Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Czechs' new moniker slow to catch on

  • Tourists in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. President Zeman thinks that name is too 'cold' (Photo: Peter Teffer)

When Czech singer Gabriela Guncikova and her team heard that they had made it to the second and final round of the Eurovision song contest in Stockholm, they appeared as jubilant on the screen as any of the other 10 finalists determined on Tuesday (10 May).

With a sense of drama typical of the competition, the Swedish hosts announced the central European nation's team was allowed to return for Saturday's final round.

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  • This Irish pub in central Prague could have been more economical with its space if it had used 'Czechia' (Photo: Peter Teffer)

“The eighth finalist is … Czech Republic!”

At that moment Czech president Milos Zeman, if he was watching, may have cringed a bit, but not because he is opposed to Czech musical success.

Zeman wants people to say “Czechia” in English because it “sounds nicer and it’s shorter than the cold Czech Republic”.

Last week, the Czech government approved the decision to submit the shorter name to two official UN databases.

“The country’s official political name “Ceska republika” will remain unchanged,” the foreign ministry said in a statement published after the final decision was made on 6 May.

But the government wants to have foreign translations of the short version of the country's name - Cesko - acknowledged in the UN records.

That also includes Tchequie in French, Chequia in Spanish, and Чехия in Russian.

The foreign ministry statement underlined that both versions will be allowed.

“It is up to each speaker or writer to decide whether to use the long form (“Ceska republika”/”Czech Republic”) or the short one (“Cesko”/”Czechia”),” it said.

“However, it is recommended to opt for the short form in situations where formal country names are not necessary (sports events, marketing, etc.).”

In Brussels, the name Czech Republic is not being buried yet.

"For the time being, the general secretariat of the Council has not received any request from the Czech authorities to replace ‘Czech Republic’ by ‘Czechia’,” said a spokesperson for the Council, where member states meet.

At the opening of a space conference in Prague on Monday, prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka stayed formal in his speech - his interpreter spoke of the Czech Republic. But the next speaker, European Space Agency's director-general Johann-Dietrich Woerner used Czechia.

As of Thursday afternoon (12 May), the UN terminology database still listed “Czech Republic (the)” as the short version of the country's name. The next scheduled update of the database will be on 1 July.

In central Prague, tourist shops have not yet reacted to the news. While most of the T-shirts and mugs sport the word “Prague”, it is not uncommon to see “Czech Republic” printed on souvenir items. The adjective “Czech” is also used.

An employee of a Prague tourism office, who was not allowed to be quoted by name, said she was against it.

“The name Czech Republic is quite new. If you change it now, people will have to get used to another name again,” she said, adding that some tourists still say Czechoslovakia.

What are now the Czech Republic and Slovakia was one country for most of the 20th century, after Czechoslovakia gained independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918.

The name Czechoslovakia was also a shorter version of Czechoslovak Republic and later the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

When the federation was dissolved on 1 January 1993, the Czechs adopted the two-worded name.

But Czechia has not yet been embraced by Czechs.

In an online poll among 1,578 Czechs, 85.4 percent said they opposed the change.

An online petition opposing Czechia and asking for a referendum to decide on the future name was also signed by 2,846 Czechs in the past month. But few new ones have been added in recent weeks.

Jitka Paskova, from another tourist office in Prague, said she had never heard an English-speaking tourist say the word Czechia.

Her branch tries to persuade Prague visitors to also explore the rest of the country. It has brochures that advertise the “Czech Republic - Land of Stories”.

“There is not going to be a change,” said Paskova.

She told this website she would continue saying Czech Republic, even if that means she needs a bit more time to finish her conversation with tourists.

Paskova said the change should not have been imposed top-down.

She suspected that the move, announced last month, was meant to distract from an incident involving a visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

During Xi's visit, Czech police cracked down on protesters handing out Tibetan and Taiwanese flags, prompting criticism from rights activists. Two weeks after the visit, the government's Czechia plan was announced.

“Suddenly everyone stopped talking about the Chinese news,” she said.

Regional development minister, Karla Slechtova, was the only one to vote against the move. She had said that the name sounds too much like Chechnya and that there should have been a public debate first.

"Citizens learnt about it just as me from the media," she said.

But Slechtova's ministry has ceded to the expectations of her colleagues.

In its articles promoting the country, the official website CzechTourism.com has already started using the word Czechia.

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