha smíchu a zapomnění, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, 1981, and Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1985) not speaking about his latest work, Le Lenteur, Slowness, 1995, and L'Identité, Identity, 1998, have so far not been published in the Czech Republic.
What is being published now
With the fall of communism, literature lost its elevated status in the Czech Republic and was relegated to a minority interest.
But I should not be too negative. Many publishers are still bringing out original works, even though the current print-run for a non-bestseller work of fiction is said to be around 400 copies.
Over the past ten years, at least literary critics adn a small committed reading public - generally not the schools - have gradually caught up with the heritage of banned literature over the past half a century.
Many of these titles have been republished in the Czech republic, often in very careful and professionally produced editions. Works by authors from the previous generations are still trickling through. Some of these authors are stiull writing, but generally it can be said that their work belongs to a bygone era. There have been no new dramatic literary developments in the past decade. Much important, hitherto banned literary critical and literary historical material has has been published since 1989.
According to the literary critic Milan Jungmann, 180 new volumes of Czech poetry were published in the Czech Republic in the first half of 1996. Undoubtedly, remarked Jungmann, many of these titles are of no interest; nevertheless, the phenomenon demonstrates that Czech publishers are again willing to bring out "risky" titles, even volumes of poetry.
The era of Kundera, Havel, Škvorecký, Hrabal Holub or Klíma is now irrevocably in the past. Some of these authors are now dead and the others seem to have more or less exhausted their creativity. The historical situation of Czech culture is now different.
The Czech literary underground and its impact
One significant literary movement which further developed in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and 1980s from its somewhat esoteric roots in the 1950s was the movement of the Czech literary underground. In the 1970s, the alternative rock and punk culture developed around the work of protest rock and folk singers, as an expression of absolute disillusionment with the Czech post-invasion regime. As Jiří Holý has pointed out, the typical features of this culture were pessimism, loneliness, obsessive images of walls or catastrophic floods, alcoholic intoxication, mental illnes and lunatic asylum, dream-like images of flying.
Two strong young talents, Jáchym Topol and Petr Placák, both poets and prose writers, emerged in this tradition. After the fall of communism, Placák eventually became a journalist but Jáchym Topol (1962), the son of the 1960s playwright Josef Topol, author of lyrical, existential plays, became a major figure in the Czech literary pantheon.
In 1994, Jáchym Topol published a large prosaic work Sestra, Sister, dominated by a mystical bond of love between the punk hero and his punk girfried, "my beautiful sister". This long literary text is filled with Topol's brutal sensitivity, his gloomy view of contemporary civilisation, his anxious expectation that the end of the world is nigh, his foreboding, anticipating the Apocalypse. Sestra tells the story of what happened to a group of young people from Prague after the fall of communism in 1989. Their life, partially set in an apocalyptic underworld, which freely mixes with the highest establishment circles in new Czechoslovakia is very adventurous. The narration is permeated with long lyrical passages, reminiscent of incantations.
Another important writer of the 1980s generation, who has continued her work in the 1990s, is Zuzana Brabcova. She published her prose Far from the Tree in Czech samizdat in 1984 and in exile, (in Prague in print in 1991).
Brabcova's narrator, the twenty-year-old Vera, feels also caught in joyless isolation. After attempting suicide, she ends up in a lunatic asylum. The outside reality, the public arena, is seen as a threat. Prague appears to be a "glass metropolis, devoid of people", which is being sumberged in a flood.
Brabcova's Far from the Tree is also a fragmentary, loose piece of fiction, although it has a well thought-out composition, a subtle and complex system of hints and recurrent thematic cross-references, says my colleague, the Prague literary historian Jiří Holý.
The most recent work by Brabcova, Zlodejina, Thievery, published ten years after her debut, in 1995 has a similar construction, which is based on a similar recurrent whirlwind of motifs and keywords.
The postmodernist lure
Some Czech prose writers who started writing in the 1980s, have been inspired by postmodernism. Some critics have been taking them to task, complainign that their preoccupation with modernist is artificial and superficial.
Postmodern authors like to concentrate on bizarre situations, on violence, on sexual deviations . In fiction, postmodernist belles letters are mixed up with essayistic passages. Narratives are being reflected upon and analysed. Czech postmodernists are Václav Jamek, Michal Ajvaz, Sylvie Richterová, Vladimir Macura, Jiří Kratochvil, Daniela Hodrová and Jan Křesadlo.
Jiří Kratochvil, who could not publish in the 1970s and 1980s, wrote two novels, Medvědí roman, The Bear Novel, (completed in 1985, published in samizdat in 1988, in print in Brno in 1990), and Uprostřed nocí zpěv, Singing in the Middle of Nights (Brno 1992). Then followed Avion , The Hotel Avion (1995) and Siamský příbeh, A Siamese Story, 1996. Other volumes of work contain a number of other pieces by Kratochvil, in particular the novella Orfeus z Kénigu, The Orpheus of Kenig, which is a part of Brno.
Some Czech critics regard Jiří Kratochvil as one of the most important contemporary writers. But Kratochvil remained an unknown author, living in Moravia, where he worked as a porter on a chicken farm and as a night watchman. He was not even known among dissident writers. Practically none of his work was published until after 1990.
Kratochvil uses metaphors, juxtaposes vulgar expressions to high literary style, occasionally uses local Brno slang, the so-called "hantec". Kratochvil in fact negates the concept of construction and the concept of story-telling. The narrator begins telling a story. Then he interrupts the narrative and tells the reader it has all been invented.He plays games with the reader, mocks the more traditional methods of writing a novel, uses quotations and parodies earlier texts, implies hidden meanings.
Kratochvil's method of writing is similar to the "magical realism" of the Argentinian writer J.L.Borges, whom Kratochvil acknowledges as his model in his essays. The facts he presents are constantly re-evaluated, re-weighed and re-analysed from a different angle.
My personal feeling is that the structures of Kratochvil's novels are a little bit too loose. Since nothing is fixed, everything remains open, the surrealist inspiration can take you anywhere at any point - this absolute creative freedom detracts from the tension of the work. Furthermore, all his works of fiction seem to me, both thematically and structurally, very similar. They mostly deal, in a phantasmagoric manner, with life under Husák's communism in Brno in the 1970s and 1980s.
Daniela Hodrová has many things in common with Kratochvil. Hodrová's work remained in manuscript form until the fall of communism. Her first novel, Podobojí, In both kinds, which was completed in 1977-1978, did not appear in print until 1991, when the author was 45 years old.
Also in 1991, Hodrova published Kukly, Cocoons, (which was written in 1981-1983) and then the third part of a loose trilogy of novels, Theta, (1992) (the Greek character, at the same time a proof reader's sign for "delete"), written at the end of the 1980s. After Hodrova published a novellistic essay Vidim mesto velike, I see a large city, 1994, her latest novel to date is Perunuv den, Perun's day (1995).
Hodrová's work is full of literary allusions. Hodrová is by profession a literary scholar (she has this in common with two other contemporary Czech writers of her age, Sylvie Richterová and Vladimír Macura). Hodrova's fiction is very sophisticated. Each of her texts is made up of a thick undergrowth of allusions, repetitions, variations and echoes. Even Hodrova uses fantastic motifs: puppets and doubles, transformations of human beings into animals, people from beyond the grave re-entering the world of the living. In the third part of her trilogy of novels, Theta, Daniela Hodrova appears herself both as a character and as an author. Thus there is a connection between the novel as fiction and the novel as reality.
None of these works have however thrilled the Czech readers. Judging by a review by Paddington Tucker, a final year student of Czech studies at Glasgow University, which has been recently published in the New Presence Magazine, not even Western readers would be particularly thrilled by this kind of literature. Tucker writes about this anthology of new Czech writing: "In over half of the stories, conventions of literary realism are abandoned in favour of fragmented and episodic narrative and collage. These stories lack an orderly structure, for they consist of vaguely intelligible fragments of narrative and sequences of surreal imagery. The intention of the authors is for the reader to be carried away with the fantasy, but this does not necessarily work if the reader fails to let himself go. Even if he is momentarily captivated by a certain image or scene, the reader is never gripped by the plot, because the plot is nondescript. While he is wading through the jumble of words and images, he may find some magnificent moments of insight, but a reader with a dubious concentration span will probably find the lack of conventional structure too much to bear."
Prague critic Milan Jungmann also warns that contemporary Czech literature suffers from being perhaps too artificial and too experimental. He points to the fact that many contemporary Czech writers have fallen under the influence of Jan Hanč, whose non-narrative, fragmentary Diaries from the 1950s published only in the 1980s by Josef Škvorecký in Canada and in the 1990s in Prague, have exercised a considerable influence.
There is one contemporary Czech author, who defies what I have said above - his name is Michael Viewegh. Apparently, Viewegh is a cult figure, especially among the student population. He is a living proof that even in postcommunist Czech Republic, one can earn his living as a writer, without necessarily writing thrillers or hard core pornography.
Viewegh is the author of highly entertaining, even though sometimes somewhat superficial narratives. His Báječná léta pod psa, The Wonderful Years which were Rubbish (1992) is a comic, even though somewhat traumatic description of a young man's teenage years in Husak's communism, his later works, for instance Výchova dívekv Čechách, Bringing up Girls in Bohemia (1994) and Účastníci zájezdu, Participants of a Coach Tour (1996) are amusing accounts of life in post-communist Czechoslovakia-Czech Republic.
The author of these tongue-in-cheek works, liberally peppered with sex, is a good literary scholar and uses his literary allusions and the way he plays with the structure of his work as a source of comedy.
Viewegh is well-versed in literary theory and perhaps quite aunusually, makes his theoretical knowledge a source of amusing games with the structure of the work, for instance when he introduces the most critical of his reviewers among the characters of his works, and revenges himself on them by putting them in tricky situations.
Unwittingly, Viewegh's work, especially the last named, which has the firmest, most coherent and most convincing structure, capture rather well the atmosphere of post-communist Czech Republic and are, I feel, a useful source-material for anyone who wants to understand what is going on in the Czech Republic now.
Autobiographies and diaries galore
As far as other contemporary Czech fiction is concerned, there are many personal memoirs, often semi-fictionalised. As one Czech literary historian put it, "the young author feels that he/she is the only firm point in the surrounding ideological chaos, so he/she is tries to anchor this confusing milieu by pinning it down through his or her own personal testimony".
Petr Bílek divides contemporary Czech literature typologically into three streans: fully fictional literature, such as that by Jiří Kratochvil, a mixture between fiction and autobiography - this includes work by an interesting author, Vlastimil Třešňák (for instance, Klíč je pod rohožkou, The Key is under the Mat, 1995), one of the few authors who have been trying to assimilate their experience of the West, and then a number of autobiographical works.
In conclusion, I would like to mention one such recent autobiography. Its author, Martin Fendrych, is also a child of the Czech underground culture. In the 1990s, Fendrych worked for seven years as a deputy interior minister in the Czech Republic. When his autobiography, Jako pták na drátě, Like a Bird on a Wire, 1997, was published in the summer of 1997, it provoked quite a furore in the Czech Republic. (A full review by Jan Čulík is here).
The book is well written, but it paints an unflattering picture of Fendrych himself and the politicians with which he associated and worked. As a testimony of a politician, Fendrych's underground text is rather shocking:
I got up unusually early, for me, that is, like Alena, at six thirty. At first, I always just lie there, on my stomach the pole, which by means of various imagined buttocks, breasts and other fragments I turn into something acceptable for adults and children, something small, modest and bat-like (by the way there is an awful, saintly, mindless pride in a hard-on). Then I roll over onto the floor and do my sit-ups and push-ups, because since my knee-operation I am unable to practice my beloved suryanamaskara. (p. 12) Saliva welled up in my mouth, I had to firmly grip the pint with both hands. No, seriously I have an amazing will. Then they brought a plate with bread, vinegar, sliced onion. Silverware wrapped in a napkin. Another beer. Slavia sprayed out from my cup so much that I didn't have time to swallow, it had to leak out from me somewhere, I grew damp like the walls of a vagina. Then I let go of the beer and went at the pancakes and began to brutally liquidate them, as if I had just been let out of a concentration camp. Then they brought the headcheese and somehow inconspicuously sponged off my pint and exchanged an empty one for a full one. Slurp, slurp, I wolfed down rings of headcheese, bread, my stomach spilled all the way to my thighs. (p. 46) I am all dried up like a cracker. When we flew in Saturday morning I pulled Allie into the shower and we made love. She liked it, even if it was that time of the month. I always like it, even if it is that time of the month. (p. 137)
Fendrych's book is motivated by a tenacious attempt at authenticity, a great effort to map out his existence personally and individually, so as to make it alive and convincing. Its main themes are, as usual, love and death - the love to his wife and the death of both of his parents, which he is trying to exorcise by writing this work.
The themes of love and death are, after all, the basic themes of human existence: they occupy all of literature and all of human art. Fendrych is well aware of this. In Fendrych's book, these themes, under the influence of an underground, almost naturalistic poetics, are also dealt with by means of other motifs which communicate the imperfection and inferiority of our earthly existence: this, I believe, is why the author talks openly about his bodily functions, secretions and various illnesses.
Through his diary entries, Fendrych has succeeded in stretching testimony about his individual existence between love, bodily functions, art, nature - especially mountains - religion and death. Some parts of his text are written in an urgent, almost poetic language. For Fendrych the anchor within the present-day chaos is religion - he is a devout adherent to the Evangelical religion and subconsciously weighs everything against his faith. Religious faith also gives Fendrych a firm moral framework, as it does for few other politicians.
The title of Fendrych's book "Like a Bird on a Wire" is taken from a song by gloomy Canadian singer Leonard Cohen. Fendrych quotes several lines from Cohen's song as the motto of his diary:
Like a bird on a wire / Like a drunk in a midnight choir / I have tried in my way to be free
This quote perfectly captures Fendrych's book, especially from the political perspective.
Beatniks and undergrounders like Martin Fendrych or Jan Ruml, people who are indisputably intelligent but nevertheless without a completed formal education and with only a poor knowledge of the context of European civilization and politics, were swept up by the "velvet revolution" and thrown into unprecedentedly prominent political posts (in Ruml's and Fendrych's case, apparently on the basis of Vaclav Havel's influence). In a way it was a situation analogous to the Communist revolution after 1948, when the party also called upon enthusiastic, naive and unqualified activists, who had only their enthusiasm to their credit, to fill management positions.
Although Fendrych already begins to distance himself from party politics at the beginning of his diary, throughout the book he often expresses a deep lack of understanding for the principles of pluralistic, democratic politics.
Among Fendrychian beatniks, the trauma left over from their past experience with Communism is very strong, and it clouds all normal, sensible, human judgement.
Everything in Czech politics is founded on personal relationships, and this is symptomatic of the Czech political scene.
Fendrych presents himself and his friends as conspirators whose world has crumbled around them. The main motif of this work is confusion of life in this imperfect and chaotic world. Yet Fendrych's book contains thought-provoking insights. Their catalyst is often Fendrych's religious faith and a firm ethical consciousness. I have marked down some of these:
Václav Belohradsky: Subconsciously a Czech spitefulness is at work here, against people who have a clear vision and a strong opinion. We consider them to be arrogant. (p. 196)
It is also a problem of openness. Our society does not allow you to be open, it doesn't want you to be open. The custom is to lie, it is acknowledged, it is a method of peaceful sleep. (p. 280)
The syndrome of the day is the inability to concentrate, flightiness. I am saying something, he asks me something, and when I am in the middle of explaining it, he gets up and walks away. Insanity, all of a sudden you are talking to empty space. (p. 292)
It was raining, I was leaving, when Vlada Mlynar, king of Respekt, came out after me and said: 'It pissses me off, how they are making Tykac out to be a dissident.' Several articles had come out about Motoinvest, portraying it as something of a victim of a conspiracy between the banks and the state.
'He has good PR,' I said stupidly.
'It's insane,' said Vlada, 'paid-off journalists.'
'It's insane,' I said, 'I was really thinking about trying my hand at newspaper work, but there are no newspapers to work for.'
We stood out there in the rain and stared into the darkness like idiots. (p. 315)
Jitka phoned and relayed the following:
'Imagine what I, the moron, have been dreaming about. That Flek tells me I'm too dumb to make out the invoices and instead forces me to clean up some really sticky black substance. I have to use my hands and it's not working and I am getting all stuck in it and can't go on any more, but there is more and more of it and I am completely exhausted, but I'm trying to get a handle on it because he is watching me, with a really strange look and he keeps saying: Well I knew it, you can't even handle this. So I woke up and began crying out loud and couldn't stop.' (...)
The dream of a child of the doubted generation.
And also the dream of the present day.
We are reaching into it, it's black, it sticks to our hands, we're not able to get rid of it and what's more we're reproached for it.
We? (p. 326-327)
To sum up
There are no new, major authors on the contemporary Czech literary scene. The influence of the underground and postmodernism have made their mark, as have politics, which has pushed literature into the margins of society.
In an opinion poll, conducted by the weekly Nové knihy, twenty Czech literary critics have named poetry by Petr Borkovec, and Petr Kabeš as the most important works of 1998. Their selections also include books of critical literary, and cultural essays by the underground writer and poet Ivan Jirous, by the inter-war catholic critic Bedřich Fučík, philosopher Karel Kosík and others.
Looking briefly through the current landscape of Czech literature, and comparing it with that of the late 1960s, one might come to the conclusion that great literature arises when society is open-minded and willing to participate in critical discourse. Once people start lying to themselves, great literature does not arise. In the 1960s, the "soul of the nation" was not yet as traumatised as it is today, so the literature of that time is timeless.
But this is only a hypothesis. There are undoubtedly many other factors at work. It would be interesting to examine the matter further.