By Savannah Green (CMC ’20)
In April of 2016, the government of the Czech Republic approved and adopted ‘Czechia’ as the official English-language name of the country. This initiated the United Nations to update their database for official country names, and supposedly ended the century-long naming debate within the country. The English version has been up for debate since 1918 with various names suggested, but never solidified. “Czechia” was first suggested in 1993, and has taken twenty five years to be made official. In an effort to market itself better to English speakers, the country has debated a shorter version of its name for decades, since it split from Slovakia
In 1918, Czechoslovakia declared itself a republic and became independent from the Habsburg rule. The republic housed many ethnicities such as Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Slovaks, and Czechs. Once several border disputes were taken care of, the Slovaks and Czechs—the two largest sects—set about building a cohesive state that made all groups feel welcome. Unfortunately, not long after, the two majority groups (Czechs and Slovaks) excluded all minority groups from the creation of the constitution. They compensated by mentioning them in the document with full rights, but many were worried for a short time. Later, the country struggled to remain intact through both world wars that ravaged Europe, and it then retained a strong Russian presence until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that called for the end of one-party rule and resulted in the election of the first non-communist president of Czechoslovakia in 40 years.
Two years later, the Warsaw Pact disbanded in 1991, signifying the dissociation of Czechoslovakia from the Soviet bloc. Due to the inability of Czechoslovak leaders to build a new, fully inclusive government, the federation became increasingly unstable post-communist rule. On the first day of 1993, Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and Slovakia, officially splitting into two states after less than three years of democracy. Many citizens were extremely unhappy with the split, especially after surviving every major European movement throughout the 20th century together. Indeed, after the decision was announced, 2.5 million Czechoslovaks signed a referendum to stop the split, but the top two elected officials continued, eager to each control a country.
Even a century after the separation from the Habsburg rule, and almost three decades after leaving the Soviet bloc and Slovakia, the Czech Republic is still struggling with how they want to be known to the world. Multiple names have been suggested and rejected over the years. For instance, the most straight forward option would be Czech. Unfortunately, Czech is an adjective and therefore would sound odd if used as a proper noun. Many Czechs assert that the final decision—Czechia—is still not completely accepted, especially within the Czech Republic. They worry about the possibility of confusion with Chechnya, a Russian republic, and Cheka, a previous name of the KGB.
A major reason for the government insisting on having a short name is for marketing purposes. The longer name has been butchered by English speakers for years, and the government worries that Czechia’s international recognition and image is being weighed down by the complication. Proponents of this argument cite the fact that most countries have a long name and a short name that are used, depending on the context of the situation. For example, the People’s Republic of China is the official title of the country, while “China” is its common name. Czechia’s government believes that this effective, shortened name will propel them further into global markets and allow sports teams and merchandise producers to quit shying away from advertising for the country.
For example, one of the main industries Czechia wants to take advantage of is world-wide beer production. In 2016, The Czech Republic consumed the most beer per capita in the world. (Many might believe that the leader should be Germany, but the Czechs outdrank the Germans by 39.1 liters per person, totaling 143.3 litres on average, annually.) This staggering statistic provides a stage for the Czech Republic’s beer producers to stand on, provided they have an English name that can be easily pronounced and marketed.
Multiple foreign governments like the United States and Britain have recognized the shorter title, while others still consistently refer to the country using its full, more difficult name. Sadly, because the name has not gained traction within the Czech Republic itself, it is still unclear the impact that the official change will have. For instance, the likely next Prime Minister of Czechia continues to refer to the country as the Czech Republic, so there is a possibility the movement will die before it has barely had time to catch on. Only time will tell the fate of the Czech Republic—or Czechia, now, that is.