It has been four years since the Czech Republic finally registered an abbreviated name of “Czechia”, which was to be used at international events, and thus replace the often long-winded use of the two-word version of the name.
Although it was in 1993 when the Czech Republic decided at the national level to shorten the name of the country both in Czech (to Česko) and English (to Czechia), Czech officials officially requested adding the abbreviation to the United Nations database only in 2016.
It is perhaps no surprise that changing the name of an entire country or at least accepting a new version of it was always going to be fraught with difficulties, with the debate over the name “Czechia” provoking strong reactions from the very beginning. The short name has had strong supporters and equally loud opponents over the years.
Although the discussion on the subject has calmed down a bit since 2016, it is far from being over. Indeed, the dispute over the term “Czechia” even has its own page on Wikipedia.
The first important critic of the abbreviation was the first Czech president, Václav Havel.
“I do not know what Czechia means. I only know the word from cheap exile journalism,” said Havel in 1993 after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
Havel considered the name “Česko” as well as the English version “Czechia” to be a neologism, which arose from the mere division of the word Czechoslovakia and, thus, a butchering of the Czech language.
And many critics of the abbreviation share his sentiments.
It would seem that there has been a shift in attitude since then, given that the current president, Miloš Zeman, repeatedly uses the term Czechia in negotiations with foreign officials and encourages other Czech officials to do so. To Zeman, the shorter version sounds better, and he considers it more practical.
However, confusion over the abbreviation of the name of the Czech state still persists, as evident from the Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s interview for The Wall Street Journal in 2019. When someone used the word “Czechia” in front of Babiš in the middle of the interview, the prime minister began to wonder where the abbreviation came from.
“I didn’t know that. I don’t like it at all,” Babiš said when one of his assistants explained that the United Nations had agreed to the Czech Republic’s request for adding the shorter name for the Czech Republic to its database.
“Now you’re going to confuse Czechia with Chechnya,” he stated as one of the reasons why he did not like the name. He later added that the name Czechia is not unknown to him, but he prefers to use the longer version.
Czechia or Chechnya?
The possibility that Czechia would be confused with Chechnya, the federal republic of Russia, is one of the reasons why the abbreviation outraged many Czechs.
Indeed, confusing the Czech Republic with Chechnya has occurred several times in the past. For example, after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, one American journalist reported that the attacker came from the Czech Republic instead of Chechnya. A similar mistake was then made by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who called for an invasion of the Czech Republic over the incident.
Critics of the abbreviation are afraid that the name Czechia shows greater similarity to “Chechnya” than using the long version, the Czech Republic, and thus will lead to more confusion.
Overall, the shorter name, which was to be used as the official name of the country, has not stuck with Czechs. In 2017, a year after it was entered into the UN database, The Washington Post noticed that the abbreviated name was not being used by many people.
Mainly Czech politicians and institutions, which stick to the longer version, are to blame. The Post then pointed out that the shorter name is usually more used in informal conversations.
However, one factor that could lead to name Czechia to dominate and spread internationally was the renaming of the Czech Republic to Czechia in Google Maps in 2017, however, Czech officials have still been unwilling to use the shorter name, which has created a persistent tuggle war over what name is most accepted. Another evidence of the failure for the shorter name to reach a broader audience is statistics from the Google search, which indicate that people search for the term “Czech Republic” much more often than they search for “Czechia”.
In 2016, when the British daily The Guardian asked Czechs on their opinion on the name “Czechia”, the newspaper got rather critical responses. According to some, “Czechia” simply does not sound good.
“I would like a shorter name but Czechia doesn’t sound nice. It sounds too small, or like some dialect,” said one of the Czechs about the name, while another pointed out that “Czechia” sounds too eastern, and not as the name of a country yearning to belong to Western Europe.
The short name is a sign of Pragocentrism, some Czechs say
The reason behind the introduction of the name “Czechia” was also to ensure that the country does not stand out so much in comparison with other countries that use shorter versions of their names. Sometimes it can seem strange when, for example, the Czech Republic meets Germany or Spain in a sports match. The long name sometimes simply becomes too clumsy to use.
Why the Czech representatives chose the name “Czechia” over other alternatives would take another article to explain, however, many point out that the abbreviation “Czechia” was used as early as the 16th century and represents the country best from a historical perspective.
At the same time, Moravia, one of the three historical territories of the Czech Republic, considers the short name to be discriminatory. People in Brno, the capital of this territory, even staged a demonstration against the name using banners saying “Moravia is not Czechia”. They consider the name Czechia to be an attack on the Moravian identity, and the evidence of excessive “Pragocentrism”.
To understand the Moravians, it’s important to note that Prague is not only the capital of the Czech Republic but also the capital of the largest Czech historical territory, Bohemia. Loosely translated to Czech, Bohemia means “Čechy”, which is very similar to the word “Česko”, i. e. the Czech equivalent of Czechia.
Although the term “Czechia” saw the most heated debate at the time it was entered in the UN database, since then, there have been consistent and fiery debates denouncing or defending this abbreviation. Given the passion from both sides, the issue of whether the country should be called the Czech Republic or Czechia is unlikely to die down anytime soon.
Title image: A picture of a teacher crossing out the name “Czech Republic” (idnes.cz/Profimedia.cz)