From the Czech Republic to ‘Czechia’: Shaping Modern Identity

Jan Čulík

The recent announcement that the Czech Republic will adopt a shorted name, ‘Czechia’, is the product of decisions made by political elites without public input, writes Jan Čulík. He suggests that the debate which has followed, both within the country and internationally, is a testament to the uncertainty many people feel about their political identities today.

From the Czech Republic to ‘Czechia’: Shaping Modern Identity
Czech Flag, Sébastien Avenet, CC-BY-2.0

On the recommendation of Czech President Miloš Zeman, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek has announced that the Czech Republic will adopt a short version of its name – Czechia – and will have it officially registered with the United Nations.

When the former Czechoslovakia peacefully divided in 1993 into Slovakia and the Czech Republic by the decision of its politicians – there was no referendum on the issue – the problem arose of what should be the short name of the Western part of the newly divided country. The expression ‘Czechia’ was mentioned in some official documents, but it was not taken up by politicians or the media at the time.

The name ‘Czechia’ has now been officially adopted primarily because President Zeman ‘likes it’. The role of the Czech president is largely ceremonial, but because of a recent change in the law, the president is now directly elected.

As a result, the current president feels that he has a democratic mandate and he has made various pronouncements and suggestions – usually highly controversial. It would appear that the Czech Foreign Ministry has adopted his proposal to start using the short name of ‘Czechia’ for the Czech Republic – with some relief, because it appeared to be one of his less controversial proposals.

Unfortunately, ministry officials were wrong. The announcement that the Czech Republic ‘is changing its name’ has provoked quite a media storm, both within the country and internationally. While many Czechs admit that the country needs a short name, others were shocked by the suggestion to start using the name ‘Czechia’. Many Czechs have critically pointed out that no one has actually asked the people what they think – this seems to be a typical administrative decision, dictated from above.

The Czech Republic does have a problem with its international identity. In 2013, following the bombings of the Boston Marathon, some Americans confused the Czech Republic with Chechnya and threatened to bomb Prague in retaliation for the attacks. The Czech Embassy in Washington DC was forced to publish a disclaimer on its website, pointing out that the Czech Republic was in Central Europe and had nothing to do with Chechnya.

There is a question whether the new short name of the Czech Republic will lead to even more confusion. Some English speakers, even a BBC producer, have pronounced the new short name ‘Chechia’, which does sound very close to ‘Chechnya’. Commentators have also pointed out that, in Italian, ceccia means ‘a blind girl’ and, in Bulgarian, ‘Czeckia’ is very close to a rather vulgar expression.

Those Czechs who are afraid of the growing influence of Russia in the Czech Republic complain that ‘Czechia’ sounds too Russian. Others are unhappy with the fact that it carries strong commercial connotations (‘Czechia’ like ‘Nokia’?)  The Czech Republic has celebrity ice hockey players and footballers, and one of the reasons for adopting the short name was apparently that the long name ‘Czech Republic’ does not seem to fit on sports uniforms.

It also seems that, within the Czech government, the right hand does not quite know what the left hand is doing. Karla Šlechtová, the Czech Minister for Regional Development, has complained, that since 2012, her ministry has spent some US$42 million on an international tourism marketing campaign, which has been promoting the trademark ‘The Czech Republic – Land of Stories’.

Some of this money has come from the European Union and if the trademark ‘The Czech Republic’ were now discarded, the sustainability condition of the EU project funding would be breached and the Czech Republic would probably have to pay the money back. As a result of Šlechtová’s complaints, the Czech government has now decreed that the longer name will not in fact be dropped, but the short name ‘Czechia’ will be adopted simply as its possible alternative.

Another issue is that of local separatism. The Czech Republic consists of the Czech Lands in the West and of Moravia in the East. The Moravians have long complained that they are ignored in the name of the country and the controversy about the new short name of the Czech Republic seems to have brought their complaints yet again to public attention.

The interest that the proposal to adopt a new short name for the Czech Republic has generated internationally seems quite surprising. It is obvious that the names of countries are deeply bound with people’s personal identities. Within the Czech Republic, the controversy has pointed to the fact that the Czechs – just as the citizens of many other countries these days – are not necessarily clear about their own national identity.

However, it is perhaps more interesting that the issue has provoked passionate debate outside of the Czech Republic. Perhaps predictably, there have been many jokes, such as suggestions that the former Yugoslavia should be renamed ‘Yogurt’ or that Ireland should be renamed ‘Irechia’ in solidarity with the Czechs. On the whole, it would appear that the hapless proposal mooted by the Czech Foreign Ministry has stimulated an international debate on how uncertain we might all be these days about our identity.

Jan ČulíkJan Čulík
University of Glasgow

Dr Jan Čulík is Senior Lecturer in Czech at the University of Glasgow and Founder of the Czech-language online daily Britské listy. His research interests include Czech literature and cinema and contemporary Czech media, society and politics.

Shortlink: | Republication guidance

Please note that this article represents the view of the author(s) alone and not European Futures, the Edinburgh Europa Institute or the University of Edinburgh.

Creative Commons License This article is published under a Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International) License.


  1. “The Czech Republic consists of the Czech Lands in the West and of Moravia in the East” – FALSE!
    Corrected version had to be “The Czech Republic consists of Bohemia in the West and of Moravia in the East”.
    Czech Lands = Czech Republic = Czechia: the common name for historical provinces of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia.
    Moravian separatism does not exist, and Moravian movement is overrated,
    As a Moravian (Czech who live at Moravia) I have not problem with Česko (Czechia) as a short name for our country.
    It is a problem for native English speakers – how to pronounce it.

    Problem of Czech language is that has the same term (adjective) for Czech and Bohemian (český, česká, české etc.).
    No wonder that Czechs from Bohemia tried to use the term “Čechy” (Bohemia) as unofficial short name for the Czech Republic, what is false and unpleasant for Czechs living at Silesia and Moravia. It is a reason why I welcome the term Česko (Czechia). According foreigners, I know that they will use the term Czechoslovakia, instead also 100 years after its dissolution 🙂

  2. Czech Republic is not changing its name. It is trying to codify its short, one-word name, which is a practical thing to do. It is controversial, of course. Introduction of “Czechoslovakia” was also controversial and now it is a “brand name”.

    The argument of Moravian separatism is silly. Moravian separatists are weak, hypocritical (no, Silesia is not part of Moravia) and ideologically completely out of the current political and ideological discourse (19th century “Blut und Boden” romantic nations creation is long gone as a mainstream political concept) and, after all, they do not like even the official name of the country – i.e. the Czech Republic (it is “too Czech” for them, for the most romantic even too republican).

    I also note that Czechia does not “consist of Czech Lands in the West and Moravia in the East”. Czechia consists of three historical Lands of the Bohemian Crown – Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia.

  3. I have used the name Czechia from the beginning of the new Czech state in 1993. The name was already authorized in 1993. After 23 years, the goverment approved geographic name for our country, which has origin in Latin denomination already in the beginning of 17th century, with English first record in 1840. FINALLY ! GO CZECHIA !.

  4. First of all it is not a recommendation of M.Zeman, but decision of the Czech Office for Surveying, Mapping and Cadastre according the valid law 200/1994Sb. Mr. Zoaralek was the minister of foreign affairs having guts to register the name.

    and you have missed (Czech) Silesia: Czechia consist of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia.

    Chechnya mix-up is a nonsense, on the Boston bombing it was Czech republic being mixed-up with Chechen Republic.

    Official statement can be found here

  5. The name Czechia has been adopted not because president Zeman “likes it”, but primarily as a result of the steady, more that 20 years lasting effort of the Civic Initiative Česko/Czechia, after 23 years of its recommendation by the minister of Foreign affairs Zieleniec, of its approval of the Naming Committee of the Czech Republic (in wider set of 55 members), as the only (for many reasons) acceptable short name of our country.

  6. I am happy to know that “this article represents the view of the author(s) alone and not European Futures, the Edinburgh Europa Institute nor the University of Edinburgh”. – because these respectable institutions would certainly NOT adopt the confusing and misleading information given in Mr Culik´s article. The heading alone is an example of a wrong claim: No evolution “From the Czech Republic to Czechia” has ever existed – the political name (informing of the state´s type of government or administration = republic) stays WITHOUT CHANGE. The ciore of the matter is nothing else than FILLING A GAP in the UNO list of countries where one box in the form remained empty in 1993, namely the box for “short name of the country” in the English language. Thus it is a minor correction in the entry – it only needs to ADD the short (geographical) name. It has nothing in common with “Shaping Modern Identity”, as the heading of the article has it. I recommend to visit the site and also the information given by the Ministry of Foreign Affaires of the Czech Republic (yes, here the Republic is OK).

  7. Really happy to see, that Czechia will get its go finally. The connotations with Nokia I found completely silly, do we have those with Slovenia, Slovakia, Austria or Georgia? Yes, we don´t. The term has been used in an English speaking sources throughout 19th. I´ve been using it personnaly for some years now to refer to my country in short. Some of the opposers stated that the name doesn´t sound English enough, even confusing the Czechia with Chechnya. I say, do we confuse Slovakia and Slovenia, or Lithuania with Latvia? Of course we do! Not a real excuse for omitting the short name. Learning some basic geography is always needed too.

  8. Mr. Culik presents a lot of very unconvincing arguments against Czechia. It has noting to do with the growing influence of Russia in Czechia, there is no local separatism to speak of in Moravia, only a small, insignificant political party that has no voter support, if you could pronounce Czechoslovakia, you should be able to pronounce Czechia easily, the confusion with Chechnya is a myth and if anyone is confused, she or he should simply learn the difference between the two and it was not President Zeman’s idea, Czechia – Nokia is Culik’s invention – what about India – Nokia, Austria – Nokia etc. etc.. Czechia was codified by the Czech Committee for standardization of geographic names already in 1993 after the country was created. It could not caught on because people like Culik who refuse to use it and speak against if and make up reasons to justify their unsustainable position. This is supposed to be an expert opinion? Give me a break….

  9. The very problem is fact that this short name was not discussed in the public. This make our little republic more Czechistan or Czechofert than Czechia.

Comments are closed.