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Czech political elite, TRF beg the U.N., world: call us Czechia

The short name Czechia appears in 646 TRF blog posts (Google search). I estimate that 2 million viewers have seen the blog posts with this word but because many readers are regulars, this amounted to about 500,000 distinct persons. Given these numbers, your humble correspondent may very well be the single most intense user – individual user or institutional user – of this English word in the world.

There are not too many Czechia-based outlets with a significant global reach so it's actually plausible that TRF has led the promotion of the term even by the overall influence.

So I was pleased to learn from the Czech media – including the English-language Prague Monitor – and even from major foreign outlets such as The Telegraph, the BBC, and The Daily Mail that the minister of foreign affairs Mr Zaorálek has joined the fans of the term Czechia (which has already been supported, beloved, and used in speeches by President Zeman for a few years) – and some activity will be made in the U.N. to introduce the short name Czechia to the U.N. databases.

Go Czechia. (The link debunks 16 myths of opponents of the name.)

Similar short names should be made common in 6 key languages at the official U.N. level (e.g. at U.N.-sponsored conferences): Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Whether the media and the regular people will start to use the name remains unknown. But if the promises will be fulfilled that the Olympic Games in Rio will use "Czechia" everywhere, I am confident that the word will become widespread – at least if some Czech athletes succeed. ;-)

The main advantage of Rio is that in Portuguese, Tcheca denotes both "Czech" and women's reproductive organs so people are likely to talk about the topic every 50 seconds. The strength of the English word "Czechia" is emphasized in Italian where Czechia means a "blind girl", and Bulgarian where it means "masturbation". ;-)

Regular TRF readers must have read about the story of Czechia several times but let me give you the basic background once again.

The main words used for the Czech nation and the country come from the roots "Czech" and "Bohemia".

Czechs were a Slavic tribe that founded the nation with the name some 1200 years go. According to some legends, Forefather Czech was the "single true founder" and his brother was named Lech (Czech-Lech), like Lech Walesa, so he founded the Polish nation. Whether these siblings also had a Russian brother remains even more controversial. ;-) Ironically, the Czech edition of the legend only talks about two brothers, while the Polish version of the legend has three, including Rus (strange, given the fact that the Poles dislike Russians much more than the Czechs do). OK, but the brother Rus would found Kievan Rus or Ukraine, anyway.

On the other hand, Bohemia is the "Boii's home", the home of the Celtic tribe Boii that lived in Bohemia and Bavaria some 2,200 years ago or so. (The association of Bohemia with the relaxed, gypsies' or drunk artists', "Bohemian" lifestyle is much newer and comes from the French who, 100+ years ago, thought that all the gypsies etc. had to arrive from their homeland in the East, probably Bohemia LOL.)

Incidentally, the term "Bavaria" has almost the same origin as "Bohemia" and it should mean the "Boii's settlements", too. Bohemia is a perfectly OK name for a territory except that it's not the right territory. Only about the 60% Western part of the Czech Republic is referred to as Bohemia; the rest in the East is Moravia (and the Czech, formerly Austrian, Silesia – a small territory in the Northeast of Czechia plagued by minor territorial disputes with Poland in the past). The territory of Bohemia is nearly spherical and bounded mostly by moderately high mountains (especially the "Sudets" where the ethnic Germans mostly lived) and the Bohemian Basin could have been created as a crater by a big meteor 2 billion years ago.

Politically correct astronauts like to say that they can't see any borders between the countries from the outer space. NASA may have rejected your application but can you see the Czech border from the outer space?

Bohemia may be an attractive word in some Western circles because it has nothing to do with Slavic things at all. It's a more territorial name, and for this reason, it was favored e.g. by the ethnic German minority (and by the Nazi regime that occupied us). They called their and our country Böhmen. The Nazi-occupied territory was the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Böhmen und Mähren). You can see that it's far less "ethnic" than the country that was destroyed in 1939 (and then, after the pieces were put together, again in 1993 – note that 1993 and 1939 are permutations of one another LOL), Czechoslovakia (Tschechoslowakei).

To make it a bit more confusing, the Czech language doesn't have any word with the root similar to Bohemia. So the Czech translation of Bohemia, the part of the country, is Čechy ("the plural inanimate Czechs").

OK. Because of the geographic limits of the term "Bohemia", it's obvious that we shouldn't use any word with this root for the whole territory of the current Czech Republic. Some Moravian nationalists (a very small group, just to be sure, the Moravian separatism is in no way a hot topic) could get upset. But even others would see that it would be just wrong to use Bohemia or anything of the sort for the whole country because Boii didn't ever get too far to Moravia.

Fine. So the correct name of the country has to have something to do with the root "Czech". Note that the word was spelled with "cz" in old Czech up to the early 15th century or so when the church reformer John Huss introduced the diacritical signs, so Czechs spelled themselves "Čech". In Polish, "cz" survived, and Czech is often counted as an English word of Polish origin although the origin could have been Czech-before-1410-or-so, too. (Newer English words of Polish origin were mostly brought to North America via Ashkenazi Jewish migrants from Poland but I believe that "Czech" isn't new enough for that.)

The evolving historical map of the country of Czechs since 935 AD. Apologies that Smetana's Vyšehrad (Upper Castle [In Prague]) appeared for the second time, it's a coincidence.

How did the name for our Czech lands evolve? In the 2nd millennium, our ancestors lived in the Kingdom of Bohemia (Czech Kingdom is pretty much just a modern synonym) – while Moravia wasn't a kingdom. Since the 12th century, it was organized as a Margraviate of Moravia (Czech: "markrabství moravské"), a dependent territory officially led by a margrave (Czech: "markrabě"), basically an aristocrat who is just a military officer of sort, a title introduced by Charlemagne around 800 AD.

(At one moment, Moravia was totally disconnected from Bohemia for a few years. In 1278, a place in Austria on the river named Moravia, near the Moravian territory (the Czech words for the river and the territory are the same; the German names are not – there are other examples of that, too), there was the Battle of the Marchfeld, the globally largest battle of knights of the whole Middle Ages. Fun cartoon. The Czech king Přemysl Ottokar II of Bohemia – who was Europe's most powerful ruler at the moment, after 25 years of clever and successful battles and marriages with daughters of other kings both younger and older than himself – wanted to secure some Austrian territories he believed to have inherited, but he had to defeat Rudolph I Habsburg of Austria and his Hungarian ally, Ladislau IV of Hungary. The battle seemed like a tie for a while but at the end, Ottokar's loss was stunningly clear, Ottokar himself, the "Iron and Golden King", as we called him, if I remember the year 1278 well, was killed – perhaps by his own people who may have betrayed him for no good reason, perhaps just because they were subpar and jealous loop quantum gravity losers relatively to the great king [not the last time this reason played a role in Czechia] – and Rudolph felt self-confident enough to capture all of Moravia for a few years. Just to be sure, Bohemia remained the Czechs' kingdom – ruled by Ottokar's not too important son Wenceslaus II of Bohemia – whose son Wenceslaus III was the last Přemyslid and died young. Rudolph's 1278 triumph vaguely predetermined the Habsburgs' power over Central Europe for the following 750 years.)

The[se] Bohemian Crown Jewels have defined some of Europe's most powerful rulers since 1347. Reinhard Heydrich ignored the legend that "who takes on the Czech crown without the credentials, will die in a year", and tried the Czech kings' crown, too. He was executed by the Czechoslovak government in London within a year. In the modern times, the jewels were popularized primarily by President Zeman who went to see them in a visibly drunk condition – which he justified as the legendary "viral infection". The word "viróza" became the most popular word describing Zeman's intimate (but in most cases, charming) relationship with ethanol.

Bohemia and Moravia shared most of the history, anyway, because the Czech king (whoever got access to the pretty crown) was the head of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown – a feudal entity whose territory basically coincided with that of the Czech Republic (even though it has reached both to the Baltic and Adriatic Seas at various moments). Just to make you sure, the Czech king was often the same person as the Holy Roman Emperor or (later) the Austrian Emperor: the lands were a fully respected autonomous component within a broader German-speaking realm while the degree of the autonomy has varied.

In the 19th century, feudalism was less hot and the "Czech lands" was becoming a more common name for the lengthy feudal names of the territory. At the same moment, this decline of the importance of feudalism emphasized the fact that the Czech lands weren't really a country, just a "province" within Austria-Hungary.

Austria-Hungary lost the First World War, got dissolved, and the President-Founder Thomas Garrigue Masaryk (plus domestic collaborators) created Czechoslovakia in 1918. It was viewed as a better solution at the moment but you shouldn't think that Czechs had been some fanatical separatists. Not at all. Most of Czechs, the ordinary ones and the elites, were pretty happy about the Austrian monarchy.

Czechoslovakia was allowed to exist thanks to the support by top Western politicians, especially the U.S. president Woodrow Wilson whom Masaryk sort of befriended. In the U.S., I learned how utterly unpopular Wilson became, especially among the Republicans. But that shouldn't confuse the American readers. If you visit Czechia, Woodrow Wilson is arguably the most popular U.S. president ever, at least according to the number of streets, avenues, bridges, and railway stations (starting with the largest Czech one, the main railway station in Prague) named after him. I think it's likely that many more such things are named after Wilson in Czechia than in the United States! ;-)

I think that you may guess what's the main reason of this high status of Woodrow Wilson in Czechia.

Czechoslovakia was based on the idea that there is just one Slavic nation on the territory, the Czechoslovaks, that was just artificially divided (for much of the previous 1,000 years LOL) between the Austrians and the Hungarians, but it's really one nation. This idea was helpful – and maybe needed to make the point that the ethnic Germans weren't "one of the three main nations" in the new country, despite their number around 3 million. In combination, ethnic Czechoslovaks safely outnumbered the ethnic Germans.

Whether Czechs and Slovaks are one nation or two is obviously a matter of conventions and attitudes. Like species according to Darwin's theory, nations evolve and sometimes gradually split (or merge). I did like the idea and I still tend to think of Czechoslovaks as if they were one nation. It doesn't mean that I am trying to correct people everywhere (or that I am imposing quotas on myself concerning how many Slovak newspapers I read etc.). But if I get enough room, that's how I may frame things.

The Czechoslovak Republic had this long official name (with the adjective "Socialist" added between 1960 and 1989; and the name became Czecho-Slovak in 1938 and again in 1991, and then Czech and Slovak in 1992, in the wake of the Czecho-Slovak hyphen war) but it also had the short name, Czechoslovakia. The last part of it is Slovakia which is an obvious and natural short name for Slovakia, so no one had a problem with the word "Slovakia" that has been used for a long time and tested during the Second World War independent Slovak clerofascist state. (But just to be sure, I think that even the term "Slovak Republic" is used far more often than it should be – in contexts where "Slovakia" is far more natural.)

Tom told me that the author of the Czechoslovak flag was Jaroslav Kursa, born in Blovice, South of Pilsen, who used it at a rally in the U.S. in 1918. The flag was adopted by the Czechoslovak Parliament in 1919-1920. At the beginning, the triangle only covered (50% of the area of the) 1/3 of the width but it was later increased to 1/2.

It's really the name of the rest of the dissolved country, the Czech Republic, that leads to troubles. After some disagreements, it was agreed that the Czechs could violate a soft agreement with Slovakia and keep the flag. Czechs didn't really want to dissolve Czechoslovakia too much so it would be unfair to force us to change our flag etc. However, it's sort of ironic, too.

For quite some time, e.g. around 1918 (and during the kingdom within Austria when the flag wasn't too important), the Czech flag was designed to coincide with the Polish flag: red bottom strip, white upper strip. (That was also the official flag of the Czech Republic which was just a part of Czechoslovakia between 1990 and 1992, and that flag didn't matter much, either.) That would obviously be impractical for a whole country so a new flag had to be found. Around 1919, someone invented the Czechoslovak flag with the extra blue triangular wedge attached to the pole. According to semi-official legends, this blue wedge represents Slovakia. Because of some historical twists and turns, the specific symbol representing Slovakia therefore became a key part of the independent Czech flag in 1993, a fact that is mentioned in a new lukewarm Czecho-Slovak love duet named The Slovak Wedge by Chinaski (a band). It's almost a rule that the males are Czech and the females are Slovak in such situations but I know counterexamples (with Lucie Bílá etc.), too.

Because the word "Czechia" is almost invisible in the English-language newspapers and conversations, most readers must be shocked when they learn that it has been the official short name of the Czech Republic at every moment since the birth of the country in 1993.

The official document by the new separate Czech ministry of foreign affairs – which was led by Mr Zeleniec back in 1993 – defined the political and short names and included the short name Česko in the Czech language, and Czechia in the English language. How did my and the Czechs' attitudes to the short name evolve?

Despite the 1,000-year-long existence and unusual stability of the "Lands of the Bohemian Crown" or the "Czech lands", there simply wasn't any widespread short name of the territory analogous to France or Germany up to 1993, not even in Czech. It had to be coined and promoted.

The Czech word for Czechoslovakia is Československo. The parts of the words are obvious. The word may really be literally divided to Česko and Slovensko, the two countries. It's a bit of a coincidence that the whole exact "Česko" appears in "Československo" because the "-ko" refers both to an adverb incorporated to composite words (compare with "lehkomyslný") and a territory ("Maďarsko").

However, the word "Česko" was newly coined which made it unavoidably controversial. Some people claim that they still dislike the word now, in 2016, but it seems totally obvious to me that these people have already lost the war and they will never be able to "erase" the word from the face of the Earth. Why did most Czechs grow compatible with the word "Česko"?

I believe that the #1 person who must be thanked is Dr Vladimír Železný, the founding director of the first big commercial TV station in post-communist Europe, TV NOVA (who later lost the TV after unlucky legal battles with Ronald Lauder, his key U.S. investor). He did a lot to introduce many Western things to our TV world (and he had many original and entertaining programs in the 1990s that were great and sadly disappeared). But he also found it important to have a short apolitical name for our country and decided that "Česko" was the only option.

Also, I think that by far the most important places where "Česko" appeared were sport events. When Czechs watch e.g. 30 ice-hockey matches, "Česko:Rusko", or something like that, they start to see that the word "Česko" really is natural. So despite some persisting opposition, let me claim that the short name "Česko" has become dominant in the Czech language, just like "Francie" is the dominant word for "France". The political name "Česká republika" clearly doesn't belong to apological discussions between ordinary humans – and most other contexts.

What remains to be done is to make a similar change in the other languages, especially English. "Czechia" has been the leading contender for decades. Current polls among Czechs indicate that some 70% of Czechs who can understand an English question dislike the English word "Czechia". I find this opposition inevitable – but at the same moment, it can't prevent the remaining 30% from using the term which will lead to the increase of the figure 30% (where I belong).

However, you shouldn't imagine that all promoters of "Czechia", such as your humble correspondent, were unequivocally decided that it's the best short name for the country. When Czechoslovakia was getting dissolved in late 1992, I was actually promoting my own #1 choice, "The Czechlands", in analogy with "The Netherlands". Should I have omitted the article "the"? Another alternative could have been "Czechland", a counterpart of "Holland". "Czechland" was often mocked because it sounds like "chicken land". (Somewhat comically, some people have proposed acronyms involving Moravia such as Czemor or Morcze; the latter means the guinea pig in Czech. And some folks excessively critical of our political landscape propose Czechistan instead LOL. Reddit users proposed CzechoNOvakia; also, Novák is the most frequent surname here.)

While the Czechlands or Czechland would be tolerable, there is one real thing around us that looks absolutely horrifying to me and the linguists, and it's the word "Czech" used as if it were a noun representing the country. That's just unacceptable – but you may see many fans and athletes with this word on their clothes. Czech is at most the language, like French. You just shouldn't confuse French and France. "Czech" is a rather widespread word shortening "the Czech Republic". Exactly because of the horror of this kind of broken English (and apologies: if you're a native speaker, it doesn't mean that you never speak in broken English), I find it important for a new short name to be adopted.

You can say that the creators of this outfit are better at geography and languages than those who would write "Czech", can't you? If you haven't understood Czechia's coat of arms yet, the double-tailed lion on the red background is Bohemia and the remaining animals are eagles. The checkered one on the blue background is Moravia and the black one on the yellow background is Silesia. Incidentally, the horrible "brewer in Plzeň, Czech" is written even on the beer that gave the pils its name.

Partly because of the official 1993 document by the ministry, I was gradually converging to the opinion that Czechia was a superior name. I was using it and getting used to it, too. It seems obvious to me that most of the people who see this word on this blog for the first or second time must think that it's "strange" or "quirky". At the same moment, I believe that there are numerous TRF readers who think that the word "Czechia" is normal and sensible – is that right?

The repetition unavoidably makes quite some difference.

It may be a good idea to mention the word for "Czechia" in some other languages. See this table for the equivalents of "Czechia" in about 40 languages. In Latin, Bohemia was often (confusingly) used for the Czech lands in general but the Latin word "Czechia" (the same one) was already seen in the 17th century documents.

There are languages that have been using the word sounding as similar to "Czechia" as possible all the time. This includes Russian (where the word "Czechia" was actually used long before Czechoslovakia dissolved and it just sounds natural, and that's why it's been used by Russians in Russian English frequently, too), Belorussian (similar), Bulgarian (a little bit different but similar), Greek and Hebrew (different but having some identical features; President Zeman thanked Peres for using Czechia in 2013 and The Independent was shocked by the renaming plans), and to a large extent in Slovak ("Česko", the same status as in the Czech language), Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Vietnamese, Finnish, Scandinavian languages, and Dutch. Most of the key languages don't really have a problem.

German is the most important language after Czech (and maybe English) when it comes to the naming of things on the Czech territory. German has quite some detailed terminology for the Czech regions and towns etc., and I have mentioned Böhmen und Mähren. But German also has a widespread short name for "Czechia".

There are actually two of them: Tschechien and Tschechei. Tschechien (from Low German) is the more official, and perhaps politically correct one; Tschechei (still dominant near the Czech border) is the unofficial one, and it is perhaps considered a slur of a sort. The history is such that the Nazis basically coined the word "Tschechei" because it had to sound funny to them, and they wanted to show that they may easily break "Tschechoslowakei" to pieces. The occupation in March 1939 was known to the German army officers as Zerschlagung der Rest-Tschechei, "The Destruction of the Rest-or-Aß-of-Czechoslovakia". Czechs sometimes comically or self-mockingly translated Tschechei as "Čechárna", basically Czech Hutch ("Králíkárna" is a rabbit hutch); the similar word "čekárna" is a waiting room. I don't really speak German well enough to "feel the puns in the same way" as they do. So I am just not capable of getting offended when someone says "Tschechei". It's still the same thing as Tschechien, isn't it? It may be linked to some negative stereotypes or fairy-tales (or truths) about the Czechs.

But as long as you use "Tschechei" consistently for the country in all situations, it must be connected with all properties of the Czech country and the Czech nation, right? So whether it's offensive ultimately depends on our being losers. The question which of the synonyms is "offensive" or "politically correct" is often funny and one should just totally ignore these labels. There are some euphemisms that were coined to replace some previous straight talk, but then these euphemisms became politically incorrect by themselves because they still indicated the same thing, so people proposed to return to the previously offensive word, and so on. ;-)

So you won't find almost any Czechs who would think that "Tschechei" is an offensive word. However, in Germany, you may be criticized for all kinds of "politically incorrect" things. I believe that many people face some minor problems if they use the word "Tschechei". But the problems are not created by Czechs.

English speakers should similarly start to use the word Czechia. I don't know how skillful FM Zaorálek is – he needs to convince major U.S. newspapers and TVs to embrace the term if he really wants to make a difference. But even though I am not a trained linguist in any sense, I do agree with the statements that many top Czech linguists (e.g. Rudolf Šrámek of Masaryk University) say.

There are about three main reasons why the political long name is inadequate in most cases and a short name is a must:

  • the short name saves time (or space or disk space or area on the screen), it's just more practical
  • most of the conversations have nothing to do with detailed politics so they shouldn't care about the question whether we have a republic or a kingdom or anything of the sort – the word "republic" is just off-topic, redundant, and "cold" (as Zeman likes to say)
  • the usage of long names for a country is really a shame, and it reduces the legitimacy of the whole country in a certain way
I want to clarify the last point by offering you a more extreme analogy. Macedonia, the country, has to be called
The Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM)
That's weird but in this situation, we know exactly what's behind the length of the name. Greece uses the word Macedonia for its own province, one adjacent to FYROM, and claims that the Slavs don't have the right to use the name that basically covered both territories a very long time ago. Moreover, Greece claims to be afraid that FYROM could make territorial claims because it is "the" Macedonia, so obviously the "Macedonian" province of Greece belongs to them, too. Greeks prefer a convoluted name for FYROM because it visually reduces the legitimacy of the whole country – it makes you think that it's just a piece of some mess from the Yugoslav wars that may change the status often.

The disputes and worries may be complicated and none of the details has accurate analogies in Czechia. But the overall point is true: the convoluted character of the long name is positively correlated with some potentially existential problems or controversies that the countries is plagued by. There are many ways to reorganize long names – which makes one think that it's not a problem when the territory itself is reorganized as well.

On the other hand, if you have short and concise words such as France or Germany, it makes everyone think that the existence and identity of the country is indisputable and the conservation law for the number of such countries basically holds.

These are the reasons why I think that a stable, safe country such as the Czech Republic should have a short apolitical name such as Czechia – despite the fact that the name may look strange or childish to many people for some time.

So please, at least if Zaorálek gets at least to a committee in the U.N. (first, he will have a talk with other top constitutional officials in Czechia tomorrow, on Thursday) and something is approved, do use the word Czechia yourself. It is the official name. When you use it, you may still be in a minority for a while, but you aren't being ludicrous in any way.

Incidentally, I think that we have at least as many human rights as the Indians or Chinese or Indochinese etc. When those folks demanded their countries or cities such as Peking, Ceylon, Bangalore etc. to be called Beijing, Sri Lanka, Bangaluru etc., most Western journalists immediately obeyed the orders. Those people of colors asked us something so we must be obedient. What happens when the Czech politicians do a similar thing? Do you think it's better to use your old convoluted phrases – or perhaps forget that Czechoslovakia was dissolved 23 years ago (like George W. Bush in his presidential campaign)?

Some Americans told me on Twitter that Czechia is a bad name because it will make the mixups with Chechnya even worse. Sure, it will. Or not. Some people confuse Czechia and Chechnya; see this collector edition of these monster minds. There were demands to nuke Chechnya or Czechia, whatever it is, after the Boston Marathon Bombing Attacks. I have no doubts that there are many of them. I have seen such people among some (not long-term) TRF readers, too. But the words should be designed or redesigned according to the needs of the people who know their meaning and who need to express this meaning, not according to the stupid people who don't.

The Czechia-Chechnya confusion is absolutely analogous to the confusion of America and Africa. America is very different from Africa, by its GDP and other things, and the difference is very similar between Czechia and Chechnya (surely when it comes to safety or GDP per capita – the latter differs by a factor of 5 despite the big improvements in Chechnya after 2000). Not everyone in the world or the U.S. really knows what Czechia is – it's a fact, perhaps a sad fact. But these are the people who just shouldn't dictate what is happening with the language. The people who have an idea should. The words Czechia and Chechnya don't sound and aren't spelled excessively similarly, so it's just OK.

Is the name "the Czech Republic" and the suit really good for every occasion? ;-)

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