Ahoj from Budweis
With only 15 years of age, the Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia are the two youngest countries in the European Union. Both came into existence after putting an end to their Czechoslovakian union, which had lasted for the 80 years following World War I. Capital of the Czech Republic is Prague, home to 1.5 million people out of the 10 million of Czechs who populate the entire country. The first report comes in from Ceske Budejovice:
Let`s start off with a small Czech-Austrian comparison. The Austrian people I spoke to yesterday told me that it was difficult to tell from somebody`s face whether he or she was Austrian or Czech. While the faces may be somewhat similar, most other factors of the visual appearance are different. Czech Republic has impressive quantities of young men with long hair. Compared to countries that have German as a native language, young Czechs are less likely to have face earrings and face piercings. The clothes Czech people wear are on average less fashionable than those of their Austrian neighbours, whether it comes to colours, tissues, shapes of clothes and how they do or do not combine.
`Old Czechs are not the most optimistic and jolly people in the world`
The difference in living standards between Austria and Czech Republic may be shrinking but is still apparent. The average Czech car is less expensive, less comfortable and less of a show-off than the Austrian `middle-class` Audis, BMWs and Mercedeses. When it comes to landscapes, Czech Republic generally looks a little less organised than the almost sterile Austrian scenery. Houses are a less colourful and streets are dustier. Most of the Czech villages mark their presence by a big chimney of some kind, which spoils the otherwise idyllic impression of the countryside.
Prague and the South West of the Czech Republic count as the most prosperous parts of the country. `In these parts of the country, tourism has developed quite well during recent years`, says Barbora (18), adding that the opposite is true for the more industrial cities of Ostrava, Kladno and Most.
`The Czech Republic consists of three main regions: Czechy in the West, Slesko in the North and Moravia in the East. Each of them has another accent and another main source of income. Moravia is agricultural and still has some mining activities. Sleszko had quite intensive heavy industry, while Czechy makes money out of tourism`, Barbora says. `I don`t think that these remaining regions will once split up like Czech Republic and Slovakia did. I hope they don`t. I am not a big fan of the separation. Half my family now lives in Slovakia and I don`t like the feeling that they are from a different country.`
Czechs tend to be proud of their country and its history, with the exception of the 40 years of communism imposed on them between World War II and 1989. The biggest sources of pride, in random order of importance: Czech beer, Czech nature, Prague, the country`s victory over communism, Czech food and, to many young people: V?clav Havel, the first Czech president after communism.
Martin (30) tells me that the current political leaders cannot count on the same fanatic support: `There are still many of the old communists around`, he says, `but they are fortunately starting to retire by now, slowly making place for a new generation. A generation that has not been infected by communism.`
Despite the gradual economic progress that has marked the Czech Republic since 1989, vey few Czechs think about themselves as Central European. The term `Eastern European` has never really done the trick, but some people now take it as a slight insult. `Eastern Europe describes Czech Republic as a backward ex-communist state, but we have grown to be much more than that`, Martin says, adding that he can get annoyed about people from the West talking about Czechs as if they were a bunch of losers. `On one of my trips to Vienna, I felt like I was taken for an Eastern European loser`, Martin says. `Fortunately, I also know plenty of Austrians who are a bit more well-informed than that.
Jakub (18) thinks that it will take another 15 to 20 years before Czech Republic can claim to be a Western European country: `For now, I would say we are still Eastern European, although most Czechs largely prefer the term Central European. I am quite happy that we are now a member of the European Union. So far, the country has benefited a lot from European funds.`
Marketa (32) praises the freedom of travel that Czech EU membership has brought her. `Before 1989, only the `happy few` could afford traveling. Usually to Poland, Eastern Germany or the Yugoslavian seaside. Whoever left for Western Europe did so as an emigrant, not for a fun holiday trip. True, we still cannot work in some European countries, but the current situation is still better than what it was before`, Marketa says.
Jirina (26) travels different continents for a job as local tour operator representative in holiday destination countries. `All the Czech people I know for travel do so for the fun of it. I personally don`t have any friends who left this country to work in another one. My case is a bit peculiar. I was in the United States last summer, then in France last winter. This summer, I will go to Sunny Beach in Bulgaria. Czech people now travel all over the place. The average pattern depends on the season: sea side destinations in summer, ski resorts in winter.`
`The mindset of the Czechs is quite reserved and sometimes even unfriendly in relation to strangers, especially the older generation`, Martin (27, photo) explains. `They often lack communication skills in English, which makes it very difficult to even communicate with foreigners. Apart from that, old Czechs are simply not the most optimistic and jolly people in the world`.
On the more positive side, Martin describes Czech Republic as a sportive and ambitious country. `Czechs can be good at anything they want to be good at`, he says, listing hockey as one example. `We are also starting to grow a decent population of good managers and we traditionally deliver the world quite some writers, composers, playwrights and film directors.`
From this country full of reserved yet ambitious young Czechs, I will write the next series of more than fourteen `Us Europeans` articles. The next one will come in from the capital city of Prague, where I hope to arrive by tomorrow noontime.
photo | Link
to this article