An interesting debate has opened up over the use of the term Česko (Czechia) instead of Česka Republika (Czech Republic). As a front page story in today’s MFDnes put it, “the country of Kafka, Jagr and good beer doesn’t know what to call itself.”
Linguists, politicians and historians discussed the issue yesterday in a special Senate hearing, and the point made was simple: It’s OK to use Česko.
“We want to tell people that there’s nothing strange or silly about the term,” LeoÅ¡ Janeček, of Charles University’s Department of Social Geography, told MF Dnes.
The term isn’t widely used, and despite the efforts of various experts, when it is used it seems somehow odd or foreign. The most common usage today is in the title of the wildly popular Pop Idol franchise “Česko hledÃ¡ superstar” (Czechia Seeks Its Superstar). You hear “DobrÃ½ den Česko,” from time to time on TV Nova’s breakfast program, but when it’s spoken from the relentlessly cheery and well-scrubbed hosts it sounds even more odd.
Some of the speakers in yesterday’s Senate hearing tried to argue that the Czechs are the only country in the 25-member European Union with a two-word name, and that a one-word name like Česko would help the country’s good reputation and, by extension, increase trade.
One good remark came from the otherwise goosebump-inducing Senator VladimÃr Å½eleznÃ½, who pointed out that some manufacturers are using “Made in Czech” on their tags. This is taken by foreign colleagues to mean “Made in a Czech,” which is either nonsensical or disgusting.
“Czech Republic” has its supporters, though. It is one of the rare things both VÃ¡clavs, Klaus and Havel, agree on. “When I hear it, I get the sensation of slugs crawling up my back,” Havel is quoted as saying.
Many people back home also don’t know to say “the Czech Republic.” I hear, “so when are you going back to Czech?” That is to say, when I don’t hear “Czechoslovakia.” What I try to ignore is the unusually large number of people who ask me when I’m leaving, as if I smell bad or something, but I digress. At least they’re not saying “Yugoslovakia,” as I once heard.
Česko translated into English is “Czechia,” which creeps me out. It connotes a fairytale land, maybe next door to Narnia, but definitely in Middle Earth. Maybe because the extension of that would be “Czechians,” which is entirely wrong. Besides, for us dumb furriners, “Czechia” sounds dangerously close to “Chechnya.”
Will Česko make the big time? Tough to say. It will be an uphill battle, probably like the imposition of the metric system in the UK: by now most people grudgingly accept the metric system because it is more logical, more regular, and makes sense. But that doesn’t mean people have to like it.