views updated May 17 2018


ETHNONYMS: Češi or Cechové (plural), Čech (singular), referring to people whose native language is Czech and, more specifically, to those native to or residing in Bohemia (Čechy); Moravané (plural), Moravan (singular), referring to the Czech-speaking population native to or residing in Moravia (Morava)


Identification. Czechs constitute 94.2 percent (1986) of the population of the Czech Republic (Česká republica, hereafter CR), which is federated with the Slovak Republic (SR) in the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (Česká a Slovenská Federativní Republika, or CSFR).

Location. CR is bounded by Poland on the north, Germany on the north and west, Austria on the south, and the Slovak Republic on the east. The geographic location of CR is between 12°05 and 18°51 E and 51°03 and 48°33 N; the area is 78,864 square kilometers. Historically, CR consists of Bohemia, the largest province, in the west; Moravia, to the east of it; and the part of Silesia just below the northern Moravian border with Poland. Bohemia is ringed by low mountain ranges, with the highest peak (Sněžka) reaching an altitude of 1,602 meters. The southern half of Bohemia's interior is an elevated plateau; in the northern half, the distinguishing feature is the plain along the Labe (Elbe) River. The dominant feature of Moravia is the basin of the Morava River separating the Bohemian massif from the westernmost extension of the Carpathian Mountains in SR. The climate of CR is predominantly continental, with some influence of oceanic weather systems. Summers are warm, winters cold. The average temperature in Prague, the capital, varies from a high of 19.9° C in July to a low of 0.8° C in January, with an annual average of 9.7° C. The average precipitation is around 70 centimeters per year, with the summer months being the wettest. The higher elevations along the border receive more moisture than the interior. The main Bohemian river, the Labe, is joined by the Vltava (Moldau) about 32 kilometers north of Prague and empties into the North Sea north of Hamburg. The Morava, which flows from the north, marks the boundary in southern Moravia between CR and SR, and some 50 kilometers farther south it empties into the Danube.

Demography. Historically, CR has been a land of small towns (10,000 to 30,000 inhabitants), their distribution reflecting the pattern of medieval settlement and growth. The relatively early industrialization of the area has increased the concentration of population in cities at the expense of rural areas. While the rural exodus continues to the present day, the inhabitants of metropolitan areas, especially Prague, tend to buy or build summer cottages in the country and to spend much of their free time away from the city, especially during the summer. The years immediately following World War II were marked by high population mobility. The border regions, inhabited from the thirteenth century on by a high proportion of German-speaking people, were resettled by Czechs after World War II when more than 2.5 million Bohemian and Moravian Germans were transferred from the country or chose to leave. The population of CR is 10,365,000 (1989 estimate), with a population density of 131 per square kilometer (1988 estimate). Of this total, 94.2 percent are Czechs and 3.9 percent Slovaks, with the remainder divided among several ethnic minorities (0.7 percent Polish, 0.5 percent German, with several other groups represented). Prague is the largest city and capital, as well as the federal capital, with a population of 1,206,098 (as of the end of 1987). Brno, the second-largest city and unofficial capital of Moravia, has a population of about 400,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. As a West Slavic language, Czech is a member of the Indo-European Language Family. It is most closely related to Slovak, with which it is mutually intelligible. Spoken Czech is differentiated into regional dialects still to be heard in Moravia and several marginal areas of Bohemia, but interdialectsespecially Common Czechhave been replacing local and regional dialects at an increasing rate. Literary Czech is the form of the language used in writing and formal communication. Czech makes use of the Latin (Roman) alphabet supplemented by several diacritical marks.

History and Cultural Relations

After the fall of the Great Moravian Empire at the beginning of the tenth century, much of today's Slovak Republic was incorporated into the Hungarian state, while Prague developed as the center of what was to become the Bohemian Kingdom. The crowning of the first Bohemian king took place in 1085 and the title became hereditary in 1198. The peak of medieval civilization was attained during the second half of the fourteenth century; the first university in central Europe was established in Prague in 1348. The beginning of the fifteenth century was marked by the teachings of Jan Hus, a Czech religious reformer, and, after his death at the stake in Constance in 1415, by wars against the propapal King Sigismund. When the Bohemian throne became vacant in 1526, a member of the Habsburg dynasty was elected Bohemian king. Less than a century later, in 1620, when the Czech estates were defeated in the battle of White Mountain (Bílá Hora) near Prague, the Bohemian Kingdom lost its independence and its provinces were declared the hereditary property of the Habsburg family. Wholesale emigrationresulting from forcible re-Catholicization, the effects of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), and epidemics of plague and other diseasesreduced the population of Bohemia by about one-half and that of Moravia by about one-fourth. A period referred to as "the darkness" (temno ) ensued, and it was not until the end of the eighteenth century that the Czech national revival began. Independence for the Czechs arrived in 1918 with the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Czechoslovak Republic, which resulted from the political reorganization of Europe in the aftermath of World War I, included not only the historic Bohemian Kingdom (Bohemia, Moravia, and a part of Silesia) but also Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia in the extreme east. The new republic lasted a mere twenty years. Following the infamous Munich Agreement of 1938, Bohemia and Moravia lost over a third of their combined area to Germany. On 15 March 1939 Germany annexed the remainder and declared it a protectorate, thus effectively ending the independent existence of the Czechoslovak Republic. (Slovakia became a nominally independent state under the protection of the Third Reich.) Czechoslovakia was reestablished in 1945, though without Carpathian Ruthenia, which was ceded to the USSR. The majority of the population wished to continue the democratic tradition of the interwar period and hoped to establish the country as a bridge between West and East. However, in February 1948 the Communists took over the government, and Czechoslovakia became part of the cultural, economic, and political orbit of the Soviet Union. On 1 January 1969, four months after the Warsaw Pact armies put a stop to attempts to create "socialism with a human face," the federalization of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic into the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic took place. The transformation of Czechoslovakia from a rigid Communist country into a democracy began in November 1989 and was accomplished bloodlessly with remarkable speed. One of Czechoslovakia's best-known dissidents, the playwright Václav Havel, became president on 29 December 1989.

The Czechs have always considered themselves as belonging culturally to western Europe, and no more so than after they were incorporated into the sphere of Soviet influence in the late 1940s. Because they constitute the westernmost Slavic outpost, surrounded as they are by speakers of German, and because of the memory of official Germanization during much of the eighteenth century as well as forcible Germanization during World War II, the potential for ethnic tension between Czechs and Germans has always existed. In prewar Czechoslovakia (1918-1939), the attitude of the Czechs toward the much less urbanized Slovaks was patronizing. After World War II, the relationship between the two peoples continued to be asymmetrical until 1969, when the federalization of the country helped to bring about a measure of dynamic balance between them. Ethnic tensions resurfaced in 1990 as a result of Slovak expectations of a greater degree of autonomy.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Before World War II, agriculture, commerce, and industry were for the most part in private hands. After the Communist takeover in 1948, commerce and industry were completely nationalized, and virtually all agricultural production came to be based on unified agricultural cooperatives (1,025 in 1987) and state farms (166 in 1987). The cooperatives employed about four times as many workers as the state farms. Because of a fairly high level of mechanization, the total number of persons engaged in agriculture is about one-fourth of those employed in industry.

Industrial Arts. During the nineteenth century, Bohemia became the industrial heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was known not only for its heavy industry but also for a long and distinguished tradition of ceramic, glass, and textile manufacture.

Trade. Until the introduction of socialism after World War II, the economy was to a considerable extent capitalistic. After 1948, all commerce was managed and controlled by the state. The inefficiency of central planning was compensated for by a "second economy"obtaining goods or services in short supply by barter or by paying someone willing to perform a service on a private basis. Relying on acquaintances to get things done (networking) was widespread. Privatization of business and industry began in 1990, but it is likely to proceed slowly. A vigorous economy may take years to reestablish.

Division of Labor. Women have made significant strides since World War II in terms of education, employment opportunities, and participation in public life, and they have benefited from social legislation. However, some of the discriminatory practices and behaviors found in many parts of the world exist in CR as wellin particular, the disproportionately large number of women in the lower half of the pay scale and the excessive demands on employed women to do far more than their share of child-rearing and household tasks.

Land Tenure. Since the late 1940s, the vast majority of land has been publicly owned. The few exceptions include small gardens, adjacent to family dwellings or on the outskirts of large towns, and small plots (on the order of half a hectare) that members of unified agricultural cooperatives are allowed to hold for family use.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. For the Czechs, the effective kin group is limited to the closest relatives. Most people consider collateral relatives beyond uncles, aunts, and first cousins to be rather distant and are likely to see them only at weddings or funerals. Descent is bilateral, with family names patronymic. Kinship terminology is of the Eskimo type, emphasizing both lineal descent and generation membership.

Marriage. For much of this century the selection of a spouse and the decision to marry has rested with the young couple. Before World War II, education and economic standing of the prospective bride and groom were of considerable importance. Men did not usually marry until they completed their education and were launched in their careers, typically in their late twenties or early thirties; women at marriage were for the most part in their early or mid-twenties. In 1986, the average age of individuals marrying for the first time was much lower: 35.7 percent of women were below 20 years of age, 51.9 percent of women and 58.4 percent of men between 20 and 24, and 23.8 percent of men between 25 and 29. Wedding celebrations rarely exceed one day. The most desired postmarital residence is neolocal; however, housing shortages in big cities since World War II have made that goal difficult to attain. Divorce, relatively rare at the beginning of the century, is now quite common: there were 2.2 divorces per 100 marriages in 1919, but 37 per 100 in 1987. The two-child family is the ideal, although childless families among career-oriented spouses are not uncommon. The number of legally approved abortions per 100 births amounted to 62.4 in 1986.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family has long been the typical domestic group, especially in the cities.

Inheritance. Inheritances in former times helped perpetuate differences between the rich and poor. Under socialism, the importance of inheritance diminished. Nevertheless, most parents make every effort to help their children become comfortable.

Socialization. Until World War II, middle-class women as a rule did not hold a job but stayed home to manage the household and take care of children. At present, with women accounting for 46.3 percent (1987) of those employed in the national economy, small children not cared for by mothers on generous maternity leave are enrolled in nurseries or are in the care of relatives, especially grandmothers. Mothers tend to exercise more authority over children than do fathers. Parents tend more to criticize than to praise their children. Czechs place a high value on education and on academic titles. In terms of values, children are brought up to be egalitarian, individualistic, personally orderly, pragmatic, rational, hardworking (for one's own benefit), peaceful, present-oriented, and materialistic.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The traditional tripartite social structurea sizable working class including the peasants, the middle class, and a relatively small upper classgave way during Communism to a "classless" society with two distinct classes: privileged members of the higher echelons of the Communist party and the rest of the population. Material benefits also accrued to successful artists and to those who performed valuable services or distributed goods in short supply.

Political Organization. Between 1918 and 1939, political life was characterized by a large number of rival political parties. Between 1948 and 1990, there were only three, all part of the National Front, but the Communist party had a monopoly on power. The free national election in June of 1990 was again characterized by the rivalry of a large number of political parties. The republic as a whole (CSFR) has two legislative housesthe Chamber of Nations and the Chamber of the People. The highest administrative organs of CR are the Czech National Council, the government of CR, the supreme court, the office of the prosecutor general, and the defense council. Administration on the level of the region (kraj ), district (okres ), and community (obec ) continues to be in the hands of the respective national councils, but some administrative changes are under consideration.

Social Control. Conformity with the law is maintained by a police force and a strict and efficient court system. Since the end of 1989, political dissent is again tolerated. A tradition of strong bureaucracy, inherited from Austro-Hungarian times, continues unabated.

Conflict. The Czechs view their history as a series of conflicts with the surrounding German-speaking population. The most recent expressions of this conflict were the German occupation of the area from 1939 to 1945 and the removal of the great majority of Germans after World War II.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Christianity was introduced to the area during the ninth century by both German and Byzantine missions. By the time the bishopric of Prague was established in 973, Latin had replaced Old Church Slavic as the liturgical language. A serious breach with Rome occurred during the early part of the fifteenth century as a result of the reformational movement inspired by Jan Hus. His "Protestant" legacy became an important aspect of Czech national heritage, having been further reinforced by the efforts at forcible re-Catholicization of the population during the Counter-Reformation and the association of Catholicism with the Habsburg rule. The history of Bohemia accounts in large measure for the nature of post-World War I religious sentiments: the generally lukewarm Catholicism among the Czechs (but less so in Moravia); the fairly devout Protestantism represented by several sects; the establishment of the Czechoslovak Church (a splinter from Roman Catholicism) in 1920; and the rise of agnosticism and atheism. Many urban Czech Catholics went to church only to be baptized and married, and eventually they received their last rites and were buried by a priest. The attitude toward religion was rational rather than emotional. Relations among the members of various religious organizations were marked by tolerance. After 1948 the Communist government became hostile to organized religion and discouraged religious beliefs and observances by a variety of means, including intimidation and persecution. While the relations between the state and the Roman Catholic church were adversarial between 1948 and 1989, there was some resurgence of religious commitment in recent years, especially among young people. Nominally, at least, the country is predominantly Roman Catholic, but reliable figures concerning religious preference have not been available since the end of the last war. Christmas is the only religious holiday officially recognized, even though observances have in part been secularized. While Jan Hus is regarded as a national hero who laid down his life in defense of the truth, St. Wenceslaus (Václav), murdered around 930, is considered the country's patron saint.

Arts. The Czechs have a long and rich tradition in the arts, both folk and elite. Music is the most popular of the arts. There is a great deal of truth in the saying "Co Čech, to muzikant" (Every Czech is a musician). In literature, lyric poetry has surpassed in quality both prose and dramatic writing.

Medicine. Use of medicinal plants, based on empirical evidence gained over centuries, for the most part was replaced by use of synthetic drugs during the course of the first half of this century. In general, Czech medicine has followed the course of Western medicine and at present is keeping up with modern advances. Health care, including hospitalization and drugs, is available free or at nominal cost. Health spas are numerous and popular.


Nyrop, Richard F., ed. (1982). Czechoslovakia: A Country Study. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: United States Government.

Paul, David W. (1981). Czechoslovakia: Profile of a Socialist Republic at the Crossroads of Europe. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

Salzmann, Zdenek, and Vladimír Scheufler (1986). Komárov: A Czech Farming Village. Enl. ed. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.

Statistická ročenka Československé Socialistické Republiky (Statistical yearbook of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic). Prague and Bratislava: SNTL and ALFA. [Appears annually, now with an adjusted title.]



views updated May 18 2018


LOCATION: Czech Republic
POPULATION: 10.2 million
RELIGION: Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant)


The Czech Republic (formerly known as Czechoslovakia) is a young nation: On 1 January 1993, it ended its union with Slovakia after more than three-quarters of a century of relatively calm coexistence.

The area now known as the Czech Republic has been inhabited since the earliest settlement of Europe. The first known settlers of the region were the Boii, a Celtic people from whom the name Bohemia is derived; they were followed by the Germanic Marcomanni tribe at the beginning of the Christian era. In the 5th to 7th centuries, Slavs began to settle in the region, and in the 9th century, Christianity was embraced by its inhabitants. During this period, the kingdom of Bohemia was founded. It reached its political and cultural height during the 14th century under King Charles I. The capital of the kingdom was Prague, where Charles constructed many buildings, including the Hradcany Castle, and, in 1348, founded Charles University, the first university in Central Europe.

During Charles's reign, the religious reformer Jan Hus (1369-1415) attacked the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the privileged position of the Germans in Bohemia, who had been immigrating to the country since the 11th century. Hus was eventually excommunicated for his views. Conditions in the region worsened when the Roman Catholic Habsburg dynasty of Austria ascended to the Bohemian throne in 1526. The Czechs rebelled against the Habsburgs but were defeated in 1620. Over the next three centuries, Bohemia was reduced to a mere province of the Habsburg Empire.

The Slovaks had no independent state of their own before 1918, having been absorbed by the Hungarians as early as the 10th century. During World War I, Czech and Slovak representatives abroad, including Tomas Masaryk, Eduard Benes, and Milan Stefanik, won support from the Allied powers for the creation of a Czech-Slovak republic. Th us, Czechoslovakia was established in Prague immediately after the war, uniting Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia as one nation. The Czech National Council seized power in Prague, the Habsburgs were deposed, and Masaryk was elected president. A Western-style democratic republic was established, enjoying stable government during the interwar period, only to be torn apart as Adolf Hitler exploited the Allies' appeasement policy in the infamous 1938 Munich agreement, under which the Czech territory was ceded to Germany. The following year, Hitler brutally annexed Bohemia and Moravia as a protectorate and turned Slovakia into an independent fascist state.

In 1945, the communists, with Soviet backing, gained political power. In February 1948, a communist overthrow brought the country under Soviet domination. After Stalin's death in 1953, there was a general loosening of political strictures in Eastern Europe, including Czechoslovakia, and a mild liberalization of conditions was permitted. However, it did not last long, and the traditional Stalinist system was reemployed.

The year 1968 is remembered as the "Prague Spring," when a new regime under President Ludvik Svoboda, a World War II hero, began to liberalize and democratize Czechoslovak life and loosen the country's association with the Soviet Union. This move was met with hostility by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies put an end this wave of democratization, as some 650,000 Soviet, East German, Polish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian troops invaded and occupied the country. Th ough the intervention was condemned worldwide, Soviet troops remained in the country. President Alexander Dubcek was replaced by another Slovak, Gustav Husak, in 1975, and the reforms of the Prague Spring were almost entirely scrapped. There were repressions and arrests, and by 1982, the opposition had been successfully neutralized.

After the fall of the communism in Hungary and Poland, the so-called Velvet Revolution came to Czechoslovakia. The communist government resigned, and Vaclav Havel, a former dissident playwright, became the president of a free and democratic Czechoslovakia in 1990. He attempted to preserve the Czech-Slovak union, but three years of debate and popular votes resulted in the separation of the two nations on 1 January 1993.

The Czech Republic became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999. The nation, along with many other Eastern European countries, joined the European Union (EU) in 2004. It was set to host the EU presidency during the first half of 2009.


The Czech Republic is bordered by its former federal partner, Slovakia, to the east; by Austria to the south; by Germany to the southwest and northwest; and by Poland to the north. The Czech Republic comprises the historic lands of Bohemia and Moravia (commonly called the Czech lands) and the southwestern portion of Silesia.

The country covers an area of 78,865 sq km (30,450 sq mi), approximately the size of South Carolina. Its landscape is made up mostly of wooded hills, valleys, and small, heavily farmed plateaus. The capital city is Prague, which has a population of 1.6 million.

The Czech Republic has a population of about 10.2 million, the majority of whom (90%) are Czech. Other minorities include Moravians (380,000), Slovaks (193,000), Poles (52,000), Roma/Gypsies (171,000), Germans (39,000), Silesians (11,000), Ukrainians (22,000), and Vietnamese (18,000).


Czech is the official language of the republic. It belongs to a group of Slavic languages that use the Roman rather than the Cyrillic alphabet. The Czech language comprises two forms: formal, written Czech (spisovna cestina) and everyday conversational Czech (hovorova). Many regional dialects exist.

Russian is understood by many in the Czech Republic, but it is rarely used. English, French, and German are used in business dealings, but they are not spoken by the general population.

Common phrases in the Czech language are dobry den (hello or good day), kde je? (where is . . . ?), and kolik to stoji? (how much does it cost?).


A major folklore festival is held each year in Stráznice, in eastern Moravia. During the communist era, the government encouraged the country's folkloric traditions but used them as an instrument of control within a larger framework of political activities, thus alienating a number of Czechs, especially young ones, from their heritage. Some artists, however, managed to express dissent in the form of folk songs and fairy tales.


According to the country's 2001 census, 26.8% of Czechs are Roman Catholics and 2.1% are Protestant. Surprisingly, 59% of the people are not affiliated with any organized religion. The majority of those who claim a religion are Christian. Many Czechs turned to Protestantism following Jan Hus's campaign to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 15th century. The communist regime used various methods to eliminate religion from the lives of the Czechs, but the Catholic Church maintained an underground presence. After the demonstrations and uprisings of 1989, those who had been forced to say mass in hideouts were able to pray openly. In April 1990, Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in Prague before a crowd of more than a half million Czechs.


In addition to religious holidays, the Czechs celebrate several important national holidays. The end of World War II is commemorated on May 8. On July 5, Czechs celebrate the arrival of Saints Cyril and Methodius, two Byzantine priests who introduced Christianity to the Slavs. July 6 is Jan Hus Memorial Day, the anniversary of the day when the religious leader was burned at the stake in 1415. October 28 marks Czechoslovak Independence Day. The Velvet Revolution is commemorated on November 17, but people do not take the day off work.

On the eve of December 5, Czech children wait for the arrival of Saint Nicholas. Usually a person dressed as Saint Nick and two people dressed as an angel and a devil walk the streets. Live carp is sold on the street for Christmas Eve dinner, and Christmas trees are set up in town squares. A fruit bread called vanocka is eaten during Lent and in the days before Christmas. On New Year's Day, people give each other small marzipan candies for good luck.


Most Czechs observe major life events, such as births, weddings, and deaths, within the Catholic or Protestant religious tradition.


A stranger who is meeting someone for the first time or a young person who is greeting an elder gives a firm handshake; both people say their last names, then they give a standard salutation, such as teši mne (pleased to meet you) or dobrý den (good day). When a man and woman meet, the man usually waits for the woman to extend her hand first. People address each other by their last names unless they are well acquainted. Dobrou chut, which means "bon appetit," is generally countered with dekuji (thank you). Failure to do so can be construed as a sign of ignorance or vulgarity. The terms for good-bye are na chledanou or the more informal ciao. When conversing, Czechs often gesture with their hands for emphasis.

At the beginning of a business meeting, it is customary to offer some sort of beverage to the attendees. Czechs do not do much entertaining at home, and they refrain from making un-announced visits to each other's houses. Inviting guests to dinner generally means taking them out to eat.

Using a person's title (which often corresponds to his or her educational level) is also customary among Czechs.


The health care system in the former Czechoslovakia was under strict state control. All people associated with the medical field were state employees. Health care standards were never high, and medical equipment was often outdated in clinics and hospitals throughout the country. The 1990s brought privatization in several sectors, including medicine. Private medical insurance companies have been established and health standards have improved. Life expectancy ranges from 72.3 to 78.5 years of age, and the death rate is relatively low (10.69 deaths per 1,000 live births). The infant mortality rate is 3.38 deaths per 1,000 live births. However, the birthrate is falling rapidly, thereby stunting the country's population growth.

Though many people have second homes in the country (called chaty), the Czech Republic has a serious housing shortage. Many city dwellers live in large apartment complexes. Young couples rarely begin married life in a home of their own and usually live with one set of parents for several years.

New railroads, highways, and airports were built after World War II. Today, the Czechs have a well-developed system of highways and public transportation, and increasing numbers of people own cars, especially the domestically produced Skoda. The government is constantly upgrading transport technology, and tourism in the Czech Republic is booming.


Families in rural areas tend to be larger than urban families, which usually have no more than two children (childless urban couples are not uncommon). Although most mothers work outside the home, they still have primary domestic and child-rearing responsibilities. Grandparents often help with child care. Parents and adult children commonly maintain strong ties, often sharing a country house or a car, and adults routinely assume responsibility for aging parents. The incidence of divorce has risen sharply over time, reaching nearly 40% by the late 1980s and 67% by 2003. Czechs are opting to marry later and have fewer children than before.


Traditional Czech dress, characterized by white lace and embroidered materials, is worn on special occasions. For men, a holiday costume might consist of a white shirt with wide sleeves gathered at the wrists and white trousers. Both shirt and pants are frequently decorated with embroidery. A brightly colored vest decorated with embroidery and buttons is worn over the shirt. Women wear gathered skirts and blouses made of simple materials such as linen and cotton. These clothes are embroidered, however, to give them a rich appearance. To complete this costume, an apron, again heavily embroidered, may be worn. Both men and women complete their festive costumes with boots. In rural parts of southern Bohemia and southeastern Moravia, folk costumes are still worn. Otherwise, Czechs dress in modern, Western-style attire.


Czechs borrow many of their cooking traditions and dishes from neighboring countries. Goulash, a hearty Hungarian stew, is a staple dish in the Czech Republic. Lunch is the main meal for most Czechs, while breakfast and dinner are lighter meals. Czechs enjoy eating hearty dishes such as roasted meats, wild game, vegetables, dumplings, and pastries. One of the most popular Czech dishes, vepro-knedlo-zelo, includes roast pork, sauerkraut, and knedliky (dumplings), which are made by boiling or steaming a mixture of flour, eggs, milk, and dried bread crumbs. Often, dumplings are filled with fruit. Popular snack foods include ham on bread and sausages in buns, both widely available from sidewalk vendors. Czechs also enjoy smoked meats, herring, sardines, goose, duck, hare, and venison. In today's increasingly health-conscious climate, many Czechs have begun to favor lighter foods over the traditional fare, which is high in fat, laden with heavy sauces, and time-consuming to prepare. The current trend is toward leaner meats and more vegetables.

Czechs enjoy drinking beer with their meals. The best Czech beer comes from a town called Plzeň, where the first brewery was established in 1295. This is where the Pilsner was created, and it is also the home of Pilsner Urquell. The Czech Republic is the sixth largest beer-producing country in the world. Red wines from the many wineries of Moravia are also quite popular. Slivovitz, a plum brandy made in the region, is sometimes consumed after dinner.


The Czech Republic has had a near 100% literacy level since the early 1990s.

Czech education has historically been influenced by politics. The Habsburgs, for example, forced students, teachers, and writers to use the German language. The communists' main requirement was that children master the principles of socialism, and under communist rule, religious and private schools were banned. (Under the new government of the Czech Republic, they have been reinstated.)

In 1994, the structure of the Czech educational system was reformed. Children now attend grade school for five years (from age 6 to 11) and then receive eight years of secondary schooling. Students may choose an academic or technical track, and there is a third track for aspiring teachers. School is mandatory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. The Czech Republic has 23 universities or university-level facilities. The oldest is Charles University, which was founded in 1348. Czech students pay one-fourth of their university expenses.


Prague is the center of Czech culture. Its many ancient churches and buildings withstood the fighting of World War II.

The Czechs have made great contributions to music and literature. Perhaps the most famous Czech writer was Franz Kafka. Kafka, a German who lived in Prague, influenced subsequent Czech authors such as Milan Kundera, Josef Skorecky, and Ivan Klima.

Vaclav Havel, a famous playwright whose sarcastic criticism of communism landed him in prison, became president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and served as president of the Czech Republic from 1993-2003.

Czechs enjoy the writings of both modern and classical playwrights in hundreds of theaters throughout the country. Young children (and adults) find joy in watching puppet theaters and mimes.

Czech folk music has become world famous through its incorporation into the compositions of prominent Czech composers, notably Antonin Dvorak.

In the 1980s, rock music was closely tied to political opposition and an up-and-coming underground club scene. Czechs enjoy rock, jazz, and classical music, and they host one of Europe's biggest music events, the Prague Spring Music Festival.


The Czech Republic is one of the most industrialized countries in the world. Rich, fertile soil allows for a major farming industry, and coal and other minerals have been mined for centuries.

During the communist era, workers earned fixed wages and had little desire to increase their productivity. Food shortages and lack of housing, fuel, and electricity became the norm.

In 1989, the Czech Republic shifted to a free-market economy, accompanied by higher wages and a better standard of living for workers. Although salaries remain low, the vast majority of the Czech population is employed. Private enterprise has created many new jobs for those laid off from the declining industrial sector. Jobs in tourism and other areas of the service sector are growing. As of 2007, unemployment stood at 6.6%.

The Czech workforce numbers 5.17 million. Industry, construction, and commerce make up 40% of the workforce, governmentand other services make up 56%, and agriculture makes up 4%. The country's natural resources include coal, coke, timber, lignite, uranium, and magnesite. The main agricultural goods are wheat, rye, oats, barley, hops, potatoes, sugar beets, hogs, cattle, and horses.


Czechs are no strangers to outdoor recreation. The mountainous landscape provides an excellent setting for skiing, rock climbing, and hiking. Water sports are enjoyed in the lakes of southern Bohemia.

Perhaps the most popular sport played by young Czechs is tennis, made famous by international Czech greats Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl, and Jana Novotna. Soccer is the most popular team sport. Hockey, volleyball, and basketball are also popular. The sport with the longest tradition in the Czech Republic, however, is gymnastics.


Czechs spend much of their leisure time enjoying their native mountains, fields, and woodlands. Urban dwellers frequently spend weekends and vacations in their country homes, where many enjoy gardening, planting and tending to fruit trees, and working on home improvement projects. Camping is also a popular activity; numerous campgrounds can be found throughout the countryside. Other outdoor activities include hiking, swimming, and gathering berries and mushrooms.

There are a number of mineral springs and health spas in the Czech Republic, where for a fee visitors can soak their ailments away in mineral water, mud, or peat. Other leisure activities include movie- and concertgoing, watching television, and dancing (a traditionally popular dance is the polka, a lively folk dance). Gathering in bars or pubs is a traditional after-hours activity for men, while women enjoy visiting close friends at home. Czechs enjoy traveling by both car and bus, especially with the lifting of travel restrictions since the demise of communism in Eastern Europe.


Glass works and other decorative wares are among the folk arts of the Czech Republic. Bohemia in particular is known for its unusual crystal objects and deep red garnet stones.


Although the Czech Republic has significantly improved its economy and has established a democracy, social problems remain. Prices for energy and everyday items have increased significantly. As a result of rapid industrialization during the communist era, high levels of air, water, and soil pollution remain. Two distinct economic classes are now emerging from the single class formed by communism: a rich capitalist class and a lower class that is struggling with the new system.

Crime also became a major problem after the fall of communism. Organized crime in drug trafficking, money launderingand prostitution is significant. Hate crimes, especially against Gypsies (Roma), are a big problem in the country as well.

The health care system was left in shambles after the fall of communism and continues to struggle today.


Discrimination and sexual harassment remain important issues for women in the workplace in the Czech Republic. While the communist government made work compulsory for both men and women, today women performing the same jobs as men are often paid half the salary. However, Czech women do not seem to be in favor of American-style feminism, believing that it drives a wedge between men and women. Some women's groups have formed since 1992, but they have been slow to gather steam. As of the first decade of the 21st century, there were high female employment rates in both full- and part-time work, but women tended to have fewer support structures to combine a balance of work and life.

Abortion was legalized in 1957, but until 1986, a woman wanting an abortion had to appear before a committee that would decide whether she was eligible.

Czechs' attitudes toward homosexuality are mixed. More than half of Czech citizens claim they have never met a homosexual, and about one-third believe that homosexuality is a disease. From 1948 to 1961, homosexual behavior was illegal. However, in March 2006, the Czech Republic adopted a same-sex partnership law. Lesbian and gay families are now legally recognized.


Cravens, Craig. Culture and Customs of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Holy, Ladislov. The Little Czech and the Great Czech Nation: National Identity and the Post-Communist Transformation of Society. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Ivory, Michael. Essential Czech Republic. Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1994.

Otfinoski, Steven. The Czech Republic. 2nd ed. New York: Facts on File, 2004.

Skalnik, Carol. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic: Nation versus State. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.

US Department of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. "Background Note: Czech Republic." (7 May 2008).

—revised by C. Corrigan


views updated Jun 11 2018



LOCATION: Czech Republic

POPULATION: About 10.3 million


RELIGION: Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism)


The Czech Republic (formerly known as Czechoslovakia) is very young. On January 1, 1993 it decided to end its union with Slovakia after more than three-quarters of a century.

For nearly three centuries (1620 to 1918), Bohemia, the Czech homeland, was a province of the Habsburg Empire. With Allied support, the Czecho-Slovak republic was established in Prague immediately after World War I. It united Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia into Czechoslovakia. In February 1948 a communist overthrow brought the country under Soviet domination. After the fall of communism in Hungary and Poland, the communist government resigned. Vaclav Havel (1936), a playwright whose plays challenged communism, became the president of an independent and democratic Czechoslovakia in 1990. When Czechoslovakia became independent from the Soviet Union, there was no violence, so the process became known as the Velvet Revolution.


With an area of 30,450 square miles (78,865 square kilometers), the Czech Republic is approximately the size of South Carolina. Its landscape is made up mostly of wooded hills, valleys, and small, heavily farmed plateaus. The capital city is Prague. The Czech Republic has a population of about 10.3 million. The southeastern region of the Czech Republic (near the border with Slovakia) is known as Moravia. The southwestern region, near the border with Germany and Austria, is known as Bohemia.


Czech is one of a group of Slavic languages that use the Roman rather than the Cyrillic alphabet. It is divided into two forms: spisovna cestina is the written language and hovorova is used in conversation.

Some examples of the Czech language are: dobry den ("hello" or "good day"); kde je ? (where is?); and kolik to stoji? (how much does it cost?).


A major folklore festival is held in Stráznice, in eastern Moravia. During the communist era, the government encouraged the country's folkloric traditions but used them as an instrument of control within a larger framework of political activities, thus alienating a number of Czechs, especially young ones, from their own heritage. Some artists, however, managed to express dissent in forms such as folk songs and fairy tales.


Over 80 percent of the population is either Catholic or Protestant. While the communists controlled the Czechs, they were forbidden to practice their religions. However, the Catholic Church secretly remained active. In April 1990, the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, celebrated Mass in Prague before a crowd of over half a million Czechs.


National holidays include Jan Hus Memorial Day (July 6), Czechoslovak Independence Day (October 28), celebration of the Velvet Revolution (November 17), and commemoration of the end of World War II (May 8).

Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) is said to arrive on the eve of December 5. Usually a person dressed as the saint, accompanied by two peopleone dressed as an angel and the other as a devil, walk the streets. Christmas trees are set up in the town square on Christmas Eve. A fruit bread called vanocka is eaten during Lent and before Christmas. On New Year's people exchange special candies for good luck.


Most Czechs observe major life events, such as births, weddings, and deaths, within either the Catholic or Protestant religious traditions.


When two strangers meet, they shake hands firmly. They both say their last names. Then they exchange a standard greeting, like teši mne (pleased to meet you) or dobrý den (good day). Terms for good-bye include na chledanou and the less formal ciao. When a man and woman meet, the man usually waits for the woman to hold out her hand first. People address each other by their last names unless they know each other well. Czechs often gesture with their hands when they talk.


Many people have chaty, second homes in the country. Still, the Czech Republic has a serious housing shortage. Many city dwellers live in large apartment complexes. Young couples seldom begin their married life in a home of their own. They usually live with the husband's or wife's parents for several years.


Houskové Knedliky
(Bread Dumplings)


  • 2 cups of coarsely torn white bread
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup cracker crumbs
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, or 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup sour cream


  1. Place torn bread into a colander. Soak thoroughly with water and squeeze dry.
  2. Melt butter over medium heat. Add onion to melted butter and cook, stirring constantly, until onion is soft.
  3. Add soaked bread, eggs, cracker crumbs, parsley, and nutmeg and mix well.
  4. Allow to stand until the mixture has cooled to room temperature (about 30 minutes). Then chill in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes.
  5. Fill a large saucepan about halfway with water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and heat the salted water to boiling.
  6. Using very clean hands, form the bread mixture into balls about the size of golf balls.
  7. Drop the balls into boiling water. Reduce heat immediately to keep the water simmering, but not boiling.
  8. Boil dumplings for about 1517 minutes.
  9. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and drain.

Serve warm with sour cream.

Adapted from Lois Sinaiko Webb, Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students, Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1995.


Families in rural areas tend to be larger than those in cities. City families usually have no more than two children. In the cities, many married couples have no children. Most mothers work outside the home. However, they still have most of the responsibility for raising the children and keeping house. Grandparents often help with child care. Parents and adult children commonly maintain strong ties. Often, they share a country house or a car. Adults commonly assume responsibility for their aging parents. The incidence of divorce has risen sharply since the 1960s.


Most Czechs dress in modern, Western-style clothing. Traditional folk costumes, featuring lace and embroidery, are still worn on special occasions. The men's costume features a white shirt with wide sleeves gathered at the wrists. Women wear gathered skirts and blouses made of simple materials such as linen and cotton. In the 1800s, many dresses were made from fabrics dyed with indigo. Indigo was brought to Europe by traders from Asia, and the deep blue color became popular among many European culture groups.


Czechs enjoy eating hearty dishes such as roasted meats, wild game, vegetables, dumplings, and pastries. One of the most popular Czech dishesvepro-knedlo-zelo includes roast pork, sauerkraut, and the popular knedliky (dumplings), made by boiling or steaming a mixture of flour, eggs, milk, and dried bread crumbs.


Czech children attend grade school for five years (from ages six to eleven). Then they receive eight years of secondary schooling. At this level, they must choose between academic, technical, and teacher training schools. The Czech Republic has twenty-three colleges and universities. The oldest, Charles University, was founded in 1348.


The most famous twentieth-century Czech writer was Franz Kafka (18831924). His works influenced the writings of later Czech authors such as Milan Kundera (1929), Josef Skvorecky, and Ivan Klima. Playwright Vaclav Havel, who was jailed for criticizing the communist regime, later became president of the Czech Republic.

Czech folk music has become world famous through the compositions of Antonin Dvorak (18411904) and other Czech composers.


Traditional types of employment are farming, mining coal and other minerals, and industrial jobs. With the end of communist government, the Czech Republic quickly shifted to a free-market economy that brought higher wages and a better living standard for workers. Although salaries are still low, the vast majority of the Czech population is employed.


The mountainous Czech landscape is excellent for skiing, rock climbing, and hiking. Water sports are enjoyed in the lakes of southern Bohemia. Tennis is extremely popular among young Czechs. Other favorite sports are soccer, hockey, volleyball, and basketball.


Czechs spend much of their leisure time outdoors. Urban dwellers often spend weekends and vacations in their country homes. There are also many campgrounds throughout the countryside. Other leisure activities include travel, movies and concerts, dancing, and television.


Glass works and other decorative crafts are among the folk arts of the Czech Republic. Bohemia is known for its unusual crystal objects and deep red garnet stones.


Although the Czech Republic has greatly improved its economy and has established democracy, social problems remain. Prices for energy and everyday items have gone up greatly. Also, the country has serious levels of air, water, and soil pollution.


Ivory, Michael. Essential Czech Republic. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Passport Books, 1994.

Otfinoski, Steven. The Czech Republic. New York: Facts on File, 1996.

Skalnik, Carol. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic: Nation vs. State. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.

Webb, Lois Sinaiko. Holidays of the World Cookbook for Students. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1995.


Embassy of the Czech Republic. Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Czech Republic. [Online] Available, 1998.