Download Name Czech - Chatham House

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Contemporary history wikipedia , lookup

Name Czech
Michael Binyon on the challenges of renaming a country
What’s in a name? Well, for a country,
everything – history, identity, loyalty,
recognition and a focus for patriotic
hymns and anthems. But what if your
country doesn’t have a name – at least,
not one that the rest of the world knows?
Then it is time to invent one. And this
is just what the Czech Republic has done.
When Czechoslovakia split in 1993,
so did the name. Slovakia took its place
among the nations of Europe, proud of
its independent name though somewhat
miffed that most people mixed it up with
Slovenia. But the other half, left with
Czecho, decided this would not work
for their truncated country, and opted
instead for the Czech Republic. And so
for more than 20 years the country was
the only one in the world known only
by an adjective.
Over the years there were attempts
to substitute a name with greater historic
resonance. But politics got in the way
of the obvious frontrunner, Bohemia.
By then the word had taken on other
associations – a surreal country peopled
by free-spirited, artistic anarchists.
Worse, the last time the name had
been used was during the Third Reich,
when Hitler, having dismantled
Czechoslovakia, renamed the rump the
Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
Czechia, the new and now official
proposal, at least sounds like a country:
almost all Balkan states end in ‘ia’. Will
the world accept the change? This may
take time. It has taken more than 20 years
for the world to accept, grudgingly, that
Burma is now called Myanmar. It was
not the name that grated, but the fact
that it was a military junta, long the target
of western disapproval, that decreed the
change. And as long as Aung San Suu Kyi
remained under house arrest, the West
was loath to accept the junta’s name.
And Kampuchea, for ever associated
with the murderous Khmer Rouge,
reverted to Cambodia a decade after
the bloodshed was over.
At least Myanmar did not provoke the
10 | the world today | june & july 2016
neighbours’ fury. Macedonia ran full-tilt
into Greek objections. While the
southern province of the former
Yugoslavia was simply part of a larger
country, Greece could turn a blind eye.
But Greece insists that Macedonia is
irrefutably linked to Hellenic history.
A Slav republic appropriating the legacy
of Alexander the Great, his flags and
symbols, roused nationalist hackles south
of the border. There were boycotts and
blockades. Greece insisted its northern
neighbour could not use the same name
as a neighbouring province of Greece.
As long as Skopje maintained its new
name, Athens would veto all integration
into NATO, the European Union and
the United Nations. It took months of
intense diplomatic bargaining before a
compromise could be found: in 1993 the
new country was admitted to the United
Nations under the cumbersome title
of ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia’ or FYROM.
For other newly created countries,
things were easier. All the former Soviet
republics used their old names,
though modified according to local
pronunciation. Belorussia became
Belarus. Moldavia became Moldova.
Kirghizia became Kyrgyzstan.
Some name changes have been
gestures to throw off a colonial legacy.
The tiny Central American state of
British Honduras was renamed Belize,
‘Bohemia was the
frontrunner but
had taken on other
associations –
a surreal country
peopled by freespirited, artistic
even before independence. The Gold
Coast, the first African state to gain
independence from Britain, became
Ghana, and no one minded. Upper Volta
continued with its French colonial name
for a few years until nationalists opted
in 1984 for Burkina Faso – literally ‘Land
of Upright Men’. But Congo’s tortuous
history has come full circle. The Belgian
colony was renamed Zaire after General
Mobutu seized power, a name that
remained through the decades of his
dictatorship. When he was overthrown,
the new rulers also threw out the name he
had promoted – and went back to Congo,
with the addition of ‘the Democratic
Republic of’, to distinguish themselves
from the neighbour across the river,
Congo (Brazzaville).
Some countries have had to invent
names from scratch. Pakistan was an
acronym for the Muslim states that
split from India after partition. But East
Pakistan, which itself split away 24 years
later, then chose the name Bangladesh –
originally two words – meaning the
land of the Bengalis.
Countries that fuse together also have
to fuse their names. Hence Tanzania,
incorporating the former countries of
Tanganika and Zanzibar, and Malaysia,
incorporating Malaya and northern
Borneo. But what of unions that
don’t last? The Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics collapsed when Communism
collapsed, and Russia reverted to its
historical name. And just when the
West had grudgingly begun to call East
Germany by its official name, the German
Democratic Republic, the borders
and the name vanished in reunification.
So, good luck to Czechia. It is short,
snappy and doesn’t provoke the
neighbours’ wrath. Some Czechs
complain it sounds too like Chechnya.
But after plenty of good Czech beer
the world will soon know the difference.
Michael Binyon is former diplomatic
editor of The Times