Origins of Czech culture
To get a reasonably adequate picture of Czech culture and its peculiarities, it is worth taking a quick look at the history of the country. The state of the Czech Republic has only existed in its current form since its peaceful separation from Slovakia in 1993. However, the history of settlement in the country is ancient and so the origins of Czech culture go back a long way.
The Czech Republic is a country that has been repeatedly occupied and ruled by foreign powers over the centuries. At the same time, this country is one of the most important cradles in the history of Europe. After all, Prague was the royal seat of the Holy Roman Empire and was one of the political and cultural centers for a long time. A look at the architectural treasures of this city, which can be admired on every street corner, is enough. With Charles University, the first university in Central Europe was founded in Prague. The Czech university landscape is therefore one of the oldest in Europe.
Cultural identity is of course also closely linked to a sense of nationality. According to countryvv, this originated in the Czech Republic in the middle of the 19th century, the revolutionary year 1848 was perceived by the Czechs as a “national rebirth”. The demarcation from the German culture and the German language, the cultivation of the Czech language as well as the turning to and idealization of all Slavonic played an important role. The development of modern Czech society, which was essentially bourgeois, is closely linked to the National Revival and the striving for cultural autonomy of that time.
Even in the 20th century, the Czechs lived mostly under foreign rule. After the First World War in 1918, the country under TG Masaryk and Slovakia achieved independence for the first time and Czechoslovakia was founded. But as early as 1938 this had to cede the Sudetenland and then accept the German invasion of the rest of the country, with the Slovak part becoming the “satellite state” of the German Empire. After the liberation in 1945, the communists seized power in 1948 who, with the support of the Soviet Union, completely redesigned the country based on its model. The democratization efforts of the Czech population in the Prague Spring 1968 were violently suppressed by Soviet troops. It was not until the Velvet Revolution of 1989 that the country was able to free itself from the communist dictatorship and build a democracy. In just a short time, the Czech Republic has undergone an unprecedented transformation process and is now one of the economically strongest countries in Europe. The Czech Republic has been a member of the European Union since 2004.
All these events in older and more recent history and the experience of constant foreign rule have of course left their mark on the culture and mentality of the Czechs. As in any society, there are of course differences between the older and younger generations. In a post-communist society these differences may certainly be even greater. Young Czechs often state that they know little about their parents’ experiences in the communist system; the educational system hardly deals with the recent past. The Czech youth are above all “Euro-Americanized”, has international experience and is generally very well prepared for the future. While the older generation often prioritizes a feeling of security and values tradition and conformity, creativity and many personal freedoms are usually more important to the younger generation.
Traditions, holidays and symbols
The landscape of the Czech Republic with its rolling hills, deep forests and its many castles and palaces has something like a fairy tale. That may explain why the world of fairy tales and legends still has a permanent place in Czech culture. The film “Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella” is an essential part of Christmas television programs in Germany as well. In fact, fairy tale films are still one of the most popular film genres in the Czech Republic.
It is not uncommon to observe that in the Czech Republic there is a very close relationship with fictional characters and fictional characters – especially when they reflect the “Czech soul” in their own way and offer a certain potential for identification. In general, there is the fictional character of the bohemian, whose lifestyle became the artist ideal of an entire era. In particular, however, it is the character Švejk(German: Schwejk), the hero of the cult novel “The Adventures of the Good Soldier Schwejk” by Jaroslav Hašek, which is of elementary importance for many Czechs. Many Czechs regard both the author and the character as national heroes, and most Czechs claim that there is a “little Švejk” in them too. In fact, in Czech there is even the expression “švejkováni” (German, for example: to swivel), which means to behave and think as Švejk would have done. What is “typically Czech” about the Švejk figure? That is probably the subtle humor, the art of improvisation and the passive, subversive resistance to authorities.
Another fictional character with whom the Czechs identify strongly and who in turn is also a figure of “silent resistance” is Jára Cimrman. He appeared for the first time in 1966 on a radio program and in the following years advanced to a national hero, to whom the so-called Cimrmanologists repeatedly attribute discoveries and inventions. Although it is of course completely clear to the Czechs that the “universal genius” Cimrman, whom they adore, is only an invention, they voted him “Greatest Czech” in a survey. Accordingly, many were outraged after Cimrman was subsequently excluded from the “Greatest Czech” election as a fictional personality.
Who is still surprised that the first head of state of Czechoslovakia (later only the Czech Republic) after the end of communism was not only a politician but also a poet? The “poet president” Václav Havel built the Czech Republic into a stable, democratic and economically successful state and he is revered by young and old for his services.
Many Czechs have a very special relationship with religion. Czechs are often incorrectly referred to as atheists, also because of their communist past, whereby it would be more correct to speak of “no religion”. Religion, especially the Catholic religion, is still a part of Czech culture and many religious festivals are celebrated, even if they have long since lost their deeper meaning. Christmas and Easter are the most important holidays in the Czech Republic and are accordingly celebrated extensively. Carnival with its traditional masked parades is also a popular festival in the Czech Republic.
In addition to the bizarre, identity-creating fictional characters, there are also some customs in the Czech Republic that appear strange to outsiders. The symbol of Easter is the painted eggs (kraslice) and the so-called “ pomlázka ”, a rod made of willow twigs and decorated with colorful ribbons. On Easter Monday the men go from house to house and whip the women on the legs with these very rods. The vitality and strength of the young willow branches should pass over to the women. This tradition is particularly popular in the countryside. Some customs, such as the “Whip Monday” described here, even date from pagan times.
Unlike in most European countries, soccer is not the number one sport in the Czech Republic. Ice hockey has been the national sport for several decades. The Czech national team is also much more successful in this sport than in football. The ice hockey players, the hokejista, of course enjoy hero status. In the Czech Republic it is rather unusual to display national pride – the ice hockey games and other sporting events on an international level are of course excluded.