Monday, 22 February 2010
Lech loves Czech but does Czech love Lech?
According to the legend, there were once 3 brothers: Lech, Czech and Rus. Lech went north, settled down and founded the half-mythical, half-historical Piast dynasty. His descendants are now called Poles.
Czech went south and settled down in Bohemia and Rus went far out to the east. Relations between Rus and his 2 brothers are well-documented but little attention is paid to the relationship between brothers (and next-door neighbours) Lech and Czech.
A quick sample of Polish and Czech language, cuisine and other cultural aspects shows that both nations are cut from the same cloth. For most of history the 2 countries have followed very different paths but in the last century they have similar experiences-- independence after WWI, occupation during WWII, Eastern Bloc, fall of Communism, entry into EU.
Despite, or perhaps because of, these similarities Polish-Czech relations have never been a shining example of brotherly love. True, there are none of the bad feelings which occur in relations with Germany and Russia but neither is there any real sense of kinship or solidarity. Why could this be?
From the Czech perspective grievances could include the disputed Cieszyn / Tesin region and the involvement of Polish troops in the supression of the Prague Spring.
From the Polish point of view jealousy (not a vice which is alien to Poland as even proud Poles will admit) probably plays a part. The Czechs are better off, have a nicer lifestyle and in many areas-- beer, supermodels, football etc..-- they always seem to be better, despite their small population.
Another reason could be language. Although Czech and Polish are very similar, Czech does bear an unfortunate resemblance to toddler-speak to Polish ears. Even the best-intentioned Pole might struggle to keep a straight face whilst listening to Czech. Obviously this does not go down well with the Czechs.
I recently went to Prague for my first trip to the Czech Republic (not counting a cigarette break in Brno bus station a couple of years ago) and I am happy to report that there are signs that the 2 brothers might be getting closer. First of all, I have never heard negative comments about Czechs in Poland, just people laughing at thier language (and mullets). Secondly, people in Prague, who were already friendly enough, became a little bit more friendly when they saw my wife's Polish-Czech phrasebook on the table. Perhaps they were just happy to meet some tourists who didn't automatically speak to them in English...
By a happy coincidence, the very day I set off for Prague Przegłąd magazine published a piece about Polish-Czech relations. Here are 2 opinions taken from the article...
Q: Why do Poles like Czechs more than before?
Mariusz Szczygieł (Pole), scholar of Czech literature
I don't know why other Poles like the Czechs but this is why I like them:
1) The Church in the Czech Rep. plays no role in political, social or private life.
2) Every town and village tries to look like it comes from a fairytale.
3) Even in very small towns you can hire a bike.
4) On Fridays most people, even though they are at work, think about the weekend and make plans which involve more than just sitting at home.
5) They treat culture as an anti-depressant.
Hana Brusova (Czech), correspondent for the Czech Press Agency
I couldn't say why as I have only been in Poland for a few months. However, I do know why Czechs are not so crazy about Poles-- they simply do not know them very well. There are no bad feelings but most Czechs cannot see anything interesting about Poland. When Czechs travel or learn about other countries they are more interested in places like France, Germany or England.
Source: Przegłąd magazine Translated by Czarny Kot 22/02/10