LiteratureLiterature in the Czech Republic was disproportionately popular and important since the early 19th century, as culture became something of a substitute for politics in the stifled conditions of Austria-Hungary and then again in Nazi and Communist dictatorships. Perhaps it is indeed significant that the dissident movement was comprised largely of intellectuals (compared to Poland’s working-class, trade-union origins), however those who ascribe excessive importance to the fact that the well-known playwright Václav Havel was elected president are usually naïve and misinformed, viewing him as a philosopher-king of an earthly Utopia.
Czech literature is nowadays, even in historic view, meant as literature written by Czechs, in the Czech language. Authors from the Czech territory who wrote in other languages (i. e. German) in the past are considered separately, and it is true that their writing always existed in parallel, with very little mutual influence to and from the body of Czech-language literature. Thus Franz Kafka, who is the most popular (often the only known) “Czech author” in popular foreign opinion, wrote in German (though he also knew Czech rather well) and most of his work became available in translation only in the 1960s. There are a few exceptional cases of native Czechs who write in other languages, by far the best-known being Milan Kundera who has lived in France since 1975, and since 1989 he writes in French, and Tom Stoppard.