The Czechs, pushed and pulled between East and West over the centuries, have long suffered from an identity crisis.
It does not help that many foreigners consistently confuse their proud country, the Czech Republic, with its predecessor, Czechoslovakia, or its poorer cousin, Slovakia.
Or that, in 2013, some analysts mistakenly described the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing as hailing from the Czech Republic — confusing it with Chechnya, a restive region of Russia about 3,200 kilometers away, and alarming Czech diplomats who issued a clarification.
So Czech leaders have proposed a new name that they hope will give the birthplace of Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka and Martina Navratilova greater recognition on the global stage: Czechia.
While the new name does not necessarily resolve the potential confusion with Chechnya — it might even cause more confusion, some critics say — proponents hope Czechia rolls off the tongue in English more easily than Czech Republic.
Variants that did not make the cut included “Czechlands,” “Bohemia” and, simply, “Czech.”
“It is not good when a country does not have any clearly defined symbols, or cannot say clearly what its name is,” Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Lubomir Zaoralek said on Tuesday, unveiling the proposal.
“It would be good to set the record straight once and for all. We owe this to ourselves and to the world,” he said.
Proponents of the new name have produced a Web site, “Go Czechia.” It notes that the name was used as early as 1634, and is derived from Latin.
“Czechia might sound strange to some people the first time they hear it, but so do numerous geographic names derived from foreign languages that are commonly used in English,” a post on the Web site said, citing, among other examples, Idaho, Massachusetts and Zimbabwe.
The Czech Republic is hardly the only country to grapple with the word “Republic” in ordinary parlance. It is joined by the Central African Republic, the Dominican Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name a few.
However, there is something distinctively Czech about the soul-searching. Czechoslovakia was created only in 1918, out of the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The nation suffered the seizure of territory by former German leader Adolf Hitler in 1938 and a Soviet-led invasion in 1968. In 1989, its people ended decades of communist rule in the Velvet Revolution. However, in 1993, it split — amicably — into separate Czech and Slovak states.
Czechs began to refer to their newly truncated country as “Cesko,” but there was no universal agreement over how to translate that into English. (Czechia is the correct translation, the foreign ministry said.)
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel, who opposed the split, hated the name Cesko, which, aides said, reminded him of Czechoslovakia’s dismemberment; Havel said it made him feel “as if snails were crawling” over him.
Kosovan Minister of Foreign Affairs Petrit Selimi, who helped lead the country’s rebranding after it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, noted the branding potential, saying that Czechia was easy to remember and pronounce, and would work equally well on a soccer jersey, during a diplomatic meeting or in a Facebook post.
Others, however, were less convinced.
David Cerny, a Czech sculptor who has satirized European identity — portraying Slovakia as a Hungarian sausage and Bulgaria retooled as a Turkish toilet — called the new name misguided and “idiotic.” He said the rebranding was a cynical distraction from pressing problems like corruption and right-wing extremism.
“This whole renaming exercise is the tail wagging the dog,” he said. “The real problem these days is what is going on with the country — not with the name of the country. The name Czechia is neither sexy nor rock ’n’ roll.”
Karel Schwarzenberg, a former foreign minister, suggested simply using the name Bohemia, which was used as early as medieval times.
“Why are we avoiding the historic name Bohemia, which for centuries served as the name of our country?” a Czech news site, Aktualne, quoted him as saying. “Why do we have to do this artificially and make up names like Czechia?”
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