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Petr Pavlínek :

Nobody urges to change the name!

What do you think about the president's comment urging the name change from the Czech Republic to Czechia ?

The president did not urge the name change from the Czech Republic to Czechia. This is a gross misinterpretation by the media of what has actually happened. The president urges the use of the short name “Czechia” in English in informal everyday speech and for non-official purposes in addition to “the Czech Republic”, which is an official political name and which should be reserved for official political purposes, such as international political treaties. As the official political name of the country, “the Czech Republic” refers to the country’s current political system and is, therefore, historically transient. We need a permanent geographic name for the country, which does not change with its political system over the centuries. Therefore, we welcome the president’s effort to spread the use of the short geographic name “Czechia” in English. The equivalent of Czechia is used in all other languages. English seems to be the only exception. The main reason for this situation has been the inability of Czech political leaders to clearly tell the world how their country should be called in English other than with its official political name for the past 20 years. All other newly created countries in East-Central Europe, such as Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania etc., were clear about their short informal names in English from the very beginning of their existence and the rest of the world has respected their choice. The Czech president is now attempting to rectify this situation in the case of the Czech Republic. 

Do you think there are benefits to having the name of the country be one word versus two ? 

It is not about a one- or two-word name of the country. It is more about the distinction between a permanent geographic name and an official political name. All European countries have commonly used geographic names referring to particular countries regardless of their momentary political regime. In the vast majority of cases these are short one-word names. The only exception is Great Britain. Still, even Great Britain is a geographic name referring to a particular geographic area irrespective of Britain’s political system that is reflected in country’s official political name (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). The Czech Republic as an official political name for the country is the only exception in Europe and one of the very few countries in the entire world that is using an official political name for all purposes. Using short geographic names has many benefits and this is why the vast majority of countries do use them. There is obviously a need for a short informal name. Otherwise, people would not be using grammatically incorrect “I am from Czech” or “Brewed in Pilsen, Czech”, “Made in Czech” etc. It should correctly be “I am from Czechia”, “Brewed in Pilsen, Czechia”, “Made in Czechia” etc. 

How about the fact that people still use the term Czechoslovakia - will this help that ? 

The fact that people still use the term Czechoslovakia suggests that they know little about Europe’s contemporary political map. Still, Czechoslovakia was a short geographic name for the Czechoslovak Republic, Czecho-Slovak Republic, Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and for the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, which were all its official political names at various times during the existence of Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1992. In this sense, the transition from Czechoslovakia to Czechia makes sense and should make it easier. People will learn to use Czechia only if it is used by the media, politicians and in various publications the same way we use short names of other countries, such as Austria, Russia, Croatia, Slovakia, Australia, Nigeria, Ethiopia etc. 

And do you think people might get it confused with Chechnya ?

Some people might confuse Czechia with Chechnya as they confuse Australia with Austria, Slovakia with Slovenia, and Latvia with Lithuania etc. These other countries did not resort to the use of their political names just because someone can confuse them. And some people do confuse Chechnya with the Czech Republic too as we could see it in the media after the Boston marathon bombing earlier this year. Therefore, this potential confusion of Czechia with Chechnya by some people is not a legitimate reason for not using Czechia. It is the problem of those people who lack basic geographic literacy and not the problem of the name of the country. Additionally, Chechnya is not an independent and internationally recognized country, which makes the confusion with Czechia at the international level less likely once people start hearing and using Czechia. The only way to prevent the confusion is to actually start using Czechia. It is all about getting used to Czechia by using it. There is no legitimate reason why the Czech Republic, as the only country in Europe, should only be using its official political name. In this sense, I strongly support the effort of the Czech president to spread the term “Czechia” by actually using it in addition to the official political name “the Czech Republic”. Czechia is not a new word as some people argue. It was first used in 1633 and has been commonly used in Latin. The first recorded use in English is in 1866 by the Australian newspaper The Mercury and the New York Times commonly used Czechia during the Czechoslovak "first republic" (1918-1939).  

 

 

 Interview with Petr Pavlínek,

professor of geography at University of Nebraska at Omaha, USA, October 21, 2013