Czech Republic Renaming Has Real Economic Costs

Czech economy
Facts & figures

GDP growth in Q4 2015 4.0%
Inflation in March 2016 0.4%
Population 10.5 million

Unemployment 6.1%

Average gross monthly salary €1,040

Jobs in services: 60%
Jobs in industries: 29%

Number of Czechs working in the EU: 100,000
Number of foreigners living in the CR: 465,000

source: Startupyard.com / CZSO.cz

Jeremy Luedi

About Jeremy Luedi

Jeremy Luedi is the Web Editor and frequent contributor at Global Risk Insights (GRI), and has worked for NGOs and political parties in Canada. He speaks German, spent 17 years in Zurich, Switzerland, and currently resides in Ottawa. Jeremy's writing has been featured in Business Insider, Huffington Post, Nasdaq.com, Seeking Alpha and has been quoted by Time Magazine, Greenpeace, and Nikkei Business, among others.

The Czech government has decided to change the country’s name to Czechia, in an effort to better promote the national brand. While the official name of the country remains the Czech Republic, the country will adopt the shorter moniker (akin to France instead of the French Republic) and register the new name with the UN.

Since Czechoslovakia (itself an ad hoc creation which emerged from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) broke up in 1993, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have been facing an identity crisis. Czechoslovakia broke up without a popular referendum, despite over a million citizens calling for one in the early 1990s. Similarly, the Czech Republic’s recent name change has been undertaken without public input.

‘Czechia’ itself was picked by public relations professionals who felt that a one word name would better sell the country. Despite this, there exists substantial public opposition to the name: a poll conducted in 2013 found 73 per cent of respondents disliked the name. The head of the Institute for the Czech Language described the name change as “forced through,” and regional development minister Karla Slechtova has complained that it sounds too similar to Chechnya — hardly a flattering comparison.

The Czech Republic already has sufficient problems in promoting national brand awareness, as the country has to fight for recognition with ‘Czechoslovakia’ in the minds of anyone over 30. One name change in a quarter century is more than enough for a country, with Czechia increasingly looking like Prague’s ‘New Coke’ moment.

Indeed, this name change has been instituted solely from the top-down. Czech President Milos Zeman is no stranger to controversy, with his concurrent perpetuation of brash nationalism and Islamophobia while leader of a social democratic party. Throw in his country’s NATO membership and his amiable relations with Russia and China, and further upsets are likely.

An interesting aside to this story is the fact that Zeman’s government is pursuing improved relations with China. Relations with Beijing have long been marred by concerns over human rights. Noted Soviet-era dissident and activist Vaclav Havel was the Czech president from 1993 to 2003, and Havel continued his support of Chinese dissidents and the Dalai Lama until his death in 2011.

In an interview with CCTV, Zeman stated that: “There was very bad relationship between China and the former government of the Czech Republic – former government, I stress – because this government [had] been very submissive to the pressure from the U.S. and from the EU [sic].”

Xi Jinping became the first Chinese leader to visit the Czech Republic at the end of March 2016, signalling greater rapprochement between Prague and Beijing. During his visit, Xi signed a $1.79 billion deal with Prague. Zeman is making efforts to distance his country from Havel’s activist legacy. Perhaps in some small way, Zeman’s effort to rename the country is influenced by a desire to rebrand the Czech Republic in the eyes of China. China is a major market for automobiles and alcoholic beverages, two of the largest Czech exports.

Add to this Zeman’s amiable relations with Russia—a move that also goes against Havel’s legacy—and one can begin to add a geopolitical dimension to the name change. To top it all off, Havel hated the name ‘Czechia’, claiming it reminded him of crawling slugs.

Logo-Land-of-stories

The discussion over renaming the Czech Republic may appear rather odd, even frivolous, but it has serious implications. Impacts on national identity and history aside, the change to Czechia will impact the Czech economy.

Firstly, the name change has not been well-timed, as the country’s uniforms, memorabilia, and advertising for the upcoming 2016 Olympics have already been produced to feature ‘Czech Republic.’ For a small country such as the Czech Republic, the Olympics is a rare occasion to, if only briefly, gain greater international attention.

Furthermore, the country has already spent $40 million on a tourism campaign that heavily features the name ‘Czech Republic’. The Czech Republic is known for three things: beer, hockey, and heavy industry (notably Skoda). The Czech brewing industry has created a valuable brand (such as the Pilsner Urquell) with the ‘Czech’ moniker and will likely continue to utilize it, undermining government efforts to promote ‘Czechia’. After spending decades establishing themselves in international markets, Czech brewing companies are not simply going to shift entire branding departments towards an untested, and unpopular alternative.

Similarly, the Czech hockey team, has and continues to use the ‘Czech’ monicker – another blow to Prague’s efforts in a hockey-obsessed nation.

Lastly, the Czech Republic’s economy has a robust manufacturing and heavy industry sector, generating much of the country’s revenue. Companies in these sectors primarily engage in B2B commerce, or subcontract for foreign firms such as Volkswagen.

Consequently, they often do not rely on national branding, in so far as they need not advertise to the general public. Such firms have very small if any advertising budgets, relying on specialization, industry contacts, and supply chain integration instead.

Consequently, the government is unlikely to find much support from these firms, which will see no reason to shift their limited use of ‘Czech’ to ‘Czechia’. Similarly, flagship carrier Czech Airlines will face a branding crisis, expenses it cannot afford. The struggling airline has not once paid dividends since becoming a private corporation in 1992, having faced razor thin profits and an overcrowded European airline market.

 

If anything, the switch to Czechia is going to create confusion, as the private and public sectors promote two different names. With national branding undermined, there will be an ongoing risk of inter-sector discord. Indeed, even national business promotion fora (Czech Accelerator, Czech Trade Promotion Agency, Czech Invest) prominently use ‘Czech’ in their branding.

Prague would be wise to look at the fate of other renaming efforts. For instance, the renaming wave that hitIndia in the 1990s and 2000s saw the government eradicate city names with powerful name recognition (Bombay, Calcutta, Madras) in the name of de-colonization. While one can argue the merits of the program’s intentions, the fact remains that India killed powerful brands with centuries of tradition. To this day the renaming causes confusion in the tourism sector, compounded by the fact that many Indian businesses and individuals use the old and new names interchangeably, both domestically and at international trade fairs.

Name recognition for small countries is already hard to come by; all the Czech Republic’s recent move has done is further complicate the matter.

 

The editorial was originally published on Global Risks Insights‘ website.

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The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.

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  1. First, it’s counterproductive to mix the topic of the word “Czechia” with purely political and “bitter” issues such as the relationships with the U.S. or China. The name of the country is supposed to serve all citizens and all foreigners dealing with the country in one way or another – and correspondingly, the opinions about the naming issues divide the public almost independently of their other political opinions. Zeman has been pro-Czechia but the short name “Czechia” was already made official by center-right minister of foreign affairs Zieleniec in 1993 – although no one bothered to do anything to inform the world that they’s supposed to use the short name, not just the long one, and as recently as a week ago, almost everyone in the West would think that “Czechia” is surely silly and officially wrong (although it has been officially correct since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia).

    The “war” about the name of Czechia is refreshingly apolitical. The name isn’t driven by any political correctness (Czechs don’t have much respect for PC!) or attempts to make our nation more important (Czechs are the world champions in criticizing or downplaying their own nation) or anti-colonialism sentiments or anything like that (which was the case in India and elsewhere). It’s about practicality, etymology, linguistic arguments about accuracy etc. At most, the word “Czechia” has a higher percentage of “Czech” than “the Czech Republic” where the “republic” dissolves the national character. So I guess that the multi-cultural people etc. are somewhat more likely to oppose “Czechia”.

    Analogies with India are wrong for many other reasons. One of them is that the “Czech Republic” isn’t a centuries-old brand. The republic has only been a separate state since 1993 (although it was recognized as a nation state within the Czechoslovak federal state since the 1960s) and it’s likely that the brand “Czech Republic” still hasn’t managed to surpass “Czechoslovakia” (which is rather well-known, but back in 1918, it was facing the same problems with its being new as Czechia today). The meaning of “Czechia” is self-evident to anyone who really understands the names of countries as well as the adjective “Czech”. And in Latin, Czechia has been used at least since 1604 – and maybe even in the 14th century during the life of John of Nepomuk etc. It’s normal for English to import the names from Latin and it has happened in many other cases.

    No one is really obliged to stop using “Czech Republic” – it doesn’t cease to be a correct long political name. It’s expected that many journalists etc. will be pushed to use “Czechia” because their bosses will tell them – it’s a change partly promoted from the top down. I hope that Czechia will spread but in my opinion, it will take years before it beats the “Czech Republic” in usage, if it ever does, and things like sports events will be crucial for the adoption, just like they were in the case of Česko.

    The public wasn’t asked to decide because such things – e.g. grammar – are really not decided by referendums or public votes in Czechia (or Central Europe). It’s not our tradition, we don’t plan to introduce this “very direct democracy” in the future,either, and I think that such a tradition would be harmful for everyone because the branding question is a complicated linguistic-diplomatic-marketing-historical question and the average Czech (let alone foreigner) knows just 1% about these issues than an expert, e.g. a linguist who has spent lots of time with it (or myself, I won’t pretend fake modesty). Most of the opposition by the ordinary people is just worthless screaming without any substance – reflection that they’re not used to it or that they want to show how “important” they feel. But it’s clear that people get used to new names and we’ve already observed the same thing with the Czech translation of Czechia, “Česko”. It also faced opposition but by Google Trends, it already beats both “Česká republika” and “Čechy” (Bohemia) in usage. About 2/3 of Czechs dislike “Czechia” and the percentage of true opponents will unavoidably drop if the name starts to spread.

    Now, we can’t use “Bohemia” for the whole Czechia because Bohemia has had a very well-defined meaning – used in thousands of books etc. – which only refers to the “kingdom” part of the country. Nothing has been ambiguous about this meaning at least for 250 years. People who don’t understand the importance of the unambiguous meaning of Czechia or who say that it doesn’t matter to them are basically illiterate. One can’t suddenly use Belgium to represent the whole Benelux or something like that, and the redefinition of Bohemia into all of Czechia would be analogously silly.

    Also, we can’t use “Czech” because it’s an adjective – or the name of an inhabitant or the language – and not the country. Using “Czech” for the country is a sign of broken English and although the ice-hockey outfits or Pilsner beer bottles use it and survive, it’s clearly an inferior choice. By the way, “Czechian” is also a matter of broken English but Czechia won’t be the first nation leading the uneducated English speakers to make this mistake. The wrong word e.g. “Slovakian” etc. has spread so much that it’s sometimes said to be “another OK choice” aside from Slovak. Many English speakers don’t understand that when it comes to these Slavic or European names, the original word is the name of the inhabitant or ethnic group – Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs – and the country is derived from them, not the other way around! In Europe, at least Central and Eastern Europe, the ethnicity is viewed as primary and the nation states are derived from the ethnicities.

    On the other hand, to rebrand the Czech word “Česko” as an English word would be entirely silly and not reflecting the opinions of Czechs about their country. First, the diacritics would make the English spelling very difficult, or it would have to be changed (Czesko?). More importantly, only uncivilized regions are trying to export the whole name in the native language to other languages. Czechs use their own, Slavic language, but they (rightfully) consider the country to be a part of the Western civilization and they reasonably assume that it’s easier for people fluent in Germanic and Romanic languages to use special names compatible with those Western language groups, their habits, and their grammatical rules. So Prague and Pilsen have German names which are easier for English speakers, too. Well, almost all important towns, mountains etc. in Czechia have full-fledged German names which generally differ from the Czech ones, and by the way, not only those where the ethnic Germans used to live a lot. The Westerners are supposed to feel like “at home” in many cases. Almost no one in Czechia “dreams” about creating new walls – in this case, linguistic walls – between us and the Western nations. Westerners’ having inequivalent names to the Czech names is something that emphasizes the importance of the geographic entity that transcends the interests of Czechs – and the whole country surely is one of them. Deutschland is being called in 10 totally different ways by other nations – Allemagne, Germany, Niemcy, Německo, Tyskland etc. This diversity is normal because Germany is important enough for every other nation to do their work in naming the entity. Czechia is less important but it’s still important enough which is why it must avoid the “precise copying” naming algorithms used for some wild African tribes.

    So the root of the word “Czechia” is “Čech” which was the name of a brother 1200 years ago who founded the nation according to legends (his brother Lech founded the Polish nation). And the naming conventions were largely created by intellectuals in Czechia. But these people knew English or other languages pretty well. Moreover, it would be silly to copy “Česko” in the untranslated form because Česko was mostly a neologism in the 1990s. It was constructed in a certain way from Československo or the adjective “český”, and “Czechia” is constructed in the completely analogous way from Czech or Czechoslovakia in English. Also, most other languages in the world have already adopted the usage of a short word for Czechia that mostly sounds very similar to Czechia, anyway. Somewhat bizarrely, the greatest opposition to a short name such as Czechia exists in English and the second greatest opposition existed in Czech. 😉 But in Czech, the opposition has been mostly defeated, and we just think it’s the right time to induce the same change in English, the last stronghold of the “republic” as the name for Czechia.

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