Where are you from ?

I am from CZECHIA


Almost every state in the world has two denominations which, as a rule, are based on the name of the majority nation. One of these denominations, the political name (or “conventional” name, renders the state’s structure, political system etc., and is used mainly on formal, official occasions. It has one essential disadvantage: a change of the state´s system of government implies a change of its political name. At present, for example, France is a republic but it used to be an empire and a kingdom; Serbia is also a republic today but, in the past, it was also a principality, a kingdom, a people’s republic, and a socialist republic. In a majority of the world´s countries, the political name contains in itself what is called the geographical name (or the "short name"), that is, the other name of the state. This name usually originates in usage, mostly also derives from the name of the majority nation and is mainly used in commonly spoken language but also in social intercourse when it is more suitable and more natural than the political name. It is short, most often monosyllabic and therefore easier to remember. Contrary to the political name, it implies the state´s continuity in time and space, which are an important geopolitical value and also a factor of the nation’s and/or the state’s identity. While the subject called the Czech (Socialist) Republic has existed since 1969 when the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic changed to the Federation of the Czech and the Slovak Socialist Republics, since 1993 as an independent state after the peaceful split‐up of the Federation on 31 December 1992), the history of Czechia has been in progress for more than a thousand years and includes the history of its three parts, i.e., the historical lands Bohemia, Moravia & Silesia. As early as 1993 all relevant state authorities and central institutions agreed on the short (geographic) name Česko (Czechia in English). While the domestic expression ČESKO has caught on without essential problems, its most important foreign‐language equivalent – the English term CZECHIA – still contends with considerable difficulties in asserting itself.


Czech independence was not expected after 1989, was not wished by the Czechs because the desire for a (national) state of their own had been fulfilled as early as 1918 (and again in 1945) by the formation of Czechoslovakia. Therefore, the Czechs were absolutely unready for Czech independence, which also made them indifferent to the new state´s name (an unprecedented phenomenon in the world). The spleen for the end of Czechoslovakia, caused by Slovakia´s departure, transformed itself (among other things) into hatred for the one-word name of the new Czech state and clinging to the officially and formal political name Česká republika (The Czech Republic).




After the initial very short and promising start (particularly in some mass media) Česko, for hardly understandable reasons, soon fell into disfavour (shared intensively by ex‐president Václav Havel) and its use was interrupted. The same applies to its equivalents in foreign languages. It should be pointed out that these had existed from 1993. They were approved by the Terminological Board of the Czech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadastre after consultations with other experts (such as geographers, linguists, historians, political scientists) and state authorities including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (whose representatives were among the members of the Board).
Afterward the equivalents were published in the UNO Gazetteers of Geographical Names – Names of States and Their Territorial Parts (Prague 1993). In the same year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended all Czech diplomatic corps abroad to use the one‐word names in everyday contacts (unfortunately, adherence to this guideline was left to the individual person´s discretion).  The publication includes the following names: Czechia (English), Tschechien (German), Tchéquie (French), Chequia (Spanish) and Чехия  (Russian). Naturally, every European language has its own term for  Česko, the UNO Gazetteers only cite the most important European languages. 


Practical experience shows that those who insist that no short name is necessary are wrong. The unprecedented expansion of the adjective Czech as a "substitute" for the officially approved geographical name Czechia or, on the other hand, the regional name Čechy (i.e., Bohemia) instead of Česko, prove the absolute necessity of a one‐word name for non‐formal communication. Among those who are to blame for the expansion of the wrong form Czech we can cite, in particular, the Czech Olympic Committee, various sports and even such companies as Pilsner Urquell (see its label Brewed in Pilsen.Czech). They were soon followed by producers of caps and sports jackets decorated with the ill‐famed CZECH. This is a unique phenomenon: nobody has ever seen caps or jackets with the inscriptions ENGLISH, FRENCH, GERMAN, or DUTCH. We, however, are foolish enough to proudly exhibit these goods on our own bodies whenever we travel abroad to attend important sporting events. 




The English name Czechia was hindered in its "journey to the world" by the indifference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Why? From 1993 on, its officials did not see to it that the Gazetteer of geographical (or "short") names, published by the UNO mapping service on their websites, included the name Czechia. The UNO service waited until 1995 but the Minister at that time, Josef Zieleniec from the Civic Democratic Party, who was authorized to take this step, did not sent any relevant information and, consequently, the column short name was completed with this country´s political name – Czech Republic…! The whole unfortunate affair managed to enter the highest circles of Czech politics in the first half of 2004: on May 11, the Senate of the Parliament held its 7th Public Hearing on Functional differentiation between the standard names Česká republika and Česko, and their respective equivalents in foreign languages. The participants of the Hearing carried a final Memorandum which includes, among other things, the following:

"We recommend:
1. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs to insist on observing the present terminological standards as well as its own internal memoranda, and to introduce similar one-word labels (Czechia in English) for our delegations. It is recommended to adequately adapt the text of the Treaty underlying the Constitution for Europe and to inform the respective UNO bodies of the official English "short" name Czechia. The Ministry´s unambiguous approach will encourage other state authorities to take similar steps.
2. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to see that its own announcement which was published in the Ministry´s gazette No 11/1999 is observed, particularly in the texts of schoolbooks and also in the activities of national teams, because it is a custom all over the world to use geographical names in sports events (such as Austria, Canada, Slovakia,etc.)
3 The Ministry of Industry and Commerce to see that the one-word name Czechia (Tschechien, Tchéquie, …) is used in order to consolidate a uniform visual style representing the state (in particular, to introduce the trade mark Made in Czechia for domestic products).
4. The Ministry of Local Development not to admit any uncertainty in the uniform visual style of the Czech Republic in the field of tourism (i.e., to use the one-word name Česko and its equivalents in foreign languages)."


The above-mentioned facts allow us to draw the following conclusion: if the state authorities had taken care of promotion of their own country from the very beginning, similar to other countries which arouse from disintegration of communist federations, the public would have soon taken into account that the well established "trade mark" Czechoslovakia continues as Czechia, and there would be nothing to discuss today. Who knew the name Czechoslovakia before 1918? And did anybody know such names as Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, before 1990? Did the names Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania have any meaning to anybody beyond those countries? Let alone a Moldova? No. The difference lies in the approach to the problem. While the representatives of the above-mentioned countries took all necessary steps to make the new state formations known to the public, the Czechs did not do anything. To make matters worse, they even started to mislead the world by saying that the one-word name of the Czech state "does not exist", and that it "was invented by Hitler", it "is a Slovak word", it "is not official" , etc. Howlers like these swarmed about particularly in the 1990s.1 Another typical misconception is what we call "the Chechnya fallacy" (see below). I often ask myself how it is possible that none of the Czech experts in publicity, advertising, public relations, etc., who attended various courses and workshops and are proud of their diplomas, certificates and qualifications, have ever hit upon the idea of exploiting the evident similarity of Czechia and Czechoslovakia in spoken and written form?!? It could easily demonstrate the continuity of Czechoslovak and Czech statehood. Both words include the root czech- and the suffix -ia, which is also present in the names of the Czech historical regions (Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia). In addition, there is the unique code CZ which does not occur in any other name of a state or a geographical area in the entire world (certainly not in Chechnya!). I am saying all this in order to demonstrate that the Chechnya fallacy is a stupid, false and empty argument used by some persons who have done nothing for the promotion of our country although they get their salaries from public resources, that is, from our taxes. Worse than nothing: they have filled the whole affair with confusion, ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence.


The "Chechnya fallacy" emerged for the first time in 2000 in connection with EXPO 2000 in Hannover. I do not remember all the details, but the point was that the letter "h" in the word Czechia which occurred somewhere (maybe in the map of the exhibition premises) was changed into "n" – either through a typing error (in a printed text) or by physical breaking off (in three-dimensional letters) and the word could be read as Czecnia. A journalist blew up this triviality to mean that the Germans mistake us for Čečna (as it is spelled in Czech language). In the medial turmoil which followed, nobody took notice of the fact that the name is quite different in English (Chechnya) and that the discussed region is not an independent state and cannot have its own exhibition hall at EXPO. A "problem" emerged and a new pseudo-argument against Czechia was born. But it is a mere fallacy for several reasons:
1. Names of states are anchored in history; in most cases – including ours – they come from the name of the majority nation who founded the state, who wanted it and worked on its formation (it is not essential whether its territory is also inhabited by members of other nations and ethnic groups). In our own language the attribute for the nation is český (Czech in English), the inhabitant is a Čech/Czech, we are Češi/Czechs, and so we can only form a český/Czech state, that is, Česko/Czechia.1 The root čech- (pronounced [t∫ek] in English) must logically, in various types of spelling, occur in other languages, and it really does (see Item 2). There is no other possibility. The fact that there are nations in the world whose names can sound similar, and accordingly also states whose names can – to somebody – sound similar, is only a secondary consideration. We have no choice but to teach ourselves not to confuse Austria with Australia, Thailand with Taiwan, Serbia with Siberia, Georgia (USA) with Georgia (a state in Transcaucasia), two Congos, two Koreas, three African Guineas (plus Papua-New Guinea), Iran with Irak (and Ireland), Prussia with Russia, Niger with Nigeria, Antigua with Anguilla, Gambia with Zambia, Zambia with Zimbabwe, Mali with Malawi, Columbia with British Columbia (Canada) and the US District of Columbia, Slovakia with Slovenia and Slavonia (a region in Croatia), Latvia with Lithuania, Libya with Liberia, various "Saints" – Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Saint Pierre..., all the Central Asian "-stans", and God knows what else could anybody confuse. However, none of these countries applies the "directions for use" conceived by our propagators of the Chechnya fallacy! It would be an unprecedented sign of weakness, uncertainty and, above all, political immaturity, which could even raise doubts about such a country´s right to its own independent existence.
2. True, somebody may confuse Chechnya with Czechia, but this rather demonstrates the person´s complete ignorance of geography than the "impropriety" of the name Czechia. If we took the Chechnya fallacy very seriously, it would, in the end, necessitate changing our nation´s name.
3. An argument in the style of the Chechnya fallacy could never occur to any clear-headed person as it is absolutely erroneous and, in fact, unique. It actually says the following: if nation A finds out that a few individuals – foreigners – confused the state of nation A with another geographical formation B (not necessarily an independent state), nation A should change the name of its own state or choose another solution which will finally be less convenient. In my opinion such a passive and even dangerous method of thinking is really absurd.

Czechia can be confused with Chechnya in the same way the Czech Republic can be confused with the Chechen Republic. The chance of actual confusion of Czechia and Chechnya during various diplomatic, international scientific or sports events is almost zero since Chechnya is not an independent country and does not act as a sovereign entity at the international scale. 


Thanks to essential help of the mass media the one‐word name of this country has finally established itself in the Czech area: Česko has a life of its own and – speaking in medical terms – it only needs to come for a checkup once a year. Czechia, on the other hand, is lying in the intensive care unit connected to medical devices, but no help is provided – the "doctors" don´t care a fig for this patient, and so he survives only because a kind nurse or anothergood soul brings him an orange from time to time. Czechia needs help however small it may be! Some help has been offered for a few years by producers of road maps:  the East Moravian publishing house SHOCart&GeoClub was a pioneer. It would also help if the publishers of English versions of Czech internet papers decided to use the official one‐word name of this country next to the others (e.g., Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary  ‐  Czechia.). At first, it would be enough to use the name occasionally so that the readers can get accustomed. It is wrong to argue that international agencies donot use Czechia – this is a confusion of cause and effect. If Czechia were used more often in the Czech area, it would certainly soon be adopted by international agencies. An important argument in favour of Czechia is the following: English is apparently the only language in Europe which "is not able" to translate the geographical name Česko. Should we really believe that the English language – the lingua franca of today´s world – is so incompetent while, for example, Faeroese, spoken by about forty thousand islanders in the North Atlantic, or Icelandic, spoken by three hundred thousand inhabitants of a remote country of volcanos, geysers and icebergs, do have their own terms for Česko (Tekkia and Tékkland, respectively)?


  As the Chechnya fallacy is still one of the most frequent "counterarguments" which are used instead of a direct and reasonable answer whenever the question is asked "why not Czechia?", I would like to emphasize that it is wrong to adopt arguments based on the Chechnya fallacy and to believe them. This error is, however, easy to correct: relevant sources for names of states in general and for our state in particular are included in respectable publications; in this case they are geographical and linguistic publications. It is important to know that CZECHIA has been the official English equivalent of ČESKO since the very beginning of modern Czech statehood and it is appropriate to use this term just as the one-word equivalents of Česko are used in other languages. Insufficient dissemination (particularly) of the English one-word term for Česko has been caused by the representatives and professional promoters of the new Czech state (often neither professional nor promoters), who badly underestimated the importance of the English one-word name in the international field. The allegation that Czechia "has not caught on" in the world and so "let us forget it and accept the widespread Czech" (such talk can sometimes be heard in political and economic circles) is again nothing but confusion of cause and effect. Those who are in a position to do something have done nothing; they only try to hide their own incompetence and shift the blame on "adverse circumstances". 

Pavel Krejčí, (linguist, assist.professor at the Dept.of Slavonic Languages, Faculty of Arts of the Masaryk University in Brno
English translation: Eva Horová

© 2018 by Czechia Civic Initiative


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