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LFPR

AN ENGLISH ROSE IN GEORGIA –

By Lesley Francis

EXPERIENCING THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Ten years ago, we hosted a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic for a year. Since then, she has become a very close friend and, during a recent trip to Europe, I was delighted to spend four nights with her and her wonderful family in a rural part of the Czech Republic. It was not only fantastic to meet her children, husband and extended family, but it was also extremely interesting to learn about a part of the world I knew little about. 

The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in central Europe which is surrounded by Poland, Germany, Austria and Slovakia. Since 2016 it has also been known as Czechia. It has two regions – Bohemia (where its capital city Prague is located) and Moravia where I stayed.   

My friends and readers will know that I am fascinated by history, so here is a quick history of Czechia. The present-day Czech Republic was first populated by Celts in the 4th Century BC, later replaced by Germanic tribes around 100 AD and then the Slavic people in the 6th century. This latter period is often called the Era of Barbarian Invasions, which saw large-scale migrations that completed the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe, with various tribes creating a number of post-Roman kingdoms. 

Christianity came in the 9th century and by 950 AD what was then called Bohemia became part of the Holy Roman Empire. This led to several hundred years of prosperity, and by the 14th century the country was enjoying a golden age under the Holy Roman Emperor. By the 1800s the Austrian Habsburg Empire took control and Czech industry was booming – especially textiles, sugar and iron.   

After the defeat of the part of the Hapsburg Empire known as Austria-Hungary at the end of World War 1, the independent state of Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918. This only lasted about 20 years as in 1939 at the Munich Conference, Britain, France and Italy sacrificed the country and allowed Hitler to annex parts of it in an attempt at appeasement. After six years of brutal Nazi occupation, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted for a couple of years until a communist coup in February 1948 sealed its fate as a member of the Soviet bloc for the entire Cold War. During this era of communist party rule, thousands of people were persecuted, and many died for their political beliefs. In 1989 as the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain over Eastern and Central Europe was falling, the country converted to a parliamentary republic, and in 1993, Czechoslovakia was peacefully divided into two independent countries – Slovakia and the Czech Republic.  

Democracy was restored a mere 35 years ago, so most of the people I met had lived under a Communist regime, and the older ones spoke more Russian than English. “Freedom” is a relatively new concept for them since their choices in life were severely limited, although the younger generation are much more outward-looking than their parents and grandparents were ever allowed to be by Russia. 

I visited Prague over twenty years ago when I lived in England, and it was delightful. However, Brno, Moravia’s largest city was charming in its own way with beautiful squares and buildings and a busy tram system to dodge! I adored the time I spent in this wonderful, historical city and to be shown around by knowledgeable, bilingual locals was a real privilege. Brno is full of huge, interesting and famous sculptures including a crocodile, a strange horse called a giraffe as its legs are ridiculously long and a large weirdly phallic black structure. It is also home to Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking genetic experiments in the 19th century and the birthplace of contemporary novelist Milan Kundera 

Moravians are as proud of their vineyards and wine as Bohemians are of their breweries. One of the most surprising things was to be hosted at the family “wine cellar”. There are rows of these little houses near vineyards and families pick their own grapes and make their own wine. Every year extended families gather to bring in the grapes and start the process of fermenting the wine, ending the day with delicious meals in one of the rooms above the cellars where the excellent, home-made wine is stored at the perfect temperature. Apparently, these cellars were useful hiding places for supplies during wartime. 

I have to say that I was overwhelmed by the amazingly warm hospitality I received from my friend and her extended family, especially gratifying in a culture that tends to be a little cautious and coy until they know you. Czech people often seem shy or even rude to outsiders, but they just take a little time to warm up, and they are fantastic when they do. 

There is more information at www.britannica.com and www.history.com. 

I will leave you with a traditional Czech saying that appealed to me after the privilege of experiencing the warm, friendly, sharing culture of rural Czechia. “Malé ryby taky ryby”, which means “Even small fish are fish.” Enjoy the little things in life! 

God Bless America and Czechia!   

– ENDS – 

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com  or via her full-service marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.