Czech national identity

This article by Dan Polansky investigates what kind of things could constitute Czech national identity. The result is very tentative and probably subjective.

One candidate is this: Czechs are the nation of Jan Hus, who was burned at stake in 1415 for his teachings and his refusal to recant. Hus emphasized the value of truth. As Britannica points out, Hus "anticipated the Lutheran Reformation by a full century". (By contrast, Galileo chose a different strategy, of insincere recanting; not so Giordano Bruno.)

This brings us to another item: the standard (flag) of the president of the Czech Republic states "truth prevails" ("pravda vítězí" in Czech). The slogan is not literally true but it points to a wish for truth to prevail and to importance of striving for truth to prevail, even at the cost of one's life. The slogan was on the presidential standard since the time of Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president. The emphasis on the value of truth was reinforced by a phrase popularized by the internationally renowned Czechoslovak and then Czech president Václav Havel, about truth and love to prevail over lies and hatred.

Other characteristic property of Czechs is that they were under German-language administration for over 300 years, from the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620 to creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. (It remains to be clarified to what extent German dominated to some extent even before 1620.) It was the Czech national revival (a form of nationalism) that brought Czechs out of the German-dominated state, together with post-World War One intervention by the U.S. president Woodrow Wilson and his doctrine of national self-determination.

Czechs never had a colony. The empire Czechs were part of, the Austrian and later Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, had almost no colonies. If anything, Czechs were emancipated from under a yoke. (On the other hand, part of Slovaks considered Czechs to be too dominant in Czechoslovakia, which drove Slovakia to separate from Czechoslovakia. Somewhat similarly, some of those who identify as Moravians as a distinct ethnicity or nationality see Czechs as dominating them from Prague.)

Czechoslovak failure to militarily resist Hitler in the wake of Munich Agreement is likely to have left something of a stigma on Czechs as cowards who do not fight, unlike the Polish. (Not that the Polish fighting made much of a difference against Hitler.) A similar picture emerges from the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, when Czechs and Slovaks did not militarily resist the massive military superiority of the Soviet Union (Russia et al.) joined by other Warsaw Pact countries. This stands in contrast to the 15th century military resistance of Bohemian Hussites (followers of Jan Hus) lead by Jan Žižka against Sigismund-lead crusading armies that were trying to suppress religious freedoms.

Czechia leads the list of countries by beer consumption per capita by far, followed by Austria. This could contribute to the view of Czechs as a beer nation, who, anecdotally, endlessly debate all sorts of possible and impossible things in their pubs.

Czech legal culture is that of a codified law. Czechoslovakia had a codified constitution since 1918.

Another item adding to what constitutes a Czech is a list of role models Czech can naturally select from. Some famous Czechs (having an article in Britannica is one criterion):

  • Charles IV, an emperor
  • Bedřich Smetana, a music composer
  • Antonín Dvořák, a music composer
  • Leoš Janáček, a music composer
  • Jan Hus, a religious reformer and martyr
  • John Amos Comenius, an educator
  • František Palacký, a historian and politician
  • Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, a philosopher and the first Czechoslovak president
  • Václav Havel, a dissident and a politician
  • Václav Klaus, a free-marketeer politician and climate skeptic
  • Jaroslav Hašek, a writer
  • Milan Kundera, a novelist
  • Miloš Forman, a film director
  • Martina Navrátilová, a tennist
  • Jaromír Jágr, an ice hockey player
  • Alphonse Mucha, a painter
  • Karel Čapek, a playwright

Some famous people, non-Czech by ethnicity, having lived or worked in Czech lands:

  • Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer (was multiple years in Prague)
  • Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer (was multiple years in Prague)
  • Franz Kafka, a German-speaking novelist
  • Gregor Mendel, the German-speaking scientist behind the Mendelian gene theory
  • Kurt Gödel, a German-speaking logician

Further reading