Post-socialism and Postmodernism


In November 1989 the socialist system in Czechoslovakia collapsed and democracy was restored. The ideological guardianship in culture ended. Authors shook off the self-censorship which had become second nature to them over 40 years. The writers and artists the communist regime had persecuted in all sorts of ways were rehabilitated. A long process of righting former wrongs ensued. The work of emigrants from 1945 to 1948 (these were emigrants from the Slovak state who included several catholic modern authors), the emigrants who left after the Soviet occupation in 1968 - 1969, and especially the work of authors who stayed at home but could only publish their work in samizdat or abroad, returned to the literary process. Slovak literature, divided into legal, emigrant and dissident in the previous decades, started to become integrated so that it could be differentiated in a natural way in the future. As for the authors publishing legally in the past, the communist regime did not have the same relationship to them all. There were those who it honoured, those who suffered (the prose writer Alfonz Bednár) and there were many who published, but with forced breaks and difficulties (Pavel Vilikovský, Rudolf Sloboda, Štefan Moravčík, Ján Lenčo, Ján Johanides, Dušan Dušek, Dušan Mitana and many others). This large group formed the backbone of 80s prose (it was also similar in poetry) and entered the new conditions without having to change its positions or poetics; it simply continued where it left off in 1989.
           Because of this we can say that the nature of Slovak literature has not changed very much, although it has gained some new traits. In particular the themes which were taboo under the old regime - spiritual-religious, nationalistic and sexual - have been relaxed. The socialist ideology on which the regime was based was materialistic, puritanical and internationalistic. Churches were first persecuted, then tolerated, religious literature was confined to sermons and handbooks, spiritualism was thrown out of revolutionary literature in 1948, erotica could only be very tame, and the national idea slept under the blanket of the international communist movement. Spiritual roots were revived in culture and literature in the 90s and some authors, mainly poets, went in this direction (Milan Rúfus, Viliam Turčány, etc.). Sexual experience also entered literature, often in brutal images (Ivan Kolenič). The velvet revolution somehow did not emphasise the national aspect because it was a civic movement. The national idea rose to the surface of social awareness when Czechoslovakia split up and the independent Slovak Republic was established. The new state searched for roots in history and so the theme of Great Moravia became topical again. The myth of Great Moravia was first cultivated in publicism (by Milan Ferko) and in branches of historiography and fiction. Neither the attempt to break through the barriers of Puritanism nor the attempt to revive nationalism in literature lasted long. The work which critically (satirically) came to terms with the communist regime (Anton Baláž) ended just as quickly. New, more lasting trends appeared in the young generation and the youngest authors, those who called themselves the "barbarian generation" (Ján Litvák, Andrijan Turan, Kamil Zbruž, Robert Bielik), those who tried to find their own way in poetry (Marián Hatala, Miroslav Brück) and those who were inspired by postmodernism (Tomáš Horváth, Marek Vadas, Vladimír Balla, Pavol Rankov, etc.). The work of these authors is characterised by a heterogeneity of approach, constant change of poetological principles, intentional exposure of the creative process, fragmentation, abandoning of a coherent plot, allusion to other texts, dislike of subjectiveness, emphasis on writing technique, use of degraded genres, etc. This radically altered way of writing has given rise to several interesting texts, but it is difficult to see them as a sign of a new paradigm. They are interesting on the background of other forms of writing. But they undoubtedly show that Slovak literature is not losing contact with the world.
           The whole history of Slovak literature, art and culture shows - as we have attempted to document in this brief synopsis - that there has been a productive transfusion Štefan Krčméry's term) between Slovakia and Europe from the very beginning to the present day.
           If anything halted it, it was only a harsh national existence, which, however, art and literature overcame by opening up to the world, crossing over into other cultures, or reaching out for pan-European sources.
           From the early middle ages, through renaissance, humanism, baroque, enlightenment, national revival, realism, modern and avantgarde, Slovak culture never fell out of the wider context of European endeavours, despite the fact that its own ideologists often returned it to the national fold.
           It took what it needed from them and did not give up what it had achieved alone. Its own dispositions developed and they have enriched global literature and culture. Even today it has something to offer the world.