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Czechia or Czech Republic? The diatribe of the designation of the Country still remains a problem to be solved

During a visit to Israel in October 2013, Czech President Miloš Zeman declared that he preferred the expression Czechia to that of Czech Republic. In a certain sense, it is as if he had said to us Italians that he preferred the name Cechia to that of Repubblica Ceca. The aim of this article is simply to illustrate the main aspects of this antinomy between the official name of the state (Česká Republika) and the name of the historical-political region, which roughly corresponds to it (Česko). To back in time to discover the reasons that have led to this uncertainty, but also to understand what might be the future developments.

The roots of this state, whose lands include Bohemia, Moravia and part of Silesia, go back to the distant past, when the Czech Republic did not yet exist and Czechoslovakia was not yet born.

In the seventeenth century, these territories were all called Česko, a term that appears in the ancient Latin records of that period. The name had been coined by Pavel Skála from Zhoře, a Bohemian historian (1583 – 1640), and is found again in the nineteenth and twentieth century in its English version, Czechia.

A closer look, however, shows that in the Czech language there is no single term to combine Bohemians (Czechs), Silesians and Moravians. It is no coincidence, therefore, if the Communist Party decided to call itself Komunistická strana Čech a Moravy, KSČM (Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia). A politically correct way to resolve the issue.

The all-inclusive English single name Czechia, but also the Italian Cechia, though, have slowly fallen into disuse. The only traces that can still be found today are those related to sports competitions, where Repubblica Ceca (or Czech Republic in the English version), is too long and is usually replaced with Cechia (Czechia).

20 cechiaAt present, the naming issue seems to be ongoing only in the Czech Republic, where it is quite common to replace the official political name with the name of the individual regions that make up the state. Furthermore, at a more general level, there is a fundamental division between the political name (i.e. the formal version of the name of the state) and its historical-geographical name (the everyday language term used to refer to the country): nobody would call Spain “Kingdom of Spain”, Italy “the Italian Republic” or Slovakia “the Slovakian Republic” except perhaps in strictly formal circumstances.

In 1993, the Prague government registered the official name of the state at the United Nations as Česká Republika (Czech Republic) that is used in official documents and treaties; the geographical name, however, is different: Česko. Whilst the last version has slowly taken hold in the Czech Republic and become part of everyday life, its foreign equivalents, among which there is the English Czechia, are still struggling to enter into common usage, also due to a certain delay in the registration of the geographical name at the United Nations, which took place only in 2004.

It is curious, however, that English speakers tend to use the term “Czech”, a wrong variant, in so far as it is an adjective. The term “Czech” at the most, may be considered as an abbreviation for the no longer existing Czechoslovakia.

Jiří Felix, a spokesperson of the Česko/Czechia initiative, founded in Brno in 1997, states: “We always complain that the word Czechia is not used around the world, but it is our fault because we are the first not to use it. No one cares about how we want to call our Country, they will just get used to it”.

“What’s in a name?”, pondered Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. A story, we could say; a population. Occasionally, the subject of the name of the Czech Republic pops up, when the newspapers start talking about it, wondering if it will ever be possible for everyone to reach an agreement and find a suitable version to please both citizens and politicians.

Czechia would be a perfect name for entrepreneurs, that could change the rather longish “Made in the Czech Republic” with “Made in Czechia”: again, a winning variant and more in line with European trends. The promotion of Made in Czechia, made by public bodies, such as CzechTrade, CzechInvest and CzechTourism has, however, almost completely come to a halt due to a misunderstanding at international level. A few sceptics, in fact, believe that the term Czechia is too similar to that of Chechnya in English. A similar misunderstanding may also take place with several other states – such as Slovenia and Slovakia , Niger and Nigeria, Austria and Australia – and to support the opposite to Czechia view, they cite the latest, most recent example: the terrorist attack that took place in April 2013 during the Boston Marathon. In reporting the events, Chechnya (the English name for Cecenia) was misinterpreted as an abbreviation for Czech Republic, which shows that, indeed, the abbreviation form is not part of the common international vocabulary. In fact, despite the announcement by the governing body through a special note by the Minister of Foreign Affairs – who strongly advised and allowed the use of Czechia in all occasions (including formal ones that did not require the signature of a treaty or the drawing up of an agreement) – no significant change was brought about in the common use of the short-term.

It is, therefore, quite curious that President Miloš Zeman, during his speeches abroad, stated that he commonly uses the term Czechia in place of Czech Republic and that he prefers it. In a recent interview, Karel Oliva, director of the Czech Language Institute of the Academy of Sciences, stated that the debate on the name of the Czech Republic is not actually of great concern to Czech citizens, but rather to Anglophone citizens. However, if the younger generation get used to using Česko, Czechia or Cechia, the term could become widely used – that did not take place just after the birth of the Czech Republic in 1993 – and thus gain worldwide recognition.

by Barbara Medici