It’s the “Czech Republic” – Get It Right!

Oops, he did it again: At a press conference last Monday, John McCain made reference to the Russian government cutting off energy supplies to “Czechoslovakia,” a country that has not actually existed since it split apart into the Czech Republic and Slovakia as of 1 January 1993. And it’s not like that was the first time he has made this mistake.

No, not at all – and you can be sure that the Czechs themselves are watching closely and keeping track, as we can gather from today’s article on the website of the Czech Republic’s leading general interest newspaper, Mladá fronta dnes (Even after 15 Years the World Confuses Czechs with Slovaks, Chechens, and Chess-Players). In fact, author Jan Wirnitzer crowns the presumed Republican presidential candidate with the “Greatest Endurance in Repeating a Mistake” award, recounting how he also mistakenly spoke of Czechoslovakia in his first presidential campaign of eight years ago, and then also three months ago.

Indeed, as Wirnitzer exclaims, Pro Američany je Česko vůbec zakleté – Americans seem to be under some sort of spell when it comes to the Czech Republic. For Senator McCain is by no means the only guilty party in this regard. Another one is – as we all could have expected – George W. Bush, who, as Wirnitzer reminds us, during a state visit to Prague last year addressed Czech President Václav Klaus as “Premier.” (Wrong: the Premier, or Prime Minister, was then and is now Mirek Topolánek, if possibly not for very much longer.) At least that is better than CNN, which at the time of Bush’s visit reported to its viewers about “President Klaus Topolánek.” Back in 1992 CNN also had another crack at reporting about Czechoslovakia (which still did exist then), but blew it, labeling that country’s spot on the European map as “Switzerland” instead. (Go take a look at the on-line MFD articleto see.)

The funniest mix-up of all, though, can be laid at the feet of the Pakistanis, whom Topolánek visited in May of 2007. Yes, they got Topolánek’s name and function correct; and yes, they used “Czech Republic” and not “Czechoslovakia”; but they got confused over the Czech Republic’s national flag, which they somehow decided had to be the checkered (or “Czechered”?) flag normally use to wave in the winner at auto races. Go ahead, check out the article if you can’t believe something like that truly happened: the photos are there.

In his lede Wirnitzer remarks that “Some of the mistakes [that he is about to list in the article] are scandalous, while some just make you smile.” He doesn’t bother to categorize them this way while actually discussing them, but you can make a pretty good guess which errors he regards as scandalous – and which he, and the rest of the world’s 10 million or so Czechs, heartily wish would finally stop.

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