Monday, April 23, 2012

The Rivalry Between Czechs and Slovaks

Hi Everyone,
Today I’d like to tell you about the rivalry between Czechs and Slovaks. Czechs and Slovaks have a relationship that goes back thousands of years, and both are Slavonic. I can’t delve into the deep intricacies involved in this relationship—it would take a book to explore the interesting relations between Slovaks and Czechs. However, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned and experienced in this close relationship between Czechs and Slovaks since I moved to the Czech Republic. Please look at this post as an overview—it’s not meant to be a comprehensive treatise on Czech and Slovak relations.

My Slovak Relatives
When I was growing up, my Slovak relatives were a bit bitter at the separation of Czechoslovakia. They said the Czechs got everything after the Velvet Divorce, which took place on January 1st, 1993. By this, my Slovak relatives meant that the Czechs had “stolen” much valuable property when the two countries separated. They saw the Czechs as arrogant, cold fish who had stolen much from the Slovaks. This is what I grew up hearing when our Slovak relatives got together. 

These folks are probably turning over in their graves since I’ve married a Bohemian Czech, of all people! It’s best to keep in mind that these Slovak relatives were from the old generation (the age of my grandparents and great grandparents). They were completely Slovak, however, my Grandpa was part Slovak and part Czech. He never spoke about Czechs as our Slovak relatives did. So though I grew up hearing from our Slovak relatives about how bad the Czechs were, I really grew up with a more balanced view of Czechs due to my Grandpa’s views. 

Moving to the Czech Republic
I never thought too much about rivalry between Czechs and Slovaks until I moved to Prague back in 2006. You’ll find many Slovaks living and working in Prague, though the Slovak culture definitely takes a back seat to the Czech/Bohemian culture found in Prague. Jiri and I have a mix of Czech and Slovak friends, and all of them get along very nicely, especially when drinking beer. 

 High Tatras in Slovakia

Balanced and Positive View of Czech and Slovak Relations

From my own experience, Bohemians do tend to think of their Slovak cousins as “little brothers,” and some may have a slight condescending air in the way they treat Slovaks. However, most Czechs seem to be accepting of their Slovak cousins. On the other hand, I’ve met Slovaks who have been almost as bitter toward Czechs, Bohemians in particular, as my own Slovak relatives were. On a couple of our visits to Moravia, I listened to talks, by Slovaks (in English) who were quite angry at the Czechs. 

One guy, a prominent scientist (who will remain unnamed) actually said that the Czechs had stolen many valuable factories, scientific centers, and more when the two countries split during the Velvet Divorce. It was a shock to hear this prominent guy speak like this—in front of an international group! Extreme views tend to exist on both sides, but most Czechs and Slovaks have a more positive and balanced view of their relationship with one another. 

My Own Experience 

After my own research and talking with Jiri and our Slovak and Czech friends, I have come to find that there are some differences between the two countries and their peoples. However, they have more in common, than not. There is also not such a pronounced rivalry between Slovaks and Czechs, except when it comes to friendly (for the most part) sports contests, such as hockey and futbol (soccer).

 Slovak Flag

 Czech Flag

Slovaks Open and Expressive

Slovaks let their emotions show more than Bohemians. Moravians (southern Czech Republic, bordering with Slovakia) are actually more like Slovaks, at least to me. Moravians and Slovaks are friendlier and more open than the Bohemians, especially Praguers (Bohemian Czechs who live in Prague). 

Slovaks view Bohemians as cold, arrogant fish. When you walk the streets in places like Brno and Olomouc, you will see more people willing to look you in the eye and smile. They are very friendly if you stop to ask directions (though Bohemians are also friendly and helpful in the same way). 

One of the reasons for this difference in levels of friendliness and openness is due to the fact that Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, and is a major international city. People in big cities tend to not be so friendly, and are more guarded than people in smaller cities, towns and villages. Well, in my own experience, once you get to know Praguers and Bohemians, in general, they are very warm and caring people. They are just a bit stand-offish when first meeting a stranger. Once the pivo and vino start flowing—everyone’s a friend.

Czech and Slovak Economic Bases Before the Split
The Czech part of Czechoslovakia was wealthier before the Velvet Divorce. This was due to the fact that the Czech lands were more industrialized than Slovakia at that time. Slovakia had a more agrarian economy for centuries, right up to when the two countries split. 

When the two countries split, Czechs inherited these industrialized areas, rather than “stealing” them. Slovakia had to begin building up the industry in their own country, which was quite expensive. Czechs did try to help Slovaks become more industrialized in between the two world wars, however, Slovaks felt that Czechs were trying to “lord it over them” and that Czechs were more dominant politically and economically. Czechs were also working to elevate the educational system of the Slovaks in that time. There was a nationalist Slovak movement that began to develop, with ideas of an independent state growing over the years.

Czech and Slovak Languages 

Czech and Slovak languages are similar. Many older Czechs can easily understand Slovak, though younger Czechs (since the split in 1993) have a more difficult time understanding Slovak. On the other hand, most Slovaks have no trouble understanding Czech. Czech is taught in Slovak schools, and Czech entertainment media (movies, music, and TV programs) is imported to Slovakia. Slovak is not generally taught in the Czech education system. There are some words that are the same in Slovak and Czech; however Czech has some letters that Slovaks don’t use, such as the “ř.”

Capital of Slovakia:  Bratislava
Photo by:  Mandryvink
Nationalistic Movements
Slovaks tend to be more nationalistic than Czechs. The Slovak national movement began in the 1800s and has resurfaced over and over from that time to now. Czechs, on the other hand, tend to not be as nationalistic or proud of their own country. There have been nationalistic movements in Czech history—one notable time was just before the end of the Hapsburg rule in Czech lands. Czechs began to find a new interest in their own roots and language. However, this has waned over time, compared to the nationalistic movement in Slovakia. 

Historical Influences

Historically, Czechs have been highly influenced by Germany, while Slovaks have been more influenced by Hungary. Even so, both nations are part of the EU (European Union) and Slovakia has already adopted the Euro, while the Czechs are still working on compliance with EU rules before adopting the Euro. I think in this respect Slovaks may tend to see themselves a little bit ahead of the Czechs. 

Czechs and Slovaks Get Along Quite Well

These are just some of my own observations, experiences and opinions after living in the Czech Republic and seeing the “rivalry” between Czechs and Slovaks. Some people (Czechs and Slovaks) tend to emphasize this rivalry between these small nations for their own purposes. 

There is some (mostly) friendly rivalry between Czechs and Slovaks in the area of sports. Aside from this, Slovaks and Czechs seem to get along pretty well, and do really like one another. There are always exceptions and extremes, but I must say that the relationship between Slovaks and Czechs is closer than that of Czechs and Germans or Slovaks and Hungarians. 

My Slovak relatives had a specific view of Czechs, but I grew up with a more balanced view of Czechs and Slovaks due to my Grandpa. I have both Czech and Slovak heritage, and have married a Bohemian Czech. In spite of my Slovak blood, Jiri and I get along pretty well in our Czech/Slovak/American union.

What do you think? Do you feel there is a more serious rivalry between Slovaks and Czechs? Are my impressions accurate?

Have a great day!

God bless,
Sher :0)

13 comments: said...

Hi Sher - An interesting post, especially being written out of your own personal experience.

Please forgive the proofreader within me but do take a look at your title! 'bewteen'???????

Likewise in your section 'Historical Influences, you have 'Slovakia has already adapted the Euro'. They were & are not allowed to adapt the Euro - they 'adopted it'! Likewise, Czechs are still working on EU compliance rules for adapting the Euro'. They aren't! Instead they have to have to be compliant with all the rules before 'adopting the Euro'.

However, it's good to see you blogging again.

Sher said...

Hi Chaplain,
Thank you for your excellent proofreading! I'm currently in extreme pain (back and leg) and have recently developed migraines (ach jo), so my writing and proofreading are not up to snuff! Please let me know if I fixed things! :0)

Jiri would probably disagree with me on the state of rivalry between Czechs and Slovaks. There are some Czechs who don't appreciate their Slovak cousins very much. I can only speak for what I've observed. It may be that the rivalry is far more intense than what I've picked up on.

I'd really love to hear from others who have lived here--to see what they've observed in between Czechs and Slovaks.

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Anonymous said...

Czech is taught in Slovak schools? Why? I haven't heard about it. I'm Czech.

Anonymous said...

One reason that Czechs tend to look a bit down on Slovaks is also because many Slovaks work and study here and it's not the other way round...

It's said that here are more working opportunities and better schools. I live in a city with quite a lot universities and many Slovaks are here.

Czech students are a bit mad at Slovaks that they take places at schools... but I think that contest is good and serves for quality of accepted students. Well, but when it comes to colleges (koleje) it's a different thing. Slovaks get the accommodation because of the distance of their homes from Czech schools and there are not many rooms left for Czechs.

Sher said...

Yep, Czech is taught in Slovak schools...I obtained my information from a born and bred Slovak friend! :0)

Sher said...

Thanks for your insight into why Slovak students come to the Czech Republic for their university education.

Competition for jobs and education can be quite intense when there are only so many spots open.

Thanks again for your insightful comment!

Ivanhoe said...

How wonderful! You did a lot of research :)
After all these years, I still consider myself Czechoslovak and believe that we should have never split up. Which was btw Slovak request :)

Sher said...

@Ivanhoe: Most of this information I've learned since moving to the Czech Republic. It's all a learning process!

That's great--you consider yourself Czechoslovak! I actually do, too...since I have a little bit of both in me :0)

Yes, the Slovaks actually wanted to separate from the Czechs...really interesting history, and I would like to write more on the relations between these two national cousins!

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Lion heart said...

Somethings are correct but somethings Are off. Most slovaks and czechs get along great, slovaks do feel a ltittle patronized by czechs but since we have our own country people dont care any more. The main reason young slovaks understand czech better is because there is far more media from the czech republic than from the slovak republic,not because it is taught in schools. I would say czechs tend to be friendlier where as slovaks are a lttle more serious and angrier. Also, ive met many czechs who have said this also, that slovak women are prettier. I also feel like alot of czecbs look at slovakia as a more original version of there own country less i,fluenced by outside countriies. There are alot of czech students on bratislava as well. Czechs also tend to be lighter complexion while slovaks are darker.

Lee said...

Thank you - this was a great read in anticipation of the Czech v Slovakia hockey matchup in Sochi!

Sher said...

@Lee: There was a lot of speculation who would win! The Czechs won and were happy. Yesterday, though, the Czechs lost to the Americans.
I'm happy, as I was routing for both teams! :)

Anonymous said...

In 1987 i visited czechoslowakia with dutch friends. The tour guide was telling us all kinds of communist bullshit. When we left, he entered the bus one more time and said he hoped that we would come back. I screamed yes but after the revolution. He didnt like it. But i did come back, last year. I asked a lot about the split-up. Slowaks told me mostly that it was better, czechs were nonchalant about it. And yes, when we were drinking alcohol in mixed company, all was splendid

Unknown said...

A very informative blog post. Thank you for taking the time to describe the differences and similarities between these two nationalities.