|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||16/05/96, Volume 2, Number 20|
THE Czechs have always been proud of themselves, but never enough to really prove it by excelling in any one area.
“The eternal semi-finalists”, wrote famous Czech journalist Ferdinand Peroutka before the war, as if anticipating its outcome. The nation was of course among the winners, but only after having spent years under a cruel, although protective, German wing.
The apology to the Germans chased from Bohemia after living there for a thousand years still leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many Czechs, who think that German behaviour during the war far outweighed their forced exodus in 1945.
This heritage continues to poison relations with the mighty neighbour, historically the most significant constant of Czech policy.
Nowadays, this ambiguous affinity greatly influences internal political haggling, whereas for Bonn it is only a marginal issue.
Many Czechs - especially the older generation - find it hard to stomach German signs on shops in border towns or the sale of the Skoda car company to Volkswagen. The young businessmen on the other hand - the flag-bearers of change - do not seem to bother themselves much with these concerns, working as they do in a region where decisions are taken in deutschemarks and German investment remains vital.
The Germans were the country's historical oppressors, the Russians the most recent ones. Bach had his influence and played on a different chord of our national character. We are often thought of as the 'German Slavs' by our eastern neighbours, who reproach us for a lack of Slav warmth and solidarity. We have a reputation for being the best-skilled workers in the East, but not as hard-working as the Germans. We are seen as sensible and generous, but not as melancholic or open hearted as our more eastern brethren.
We were never really close to the Poles, despite sharing a few kings in the 16th century. The Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians and others with whom we shared the 'Socialist camp' family for 40 years, are looked upon with a feeling of superiority, and the alienation from our Slovak 'brothers' is continuing at a terrific and even faster pace since separation in 1993.
All of these animosities, hard feelings and wounds, so typical of central Europe, are also directed at the British and the French, whose behaviour in Munich has not been forgotten. The Portuguese and Finnish aside, one can seriously ask whether we have any friends at all. On the other hand, we have no foes on our horizon.
But does anybody really care? We Czechs have a reputation for being emotional types who spend our days cracking cynical jokes in overcrowded smoke-filled pubs over several excellent beers, exercising the art of ironical intellectualism somewhere between Kafka and the brave soldier Schweik.
The fast rhythm of capitalist restoration in the last five years has seen the fun vanish. But those who were caught off guard feel they have only themselves to blame for not getting rich overnight. Despite widespread criticism of the way the government handles medical care, housing policy or education, and in spite of cases of misuse of power and corruption, the majority does not seem to long for change.
We are a conservative people and once we have opted for something, we stick with it. Were we not the only ones in the region who opted democratically for Communist government in the Forties and who, 20 years later, still frenetically tried to improve Socialism?
Nowadays, the faded red of “Socialist internationalism” has given way to a multicoloured internal political life. The outside world sometimes vanishes under the impact of domestic squabbling. But we have learned faster and better than anybody could have imagined in 1989 - so fast and well that we sometimes feel we are capable of giving lessons to others.
Today, the average Czech would probably tell you he is more or less content with the evolution of his country, doesn't cherish a slightest dream of going back - and would then start complaining.
He would deplore the living standards of pensioners, young families with children, teachers and medical staff. He would criticise the way privatisation and the restitution of property have been handled (if he was not one of those who has profited from them). He might sigh when talking of the good old days, when the main aim of the administrators was to nourish the people and give them some kind of 'private initiative' valve, usually in the form of attainable locally-made cars or out-of-town cottages.
In the pubs, conversation is gradually returning to old topics - football and ice hockey - while politics, the main theme for years, is attracting less attention.
This is how we Czechs hope to enter the EU and NATO, because we know that in the West people don't bother about politics, only about money.
In the Thirties, in an effort to boost national morale, Karel Capek wrote: “It is a good and courageous mission to be small and unfinished. A little ship doesn't carry so many goods or people as the big and gleaming ones, but it can go as far as them. Or somewhere else. Everything depends on the crew.”
His words should be repeated over and over again, as we might run into more troubled waters at any moment. If we do, then the sail on our mast should be in proportion to the size of our vessel.
|Countries / Regions||Czechia|