The Czech Republic, now also known as Czechia and part of the former Czechoslovakia, has had a tumultuous recent history. Partly occupied by Nazi forces in WWII and Communist rule from 1946, the country regained its democracy in 1989 and separated from Slovakia in 1993. The capital of Prague, having escaped heavy bombing in WWII, is one of the region’s loveliest — and most visited — today.
The astronomical clock for which Prague is famous is more than just an artefact; c.1410, it is the oldest such still functioning today. It reflects solar and lunar cycles as well as time, and depicts Czechia’s religious heritage in the form of the Christian apostles. The structure also symbolises cultural beliefs in viewing the birth of a male baby as fortuitous — and the fate of the city intricately connected to that of the clock.
The fairytale appearance of Prague’s Old Town Square, never more than at the Christmas holiday period, has complemented many a film and warms the heart. As in any society, a central gathering place is more than just a landmark — it is the market, the central cathedral or mosque, the space in which to socialise and to share information and ideas, and as such is the beating heart around which the town evolves and revolves.
Czechia was once home to a large Jewish community, which contributed greatly to the national culture. The 1930 census registered over 350k Jews; during WWII, Nazi occupiers and Czech collaborators together sent the vast majority to concentration camps where few survived. Despite this atrocity, there is once more a vibrant Jewish life in Czechia, primarily in Prague with an estimated 7,000-15,000 members — though most don’t register as such, having learnt the terrible lessons of the past.
Czechia also suffered under several decades of Communist rule, from 1946 to 1988 — a matter not entirely resolved today. An all too common tale, current political and social instability in the country have created a nostalgia for the stability, if authoritarian repression, of their Communist past; one poll found that only 1 in 4 Czechs claim to be content with their democracy. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia [KCSM] still exists today, largely unrecalcitrant and undergoing somewhat of a revival in membership, though it lost half of its political seats in the most recent election.
Though perhaps not to the extent of their neighbors, Austria and Germany, Chezhia is also recognised for its contribution to the fine arts, especially visual and musical. Traditional Bohemian and Moravian influences can be found in the work of native composers Janáček and Dvořák; the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague is highly regarded, as is the Prague Conservatory and the Academy of Fine Arts, and the cultural value placed on the arts is readily apparent.
Czech design also abounds, as seen in this Prague interior design centre. Long famous for glass, porcelain, and jewellery work, the young designers of today have an edgy, indie feel and are eager to create their own, avant-garde style — after all, this is the culture that gave us the word, ‘bohemian’.
Though ‘bohemian’ in its modern, trendy self, Czechia adheres to some of its traditions still — including that of the Krampas, Christmas lore found throughout Central Europe. Nevermind a stocking filled with coal; if you’ve been a naughty child, the Krampas will come to punish you. A terrifyingly Satanical combination of goat and demon, this is straight out of the hyper-religious Middle Ages — but today all in good seasonal fun.