World Cultures | Czech Republic

Culture Name


The term "Czech" refers to the cultural characteristics of the Czech-speaking inhabitants of the Czech Republic ( Ceská republika ), which includes Bohemia ( Cechy ), the larger western part, and Moravia ( Morava ), the eastern part. Northern Moravia includes Silesia ( Slezsko ), a historical region that lies mostly in southwestern Poland. The Silesians ( Slezané ) of the Czech Republic tend to maintain their ethnic character, but many agree that they constitute a subculture within the Czech culture.

Alternative Names

Czechs call their culture ceská kultura . The historical and geographic term "Bohemian" is misleading, as it not only excludes Czech-speaking Moravians but includes members of several ethnic minorities that live in Bohemia but do not speak Czech.


Identification. The origin of the words Cechy (Bohemia ( Cech ([a] Czech) is not clear. Cechy originally may have referred to a dry place, or it may have been a place-name that eventually gave rise to the name of its inhabitants. Alternatively, the ethnic designation Cech (pl. Ceši or Cechové ) is explained as an abbreviated pet name for a groom (a person responsible for the care of horses, celedín ), or it might have been someone's name. The words Cech , hemia) and C Cechy , and ceská ("Czech" or "Bohemian") first occur in the oldest rhymed Czech chronicle ( Dalimilova kronika ), which dates back to the beginning of the fourteenth century.

Location and Geography. The area of the Czech Republic is 30,450 square miles (78,866 square kilometers), with Bohemia being twice as large as Moravia. The republic is bounded by Poland on the north, Germany on the northwest and southwest, Austria on the south, and the Slovak Republic on the east.

Bohemia is ringed by low mountain ranges. Snežka in the north is the highest point at 5,256 feet (1,602 meters). The chief rivers are the Labe (Elbe) and its main tributaries, the Vltava (Moldau) and the Ohre (Eger); the Elbe flows into the North Sea. Moravia's dominant geographic feature is the basin of the Morava River, which empties into the Danube west of Bratislava, the capital of the Slovak Republic.

Demography. The population of the Czech Republic in 1999 was about 10.3 million according to the Statistical Yearbook of the Czech Republic (in recent years there have been small population losses). The ethnic composition is 94 percent Czech (Moravians and Bohemian Czechs), 3 percent Slovak, 0.6 percent Polish, 0.5 percent German, 0.3 percent Romany (Gypsy) officially but perhaps as much as 2.5 percent, and about 0.4 percent Ukrainian. Other ethnic minorities are numerically insignificant. For example, the Jewish population is probably no more than 12,000 because over 80,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

The border regions, which began to be inhabited by many German-speaking people in the second half of the twelfth century, were resettled after World War II by Czechs after nearly three million Bohemian and Moravian Germans were expelled or chose to leave.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Czech language (ceština or ceský jazyk) belongs to the West Slavic sub-branch of the Slavic languages and is an Indo-European language. It is mutually intelligible with Slovak. Spoken Czech has several regional dialects. The differences among those dialects mainly involve the pronunciation of vowels and the names of local or regional dishes, plants, and costumes. Czech was one of the Slavic languages at least as early as the ninth century, the time of the Great Moravian

Czech Republic

Czech Republic

Empire. The oldest Czech literary monuments go back to the second half of the thirteenth century.


Symbolism. The official state symbols are the national anthem, flag, and coat of arms. The presidential flag (standard) bears the slogan Pravda vítezí ("Truth Prevails"), attributed to the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937, president 1918–1935).

The national anthem, Kde domov muj? ("Where Is My Home?"), was originally a song in a popular satirical play of 1834. The first stanza extols the beauty of the countryside, and the second the nobility of the Czech people. In 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated and the Czechs and Slovaks were given a country of their own, this gentle song became one of the two national anthems of Czechoslovakia, along with the Slovak national anthem. The Czech flag consists of a lower red field and an upper white field with a blue wedge reaching from the flagpole side of the flag to its center. There are two coats of arms. The central feature on the small coat of arms is a split-tailed lion wearing a crown. The large coat of arms makes pictorial references to Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. Several historical personalities have special meaning for Czechs. The earliest is Václav I (Wenceslas I, familiar from the popular Christmas carol), who was killed by the order of his younger brother and successor, Boleslav I, in 929 or 935. Wenceslas has been revered as a saint since the second half of the tenth century and as a patron and protector of the country and a symbol of statehood since the eleventh century. The ancient chorale "Saint Wenceslas, Ruler of the Czech Land" ( Svatý Václave, vévodo ceskézeme ) has been a national hymn since the end of the thirteenth century. To honor Saint Wenceslas, in 1848 the large central boulevard in Prague was renamed Wenceslas Square ( Václavskénámestí ), and in 1913 an equestrian statue memorializing him was erected there.

A monument in Prague's Old Town Square ( Staromestskénámestí ) commemorates Jan Hus (John Huss), a religious reformer who was burned as a heretic in Constance (Konstanz) in southern Germany in 1415. The Hussite movement, originally religious and nationalist, culminated in 1419 when the Hussite forces defeated several armies sent to Bohemia by the pope to put an end to reformational ideology. A compromise between the Hussites and the Catholic Church was not reached until 1436. Another Czech whose memory is still cherished is Jan Amos Komenský (1592–1670), known outside the country as Comenius. A religious reformer, Comenius also was a scientist and a founder of modern pedagogy and is referred to as the "teacher of nations." As the bishop of a Czech Protestant denomination, he was forced to go into hiding after 1620, when education fell under the control of the Catholic Church. When Comenius went into permanent exile in 1628, a number of European countries invited him for extended visits. He died in the Netherlands, where he is buried. During the religious conflicts of the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), Comenius proposed the establishment of an ecumenical council of churches and an international academy of scientists. Among his writings were a seven-volume manuscript with recommendations for the improvement of human affairs and a textbook with illustrations ( Orbis pictus [1658]) that is said to be the first such textbook. Comenius was a revered figure throughout the Western world. He was even offered the presidency of the very young Harvard College but refused, preferring to remain in Europe, because he hoped he could eventually return to his native Moravia.

One of the symbols of the Czech national revival that took place from near the end of the eighteenth century to the 1880s is the National Theater ( Národnídivadlo ) in Prague. The theater was opened in 1881 but was destroyed by fire later that year. Restored and reopened in 1883, it continues to be one of Prague's landmarks. An inscription on the ornate auditorium, Národ sobe , translates freely as "By the people to the people." A symbol of the Nazi occupation is Lidice, a community in central Bohemia. As punishment for the assassination of the Nazi deputy administrator of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, on 10 June 1942, the village was razed, with all of Lidice's 192 men shot and 196 women and most of the 105 children sent to concentration camps. After the war, a new village was built nearby and the tragedy was commemorated by a monument and a memorial rose garden. Several communities in the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, and elsewhere were named Lidice in memory of the innocent people who lost their lives.

A world-famous fictional character is the "good soldier Švejk" in the novel of that name published between 1921 and 1923 by Jaroslav Hašek (1883–1923). The Good Soldier Švejk portrays a complex character who, although discharged from military service for idiocy, is resourceful, expresses great compassion, and never stops making fun of the bureaucracy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Garrulous and ready to follow orders to the letter, Švejk is the epitome of someone whose obtuseness helps him survive. The novel has been translated into many languages, filmed several times, adapted for theatrical presentations, and made into an opera.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The first ethnically identifiable inhabitants of the area, a Celtic people, lived there from the fourth century B.C.E. until about the second century C.E. They were followed by a Germanic people who left during the so-called migration of nations in the fifth century. Slavic-speaking groups made the area their homeland no later than the sixth century. Among them were the Czechs in central Bohemia and the Moravians along the Morava and Dyje rivers to the east. In the first half of the eleventh century, Oldrich of the princely and later royal Czech dynasty of the Premysls (Premyslid dynasty) brought Moravia under his control, and Bohemia and Moravia then became the foundation of the Czech state.

The crowning of the first Bohemian king took place in 1085, and the first university in central Europe was founded in Prague in 1348. The development of Czech national culture came to a temporary halt in 1620, when the Czech estates (social classes possessing political rights) were defeated in the Battle of White Mountain ( Bílá hora ). The Bohemian kingdom lost its independence, and its provinces were declared the hereditary property of the Hapsburgs. Forcible re-Catholization of a people who from the beginning of the fifteenth century had been influenced by the reformist teachings of Jan Hus resulted in a wholesale emigration that, together with epidemics of plague and other diseases, reduced the population of Bohemia by about one-half and that of Moravia by one-fourth. A period referred to as "the darkness" ( temno ) lasted until the end of the eighteenth century, when the Czech national revival—the formation of the modern Czech nation—began.

National Identity. West Slavic tribes inhabiting the Bohemian territory gradually were united by the politically dominant Czechs and came under their leadership by the ninth century. Moravian tribes were united even earlier than those of Bohemia. The ethnic badge of all these groups consisted of the various dialects of the Czech language.

Ethnic Relations. Until the end of the twelfth century, the population was almost exclusively Czech-speaking. Over the next two centuries, its makeup underwent a change. Large numbers of German colonists settled in Bohemian cities and rural areas, some of which subsequently became completely Germanized. Population statistics for Bohemia in 1851 gave the ratio of Czechs to Germans as 60 to 38.5. The historical territory of the Bohemian state did not become more Germanized over the centuries because of the anti-German feelings of the Czechs.

After World War II, the ethnic makeup of Czechoslovakia changed profoundly. Most Jews did not survive the war, and after the war, settlers of Czech origin arrived from Romania, Yugoslavia, and Volhynia in the Soviet Union. By 1950, about 95 percent of all Czechoslovak citizens of German nationality had left.

With the exception of the World War II period, Czechs and Slovaks shared a common state between 1918 and 1992. Until 1969, the relationship between the two groups was asymmetrical: Slovakia was considered an agrarian appendage to the highly industrial Czech nation, and the Czechs viewed Slovak culture as lacking in maturity and refinement. Even though the Czech and Slovak languages are closely related and mutually intelligible, many Czechs viewed Slovak as a caricature of Czech. The peaceful separation of Czechs and Slovaks into two independent countries on 1 January 1993 was largely a consequence of the paternalistic attitude of the Czechs toward the Slovaks and the desire of the Slovaks to assert their ethnic identity through political independence.

There has always been a special relationship between Czechs and the United States. The Austrian Empire, of which Bohemia and Moravia were a part from 1620 to 1918, was one of the most densely populated areas of Europe when the empire began to experience a rapid increase in population growth around the middle of the nineteenth century. Population pressures soon forced many Czechs to look for employment and a new life abroad. Lower Austria and the United States were the countries to which most of these people migrated. The places in the United States to which Czech immigrants were drawn included not only large cities but also rural areas, especially in the prairie states of the Mississippi Valley as well as Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas. In the early 1990s, about 1.3 million people in the United States claimed a Czech background.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The Czech Republic is a fairly densely populated country, with about 340 persons per square mile. The highest population density is in metropolitan Prague ( Praha ), which has 1.3 million inhabitants. The next three largest cities are the capital of Moravia, Brno, with approximately 400,000 people; Ostrava in northern Moravia, with about 350,000; and Plzen (Pilsen), with approximately 180,000. Seven cities have populations just below or above 100,000. Overall, about 65 percent of the Czech people live in cities or towns of 5,000 or more.

The tendency of Czechs to move from rural areas to cities predates the founding of the nation in 1918. As a consequence, Prague has continued to grow steadily even though the national population is virtually stationary. The result is a tight housing market despite the constant construction of monotonous blocks of prefabricated multistory apartment houses on the outskirts of the city.

These new districts stand in sharp contrast to the historic parts of Prague with their great variety of architectural styles. Some of the city's monumental but stylistically restrained buildings date from the last third of the nineteenth century (National Theater, National Museum, and the Rudolfinum concert hall) and the first third of the twentieth (Municipal House, with a concert hall and restaurants, and the ministries in central Prague along the Vltava).

The Czech Republic is essentially a country of small cities and towns. However, there have always been hundreds of small villages in the countryside, frequently only a few miles apart. In the past several decades, there has been a tendency to consolidate them administratively.

The rooms of Czech apartments and family houses are small, and bedrooms, which usually have no closets, are made smaller by the use of wardrobes. Family houses are constructed of cinder block or brick rather than wood.


Astronomical clock on Old Town Hall.


Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The traditional Czech diet may be considered heavy, with an emphasis on meat, potatoes, and dumplings and the use of substantial amounts of animal fats, butter, and cream. Meats— primarily pork, beef, poultry, and organ meats such as liver, kidneys, brains, and sweetbreads—are frequently prepared with gravy and eaten with potatoes or dumplings ( knedlík , pl. knedlíky ). Soups are an important part of the noon meal. Potato and tripe soup are favorites, as well as beef or chicken broth with tiny liver or marrow dumplings. The most commonly used vegetables are carrots, peas, and cabbage. Salads were eaten only seasonally until recent years.

Czechs have always enjoyed sweets. The most common are fruit dumplings (made with plums or, in winter, preserved apricots) served with grated farmer cheese and bread crumbs browned in butter, with sugar sprinkled on top. Dumplings often are served as a meal. Popular sweet baked goods include buchty (sing. buchta ), small, roughly rectangular yeast buns with a filling of jam or preserves; koláce (sing. kolác ), small cakes made of white flour with an indentation on the surface for a filling of poppy seeds, plum jam, or sweetened farmer cheese; a semisweet cake ( bábovka ) made of yeast dough and baked in a fluted tube pan; thin pancakes spread with jam, rolled, and topped with powdered sugar ( palacinky ); small raised pancakes ( lívance ); and apple strudel ( jablkovýzávin or štrúdl ).

The national beverage is beer ( pivo ); some good domestic wines are produced in Moravia. The domestic plum brandy is called slivovice (slivovitz).

Especially during the past ten to twenty years, marked changes have occurred in the Czech diet. More fresh vegetables are eaten year-round by those who can afford imported food; vegetable shortenings, oils, and margarine are replacing animal fats; and a variety of mixes are used to prepare soups and dumplings. What people eat today is greatly influenced by what they can afford: good cuts of beef and pork are expensive, but poultry is much more affordable.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. A typical Sunday dinner menu continues to be svícková (known in English by the German name sauerbraten ): fillet of beef marinated in vinegar and spices before roasting, served with a rich sour-cream sauce and almost always accompanied by dumplings. Also popular for special meals is roast duck, pork, or goose with dumplings and sauerkraut. On Christmas Eve, nearly the entire country eats the traditional breaded and fried carp, and on Christmas Day, roast turkey is found on many tables.

Basic Economy. In the first half of the 1990s, the Czech economy was transformed from a centrally planned economy to an essentially privatized, market-oriented economy. Small businesses nationalized during the 1950s by the communist regime were returned to the rightful owners or their heirs; small businesses created during the socialist period were auctioned off to employees or outsiders. Large enterprises were privatized through the sale of vouchers to citizens over 18 years of age, who then became shareholders. Some of the heavy industries and banks still owned by the state may be privatized in the future. For basic needs, particularly temperate-zone food products, Czech society is self-sufficient, but it imports oil and gas. The republic has supplies of coal and lignite (brown coal) and uranium ore. Well over half the country's electrical energy is generated by coal-fired thermal power stations, some is supplied by nuclear plants, and a relatively small amount is produced by waterpower.

Land Tenure and Property. Prior to World War I, noble families had extensive holdings of farmland and forests (for example, the Schwarzenberg family owned 248,000 hectares of land). After Czechoslovakia was established at the end of World War I (1918), the new government considered land reform a priority. The first land reform restricted considerably the economic power of both the nobility and the large landowners by reducing their holdings of agricultural and forest land. The land subject to expropriation was allotted to smallholders, farming cottagers, small craftspeople, landless persons, etc. After 1948, when the communists took over, collectivization and nationalization of land became almost total; by 1977 only 2.4 percent of all persons permanently active in agriculture owned land, and all of these were small farmers in mountainous regions. Aside from agricultural cooperatives, private holdings of land are now very modest: the rural summer cottages owned by many urban residents generally occupy lots of only a fraction of an acre.

Restitution of property began after the velvet revolution of 1989. With respect to the former nobility, restitution has had mixed results. Many children of the original owners were living in foreign countries and had no experience with or desire to become entrepreneurs in large-scale agriculture or forest management. In many cases their castles or mansions were found to be in such a state of neglect that restoration and maintenance have been beyond their means. Nevertheless the heirs and the few original owners still living are pleased to have the option of owning their former homes once again.

Major Industries. The Czech Republic has long been highly developed industrially. The leading industries include the manufacture of machinery, automobiles, chemicals, refined petroleum products, fertilizers, cement, iron and steel, glass, textiles, footwear, and beer. Many industrial enterprises have been undergoing restructuring to catch up with those in the West. After an initial decline in aggregate output in 1990, modest growth resumed in 1994.

Under communism, agriculture was almost completely collectivized. Postcommunist privatization did not result in a return to small-scale private farming because agricultural workers prefer to be shareholders in privatized cooperatives. The collectivization of the 1950s resulted in rapid mechanization of agricultural work, which is now the most advanced in central and eastern Europe. Today the agricultural labor force is only about a quarter of a million, or 5 percent of the total labor force. The most commonly cultivated crops are grains, fodder, sugar beets, rape, potatoes, and hops. Hops, which are used in the production of beer and for pharmaceutical products, are exported. Livestock production involves primarily cattle, pigs, and poultry. Lumber is another export, especially from southern Bohemia.

Under communism, industry was the priority sector and service-oriented industries were neglected; heavy industry's share of output was larger than that in developed capitalist economies. The neglect of services gave rise to a so-called second economy in which services were obtained by barter or by paying someone on a private basis. In the 1990s, service industries began to grow rapidly.

A consequence of the communist regime's stress on industrial production without proper safeguards against polluting the environment was ecological devastation of certain regions, especially in northern Bohemia (in and around the city of Most) and northern Moravia (the city of Ostrava). Even Prague is polluted, mainly from the many cars in the city center.

Trade. The Czech economy is highly dependent on foreign trade. The republic imports mainly from the same countries it exports to: Germany, Slovakia, the United States, Austria, Italy, and Russia. Exports consist primarily of manufactured goods, machinery and transport equipment (including automobiles), and chemicals; imports include goods of those types as well as fuels and lubricants. The Czech economy runs a large trade deficit with Russia, importing energy and raw materials but exporting relatively little. Because the Czech crown is now freely convertible, there is practically no limit to what can be purchased by those who have the funds. Since 1994, inflation has been 10 percent or less per year (in 1999 it was only 2.1 percent, and the estimate for 2000 is 4 percent).

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. After World War I, when Czechoslovakia became an independent country, the middle class was the largest socioeconomic class. Poverty and unemployment were most noticeable in the large cities and least prevalent in farming villages. The wealthy included those owning businesses and the relatively few members of noble families, who had lost their titles with the establishment of the republic in 1918 but not much of their property, which included castles and large tracts.

Under the communist regime after World War II, the economic status of manual workers rose and that of highly specialized people declined steeply (physicians were paid no more than street pavers, who were paid reasonably well). A new elite consisted of the most active members of the Communist Party. They enjoyed numerous privileges, such as large apartments, access to special hospitals, special stores with merchandise not available to others, and for those in high government positions, state automobiles with chauffeurs. Ethnicity was of no consequence; what mattered was political activity and dependability.

This political elitism ended after 1989. Successful businesspeople now have visible wealth: luxury cars, expensive villas, and maids and chauffeurs. By contrast, older people complain that their pensions do not keep pace with the cost of living; pensioners therefore often vote for leftist parties that advocate controlled prices.

Political Life

Government. The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy. The president is elected for a five-year term and may not be elected for more than two consecutive terms. The president appoints and dismisses the prime minister, appoints certain high officials, and can veto any bills (other than constitutional ones) passed by parliament. Václav Havel

Two boys in Prague, Czech Republic.

(1936–), a playwright, essayist, and political dissident during the communist regime, became president of the postcommunist republic (1989–1992) and in 1993 was the first president of the Czech Republic.


The parliament consists of the Chamber of Deputies (two hundred deputies elected for four-year terms) and the Senate (eighty-one senators elected for six-year terms). The government consists of the prime minister, his or her deputies, and the ministers who make up the cabinet; the cabinet is the supreme body of executive power. The highest judicial body is the supreme court.

Leadership and Political Officials. Since the end of the communist regime, political life has again been characterized by a considerable number of political parties. In the 1992 elections, forty-two parties and movements participated, with eight receiving 5 percent or more of the popular vote. Because of the large number of parties, no party receives a majority, and the government is formed by a coalition of the parties with the most votes. Parties range from conservative, to Christian democratic, to social democratic, to communist. The strongest in the 1998 election were the Czech Social Democratic Party (32.3 percent), the Civic Democratic Party (27.7 percent), and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (11 percent).

Social Problems and Control. The most common crime is pickpocketing, usually in crowded streetcars and subways. Prague is among the European capitals with the highest rates for this type of crime. Czechs attribute these thefts and more serious criminal acts to non-Czech minorities and citizens of poorer eastern European countries who have entered the republic legally or illegally. The privatization of formerly state-owned businesses and enterprises has resulted in many cases of embezzlement and, to a lesser extent, bribery. Violent crimes are more common than they were under communism. Many citizens feel that the police are not as numerous or efficient as they should be and that the courts are too lenient.

Military Activity. Military service of one year is compulsory for all males without physical limitations, but a civilian work assignment of eighteen months may be substituted. Active duty personnel in 1996 totaled forty-four thousand, of whom 36.4 percent were in the air force. Military expenditures in 1995 accounted for 2.3 percent of gross national product compared to the world average of 2.8 percent.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Social programs cover old age, invalidism, death, sickness and maternity, work injury, unemployment, and allowances per child. Under the communist regime, every person had the right to employment; however, some jobs would have been unnecessary in a market-oriented economy. There was a saying, "The state pretends to pay us, and we pretend to work." Even though many of these superfluous jobs have been eliminated, unemployment was only 6 percent in 1998.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

There are few formal social clubs or organizations. Most socializing takes place in pubs or outdoors during summer holidays. The few organizations that exist are of a serious nature, such as scholarly associations and political clubs. Sports organizations and groups interested in such activities as fishing and stamp collecting are quite active. In general, however, Czechs prefer to use their free time according to their own tastes, especially in the large cities.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Before World War II, most middle-class women did not work, remaining at home to run the household and take care of the children. Women constituted no more than a third of the labor force. This began to change during World War II, when the occupying German authorities required many women to replace men forced into work for the war effort. Under the postwar communist regime, many women worked to improve the economic situation of their families; the state facilitated women's employment by making day nurseries available. In 1976, about 87 percent of women of working age were employed. The latest available figures (1995) show a high proportion of women in the total labor force: 46.2 percent compared to 53.8 percent for men.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women have made significant strides since World War II in terms of employment opportunities and participation in public life. However, a disproportionate number of women are in the lower half of the pay scale. Women remain concentrated in the traditional sectors of female employment: retail sales, health care, elementary schools, and social work. While the concept of equality between men and women is recognized, the husbands of women who are fully employed seldom perform half the household duties. Because a number of the mechanical conveniences taken for granted in the West are not widely affordable, most women work harder at home than American women do. However, women have a large say in how money is spent and how the family uses its free time and are becoming increasingly active in political life, business (banks and insurance companies), and civil service (post offices).

Marriage, family, and Kinship

Marriage. For much of the twentieth century, the selection of a spouse has rested with the young couple. Before World War II, socioeconomic standing and education were of considerable importance in the selection of a husband or wife. Middle-class men usually did not marry until they were launched in their careers, typically in their late twenties or early thirties; women usually married in their early or middle twenties. More recently, men have begun to marry earlier. There are no legal restrictions on who can marry except for marriages between close relatives. The number of legal marriages in 1996 was 5.2 per 1,000. This number is low because the percentage of young adults in the age range 15–29 is among the lowest in the world

Buildings line the Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic.

(because this is also true for the 0–14 age group, the low number of marriages is expected to continue). Relative to the low marriage rate, the divorce rate of 3.2 per 1,000 population is quite high.


Czech newlyweds prefer to live separately from their families, but because of housing shortages in the larger cities, that goal is not easy to attain. Both spouses usually work unless a very young child keeps a mother temporarily at home.

Domestic Unit. The typical household unit is the nuclear family, consisting of husband, wife, and children or stepchildren. Because of the housing shortage, a widowed mother of one of the spouses may be included in the household; she is a valuable addition to the nuclear family if the young couple has children because she can provide child care while the mother works. In the Moravian countryside, where people own family houses, parents commonly live with their adult children. Typically, when Moravians build a family house, they include space in it for their parents.

Inheritance. The importance of inheritance diminished under the communist regime because all businesses and properties except for family houses were nationalized. Privatization began after the velvet revolution in 1989, and most property owned privately before 1948 has been returned to the owners or their descendants.

Kin Groups. For urban Czechs, the effective kin group is limited to the closest relatives. For most people, collateral relatives more distant than uncles, aunts, and first cousins are seen only on special occasions such as weddings and funerals. However, most villagers, especially in Moravia, continue to maintain relations with more distant relatives. Descent is bilateral, that is, through both the mother's and the father's lines, but the husband's surname becomes the family name.


Infant Care. The birthrate in the Czech Republic was 8.8 per 1,000 in 1996, compared with the world average of 25. About 84 percent of children are born to parents who are married. Because of the small size of a typical Czech family, the birth of a child is a special event. Baby showers are not common, but close friends frequently give a gift when a child has been born. Before World War II, most women were expected to stay at home and take care of the children and the household. Since the 1950s, many women of childbearing age have held jobs to help maintain a decent economic standard. Women were given generous maternity leaves—usually six months at 90 percent of full pay and at 60 percent of full pay until the child was 3 years old. Since the 1990s, the rules governing maternity leave have been much less generous. However, if a new mother has help from her mother or mother-in-law, she is likely to return to work as soon as possible.

During the first two years, children are given much attention. Most babies are bottle-fed, but some mothers still breast-feed their babies until the first teeth appear. When babies no longer awaken for feedings during the night, they are moved to a separate room if space is available. It is customary to take children outdoors every day in prams or strollers. In cities, two or three mothers from the neighborhood are likely to be found sitting and talking in a nearby park while their babies are getting fresh air and sunshine.

Child Rearing and Education. Although fathers are usually the heads of families, mothers exercise authority over young children. Czech children are expected to be obedient after being admonished. They are reprimanded whenever they are considered to be out of line and usually are made to feel guilty for unacceptable behavior. Praise for good behavior is not dispensed often. Children are taught to be orderly, hardworking, practical, and egalitarian and are expected not to resort to physical violence.

If a family can live on the father's income, the mother stays at home during a child's early years. At about age 3, many children are sent to day nurseries, and a year or two later to kindergarten. Since 1990, some of these preschool services have been discontinued or have become more costly.

Higher Education. Education is highly valued, and academic titles receive great respect. School teachers used to enjoy fairly high status and wield a great deal of authority on school premises; in recent years, their pay has become relatively low and their prestige has suffered. Most parents pressure their children to do well in school. For a child to have to repeat a grade is embarrassing for the family.

Children begin school at age 6 and must remain in school until age 15. All students attend elementary school for the first five years. Those who plan to go to a university move on to an eight-year gymnázium , a secondary school that prepares them for higher education. To be accepted at a gymnasium, students must pass written examinations in mathematics and Czech. At the end of the eighth year, they take a final school-leaving examination ( maturita ). An alternative is to take nine years of basic education with the option of continuing with either the last four years of gymnasium or a four-year specialized training program in schools that prepare students to become nurses, electricians, and so on, or to enter business or management. Public kindergartens and primary and secondary schools are free. Recently, a few private and parochial schools became available at the primary and secondary levels. Their quality is good, but not many parents can afford the tuition. University students are not charged tuition but must pay for their textbooks as well as board and lodging.


Social interaction is not much different from that in other central European countries; compared to that in the United States, it is rather formal. This formality is in part caused by the Czech language, which has two forms of the second-person personal pronoun. The "familiar" form is used to address a member of the family, a good friend of long standing, or a child or by a child addressing another child. The "polite" form is used in more formal situations. It is not uncommon for colleagues of similar age in neighboring offices to use the formal form when talking with each other.

The tendency toward formal behavior is strengthened by the tradition of using titles. The use of someone's first name is limited to older family members addressing younger ones and to very good friends. It usually takes daily contact over a number of years before people are on a first-name basis. Much less informal contact reinforces the social distance between people. Because Czech apartments are small, invitations to visit and casual dropping by occur only among good friends.

Czechs stand at arm's length from each other unless they are conveying information that should not be overheard. Like other Europeans, Czechs do not show as much consideration as one finds in Britain or in smaller cities in the United States when several people are boarding a streetcar, bus, or train or waiting to be served in a store. Their tendency to get ahead of others may reflect the experience of the socialist years, when people had to stand in lines for scarce goods.

Because there are no significant differences in social equality by virtue of position or ethnic background (with the exception of the Romany [Gypsies], who are disapproved of for allegedly committing petty thefts), the rules of etiquette are alike for all members of the society. Because Czechs emphasize cleanliness, most remove their shoes when entering private homes. They eat in the Continental style, with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right, and there is no special attempt to converse at meals. When attending cultural events, Czechs dress for the occasion, and young women try to follow the latest styles. Younger people tend to be more informal and self-confident than their elders.


Religious Beliefs. Christianity was brought to the area of the Czech Republic during the ninth century by missionaries from Germany to the west (the Latin rite) and the Byzantine Empire to the southeast (the Eastern rite). The missionaries of the Eastern rite were the brothers Constantine (later renamed Cyril) and Methodius, natives of Thessalonica in Macedonia. They arrived in 863, invited by Rostislav (or Rastislav), ruler of the Great Moravian Empire, and devised the first Slavic writing system, in which they published parts of the Bible in a Slavic language that was intelligible to the local population. The arrival of the Magyars in the middle Danube area near the end of the ninth century and their subsequent raids to the north led to the disintegration of the Great Moravian Empire and weakened the influence of the Eastern rite. By

People walking through the public square in Prague, Czech Republic.

the time a bishopric was established in 973 in Prague, Roman Catholic missionaries had prevailed and Latin had become the liturgical language.


A breach with Rome took place during the first half of the fifteenth century as a consequence of the reform movement begun by Jan Hus. After Hus was burned at the stake in Constance in 1415, his legacy became a lasting aspect of the national heritage. It was reinforced in the middle of the sixteenth century by the attempts of Ferdinand I, the Holy Roman emperor and Bohemian king, to bring the population back under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. After the army of the Bohemian estates was defeated by Ferdinand II in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, Catholicism and Hapsburg rule tended to be equated as symbols of foreign oppression.

Precise numbers of the members of various denominations are not available; approximate percentages are Roman Catholics, 40 percent; Protestants, 4 to 5 percent; Orthodox, 1 percent; and uncommitted, atheists, and agnostics, 54 percent. Many Czech Catholics tend to be lukewarm in their faith. Moravian Catholics are more committed. Religious sentiments have always been more strongly felt and expressed in rural areas. Since the end of World War I, strong secularist tendencies have been evident. The forty-one years of communist rule (1948 to 1989) further undermined religious practices and expression: Those who regularly attended religious services were discriminated against in terms of professional advancement. After 1989, a resurgence of religious beliefs and observances became noticeable, especially among young people.

Before World War II, about 120,000 Jews lived in the Czech lands. Except for those who married non-Jews and the relatively few who were able to emigrate, most Jews—about 80,000—died in Nazi concentration camps. After the war, only a very few of those who escaped the Holocaust returned.

Religious Practitioners. The Roman Catholic Church has archdioceses in Prague, founded in 1344, and Olomouc (Moravia), founded in 1777. The archbishop of the Prague archdiocese is the only Czech cardinal. In addition, there are six dioceses headed by bishops: four in Bohemia and two in Moravia.

The Protestant churches (in Czech usually referred to by a term translated as "Evangelical") are small, less hierarchical, and diversified. Among those registered in 1995 were the Baptists, Czech Brethren, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodists, Pentecostalists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession. Other denominations include the Czech Orthodox Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Unitarians, and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic.

Rituals and Holy Places. Catholic churches or chapels are found in even the smallest communities. Other denominations and religious organizations have church buildings only in areas where a congregation is large enough to support them. Smaller groups gather for worship in private homes or hold meetings in rented quarters.

There were several places of pilgrimage—all Catholic—where the devout used to travel every year to attend a mass commemorating the local saint. Most of those sites were of only regional significance, but a few were known throughout the country. For example, pilgrimages began in 1647 to the church at Svatá hora , a hill above Príbram in central Bohemia. Beginning in 1990, pilgrimages were resumed in eastern Moravia (Hostýn and Velehrad). Many of these yearly ceremonies have turned into events resembling country fairs and are attended by thousands of people. An example is Matthew's Fair ( matejská pout' ), which takes place on the outskirts of Prague every spring.

Death and the Afterlife. Serious church members, whether Catholic or Protestant, believe in an afterlife. Even lukewarm Catholics frequently arrange for a dying family member to receive the last rites before death. In the past, the dead usually were buried in a casket and their graves were provided with elaborate headstones. Over the last fifty years, cremation has become the accepted practice, but in rural Moravia, burying in the ground still predominates.

Medicine and Health Care

The extensive use of medicinal plants was replaced during the first half of the twentieth century by the use of synthetic drugs. Many of these drugs are produced by a well-developed domestic pharmaceutical industry. Czech medicine has always followed the course of Western medicine and kept up with modern advances.

Health spas using thermal mineral waters and/ or mud or peat baths are numerous and popular. Some are world-famous, such as Marienbad ( MariánskéLázne ) and Karlsbad ( Karlovy Vary ). Karlsbad was well known by the end of the eighteenth century; members of the European aristocracy often visited it to regain or improve their health.

Health insurance was widely available before World War II. Under communism, free health care was provided to all citizens, but its quality varied. Most Czechs would agree that the system was abused. Medical waiting rooms were crowded not only with people who had good reason to be there but also with those who wanted to leave their places of employment to take care of private matters such as standing in line for items in short supply. Free health care continues to be available, but the system is monitored more closely. To avoid long waits, patients who have the financial means often see private physicians.

In general, health services in the Czech Republic are much better than the world average: the number of persons per physician is one of the lowest in the world, and the number of hospital beds per capita is among the highest. Equally impressive is the infant mortality rate of 6 per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth is 70.5 years for males, and 77.5 years for women (1997). The major causes of death are diseases of the circulatory system and cancer.

Secular Celebrations

Holidays include New Year's Day; Easter Monday; Labor Day (1 May); 8 May, which commemorates the day in 1945 that saw the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany and the German signing of an unconditional surrender to the Allies; 5 July, which celebrates the arrival in 863 of the Slavic missionaries Constantine and Methodius; 6 July, in memory of the burning at the stake of Jan Hus in 1415; 28 September, Czech Statehood Day; 28 October, which marks the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918; 17 November, Day of the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy; and Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the following day (December 24–26).

Although state television and radio present special commemorative programs on many of these holidays, most Czechs spend their days off with the family, visiting relatives, and attending sports events, theaters, and concerts. Those who live in Prague spend their holidays in country cottages working in the garden and enjoying the outdoors.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Under the communist regime, prominent writers, painters, and sculptors as well as museums, theaters, art galleries, and major orchestras were supported by the state. This generous support of theaters and orchestras meant that tickets to artistic events, from play readings to costly productions such as operas in Prague's National Theater, were affordable by all. Those in the arts who received state money had to conform to political and ideological dictates, or at least make certain that they did not offend the Soviet Union, those in power in their own country, and the Communist Party. Working under such strictures became unbearable for some of the most creative writers, such as Josef Škvorecký (1924–) and Milan Kundera (1929–), both of whom left the country to write and publish abroad.

Since the velvet revolution of 1989, artists have enjoyed freedom of expression and most support themselves. However, prestigious artistic institutions and ensembles such as the National Theater, the National Gallery, and the Czech Philharmonic continue to receive state support.

Literature. The first literary language in the area of the present-day Czech Republic was Old Church Slavic, which was used by the missionaries Constantine and Methodius. Although Latin predominated from the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries, Czech began to be used during the thirteenth century, and during the fourteenth was employed in a great variety of genres: legends, tracts, dramatic compositions, satires, and fables. The activities of the United Brethren, especially a translation of the Bible toward the end of the sixteenth

People relax by the river in the picturesque town of Rožmberk.

century, contributed greatly to the stabilization of the Czech literary language.


Modern Czech literature began to develop during the nineteenth century. The founder of modern Czech poetry was Karel Hynek Mácha (1810–1836), whose long poem Máj (May) was published in 1836. Celebrating the beauty of the spring countryside and romantic love, Mácha's work made masterful use of the sound qualities of the Czech language in dealing with death and faith, the execution of a young man who killed his father for having seduced the girl the son loved, and the girl's suicide; those themes were quite daring for their time. In prose, the most enduring early work was Babicka (Grandmother) by Božena Nemcová (1820–1862). The author depicted rural life during the first half of the nineteenth century, including the folk customs that took place in the different seasons. By 1998, more than 350 editions of this work had appeared.

Another popular writer, Alois Jirásek (1851–1930), produced both novels and plays based on themes of Czech history ranging from the Hussite movement to the national revival. The poet Otokar Brezina (1868–1929) had a great influence on lyrical poetry in the twentieth century; his five collections of poems reflected a profound knowledge of world literature, philosophy, and theology. Karel Capek (1890–1938) is known the world over in translation. His literary production includes plays, children's books, informal essays about his travels in Europe, utopian novels, and novels in which he explores the nature and foundations of knowledge. The English word "robot" comes from Capek's play RUR ( Rossum's Universal Robots [1920]).

In general, Czech lyric poetry has surpassed in quality both prose and dramatic writing. The Czechs are enthusiastic readers and often read in trains and buses and on the Prague subway. Translations of foreign books are readily available.

Graphic Arts. Stone architecture in the Czech lands dates from the second half of the ninth century (rotundas). By the thirteenth century, the Romanesque style had been replaced by the Gothic, which reached its peak during the reigns of Charles IV (1346–1378) and his son Václav IV (1378–1419). Prague has thousands of architectural and artistic monuments of every style, attesting to its long history (the fortified settlement around which Prague developed was founded toward the end of the ninth century). The palaces and mansions of Prague are small, but what they lack in size is compensated for by their intimacy and their setting in old Prague's narrow, curving streets. Foreign visitors consider Prague one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Painting and sculpture have a long history, ranging from the works of Theodorik, court painter of Charles IV, to the newest postmodernist styles. Among the most revered painters are Josef Mánes (1820–1871), a landscape and portrait painter and the author of ethnographic sketches and illustrations; Mikoláš Aleš (1852–1913), who depicted Czech historical events and scenes from folklife; and Alfons Mucha (1860–1939), an internationally known representative of Art Nouveau. Mucha was one of the founders of modern poster art, and reproductions of his posters remain popular. Among modern painters is František Kupka (1871–1957), who lived in France after 1906. He was a pioneer of abstract art and is best known for nonfigurative representations.

Among Czech sculptors are Josef Václav Myslbek (1848–1922), a representative of monumental realism exemplified by the statue of Saint Wenceslas in Prague's main square, and Jan Štursa (1880–1925), whose female figures are admired for their sensuously shaped forms.

Performance Arts. In the Czech Republic, music is the most popular art, and Czech music is well known in the rest of the world. The old saying " Co Cech, to muzikant " ("Every Czech is a musician") is a succinct characterization of the Czech disposition. Renaissance vocal polyphonic music was composed and performed during the sixteenth century, Italian operas were presented not only in Prague but in smaller towns in the eighteenth century, and at the time when the Baroque was giving way to classicism, numerous musicians from the Czech lands were active in many European countries. Among Czech composers, four are heard in the concert halls and opera houses around the world. Bedrich Smetana (1824–1884) composed the six symphonic poems My Country ( Má vlast ) and the folk opera The Bartered Bride ( Prodaná nevesta ). Antonín Dvorák (1841–1904), who composed works in many genres, is known especially for his sixteen Slavonic Dances ( Slovanskétance ) and Symphony No. 9, From the New World ; he was also the founder and the director for three years of the National Conservatory of Music in New York (1892–1895). Leoš Janácek (1854–1928) was a Moravian composer known for strongly rhythmic and dramatic operas, such as Jenufa ( Její pastorkyna ), and Bohuslav Martinu (1890–1959) composed operas, symphonies, and chamber music.

Every May since 1946, music lovers from many countries come to Prague to attend the concerts, recitals, and other musical events offered every day. Not only the best Czech musicians but foreign ensembles and soloists take part in this music festival known as Prague Spring ( Pražské jaro ).

Drama and ballet are well represented not only in Prague but also in several Bohemian and Moravian cities. There is a long tradition of puppetry, ranging from well-known nomadic puppeteers in the eighteenth century to a professional network of puppet theaters today. Prague is also known for its Laterna magika ( Magic Lantern ), founded in 1958, a mixed-media spectacle that combines live performance with film, slides, and music. Laterna magika was shown at world's fairs in Brussels in 1958 and Montreal in 1967. Czech filmmakers have had great successes, and several of their works have received Oscars, including Kolya in 1997. Probably the best-known Czech director is Miloš Forman (1932–), who left the country in 1968 because of its lack of artistic freedom. Among his films made in the United States are Taking Off (1971), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and Amadeus (1984).

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The physical sciences in the Czech Republic are of respectable quality, and research in some fields is well known abroad, for example, in polymer chemistry. Among Czechs who distinguished themselves internationally were Jaroslav Heyrovský (1890–1967) and Václav Hlavatý (1894–1969). Heyrovský was a physical chemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1959 for his discovery of polarography and its use in analytic chemistry. One of the craters on the moon bears his name. Hlavatý's specialties were differential and algebraic geometry and the general theory of relativity, on which he closely collaborated with Albert Einstein. After World War II, Hlavatý became politically active. After the communist takeover in 1948, he settled in the United States.

During the communist regime, work in the social sciences was severely limited, especially in sociology and political science. Since the application of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice was supposed to lead inevitably to the best possible society, what was there to study at home? Also, research that showed injustice or other defects in Czechoslovak society would disagree with the official view.

Several disciplines in the social sciences did manage to carry on but remained relatively unproductive—for example, ethnography. Ethnographic research was done almost exclusively in Czechoslovakia and was concerned mainly with history and variations of regional subcultures. However, there were several outstanding scholars in Egyptology, Indology, and Celtic languages and cultures.

The highest scientific institution in Czechoslovakia was the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences with headquarters in Prague. It consisted of over fifty institutes, most of them devoted to research in the empirical sciences. The scientific activities of the academy were guided by the state plan of basic research, itself part of a government-approved plan for the development of science and technology. The activities of the various institutes were therefore tightly controlled. For example, sociology and philosophy were combined in the same academic institute, and the few sociological research projects that were undertaken had to conform to Marxist ideology.

The succeeding institution, the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, was established in 1992. Although the personnel of the institutes was reduced, as was their funding, politics was taken out of the sciences. Research projects in the various institutes are limited by the scarcity of researchers and funds. However, scientists outside the institutes of the academy, for example university faculty, can apply for research funds to the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic.


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