The Czech President Would Like You to Call His Country by a New Name
The country of Franz Kafka and inexpensive beer has a branding problem. Time and again, people seem to have trouble remembering that the "Czech Republic" is a two-word concoction. "Czech" is an adjective describing someone or something from the Czech Republic, not the country itself. "Czechoslovakia," a hybrid state of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, ...
The country of Franz Kafka and inexpensive beer has a branding problem. Time and again, people seem to have trouble remembering that the "Czech Republic" is a two-word concoction. "Czech" is an adjective describing someone or something from the Czech Republic, not the country itself. "Czechoslovakia," a hybrid state of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, has been defunct for 20 years. And Chechnya, though some claim otherwise, is definitely not a country south of Poland and Germany and north to Austria. But at last — in the wake of a meeting between Israeli President Shimon Peres and Czech President Milos Zeman — a solution may be at hand.
This week, during a trip to Israel, Zeman met with Peres, who in English-language remarks used the word "Czechia" to refer to the country his visitor leads. Zeman embraced the name, saying, "I am very happy that you used the term ‘Czechia’ just as I do. I use ‘Czechia’ because it sounds nicer and it’s shorter than the cold ‘Czech Republic.’" (Incidentally, the Hebrew word for the Czech Republic is also "Czechia.")
The president of Czechia’s comment was less off-the-cuff than it sounds. According to the Prague Post, Zeman actually uses the term fairly often. As do some of its most fervent supporters in the Czech Republic.
The website iknowczechia.com, for instance, reminds us that the Czech Republic is known for its beautiful women and brilliant scientists, and politely asks, in first person, for the country to be called by its proper name: "The Czech Republic." But the Internet incarnation of the Czech state adds that to its "buddies," it is known as Czechia. Way to go, Shimon Peres!
In addition to a friendly online avatar, the term has its own lobby group called the Civic Initiative Czechia. The organization’s website provides an exhaustive history of the term ("Czechia is not a neologism"), and cites a number of semi-official documents legitimizing the moniker, which is lauded for its short, one-word form. The group claims, for instance, that the term is registered with the United Nations, though no official list of U.N. members available online refers to Czechia (an excerpt from a 1925 issue of the New York Times does, however, as the Civic Initiative Czechia eagerly points out).
The Civic Initiative Czechia’s website, whose content is heavily correlated with the Wikipedia entry "Name of the Czech Republic," notes an editing war on the online encyclopedia over the mention in the Czech Republic’s Wikipedia page of "Czechia," which is "continuously erased from the main paragraph." Suspects in this act of online vandalism might include the proponents of the equally awkward one-word solution "Czechland," or "Czechlands."
If I were Zeman, I’d prefer "President of Czechia" to the ominous "Ruler of the Czechlands." Then again, I might just stick with the Czech Republic.
Correction: This post originally stated that Shimon Peres accidentally referred to the Czech Republic as "Czechia." The Office of the President of the State of Israel has informed Foreign Policy that Peres’s reference to "Czechia" was in fact at the request of the Czech president.