What’s in a name?
August 22, 2005
It may seem like a small point, but it is a mistake to consider the Czech Republic part of “Eastern Europe.”Mention that to a Czech and (if he speaks English, of course) he is likely to reply, perhaps with some heat, “No. This is Central Europe.”He’d be right – and, yes, it makes a difference.The four decades of the Cold War taught us to think of the world in terms of East and West. “Our” part of Europe was Western Europe. “Their” part, behind the Iron Curtain, was East.But geographically and, more important, historically, nations like the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary – all formerly part of the Eastern Bloc – are very much at the heart of Europe.Franz Kafka, perhaps the first truly “modern” writer, was born in Prague and spent most of his life there.Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia, which is part of the Czech Republic.But rather than listing names, here’s the point: Through the great sweep of European history, the land that is now the Czech Republic was an integral part of events and the development of the culture.When we visit there, the language is strange, but the countryside and the castles seem familiar. And the people are, well, just like “us.”Eastern Europe? That’s the next step over: Albania, Romania, Bulgaria. Those lands and their culture are a little more remote.