Czech Republic Magazine

Bohemians and Moravians: Two bickering nations under one roof

prague-old-town

Prague, Czech Republic – The two main historic regions of the Czech Republic – once distinct polities, then administrative segments, now only relics with no legal meaning: Moravia and Bohemia share a common language, culture, and history. Many within the country, however, still relish in differentiating the two.

One might argue the Czech Republic is almost an epitome of the nation state, although with relatively sizeable, but negligible minorities (Vietnamese, Slovaks, Romani, Ukrainians) when compared to other European countries. Despite – or precisely due to – the population’s rather homogeneous ethnic fabric, Czechs to this day find inventive ways of dividing themselves along geographical and cultural lines.

Colourful Moravian meets boring Bohemian

But these remain surprisingly unclear. Just as the identities of the two “nations within a nation” overlap and merge, so do physical boundaries become uncertain. In his 2015 survey, Petr Marek explores the perception of borders and regional identity among Czechs living along the frontier separating Moravia from Bohemia. Tellingly, not even they could agree on where one region stops and the other one begins.

When asked about attributes associated with Bohemians or Moravians, respondents could more easily mention the characteristics of the latter, usually portrayed in a positive light: inhabitants of the Czech Republic’s eastern half were allegedly “kind”, “welcoming” and “friendly”, but also “more patriotic and religious” and consume a greater amount of alcohol, especially wine. These attributes were particularly strongly associated with inhabitants of South Moravia – a region known for its gentler climate, hill-top vineyards and, apparently, “authentic” Moravians.

When it came to Bohemians, interviewees interestingly had a harder time assigning them typical features. When they actually could recall notable traits, they weren’t so flattering: quite counter-intuitively considering the international meaning now linked to the term, Bohemians were described as less cheerful, more serious and colder than their Moravian counterparts. A few respondents went on to specify that the least friendly, most arrogant, and uptight were the inhabitants of Prague.

This infamous and almost universal anti-capital sentiment is worth exploring. But we should first note that, as in other countries, the “resentment” goes both ways: Praguers are equally fond of making fun of the “provincial” Moravians as the latter can spend hours mocking the habits, attitude or behaviour of these out-of-touch capital-city dwellers.

Co říkáš? Co piješ?

When it comes to exploring the most notorious areas of “friction” between these two bickering species, there’s no shortage of material.

First, the differing dialects. To those familiar with accents within the US, the comparison of Prague vs. the rest to New York vs. the rest might spring to mind. The intense, over-the-top way they talk is as recognizable as it sounds ridiculous – to Moravians that is. Whenever you hear a person complimenting someone they don’t really seem to like in the loudest and most passionate way possible, know that you’re probably dealing with someone from Prague.

As is customary with more simple townsfolk, Moravians haven’t mastered the art of deception as their Bohemian brothers and sisters, and are usually more straightforward – for better or worse. This blunt honesty is often paired with a more explicit way of communicating, where regional vulgarisms and shorter sounding words mix and mingle to the greatest astonishment of Praguers.

Not only do Bohemians and Moravians speak differently, but they also drink in distinctive ways – a key point of contention in Czech culture. As mentioned above, Moravians are perceived to be the heavier drinkers. They certainly pride themselves in this, often denouncing Prague citizens as mere amateurs unable to hold their liquor.

The difference is not only in quantity, however, but also in the type of preferred alcohol. Owing to their proximity with the famous vineyards of South Moravia, Moravians have a closer relationship with wine, and are renowned for their fruit spirits, especially the all-mighty slivovice, a sort of plum-based “brandy” whose variations are popular across much of Central and Eastern Europe.

These iconic types of alcohol are closely associated with traditional, often rural, celebrations, where excessive amounts are enthusiastically consumed with great gusto and a seemingly never-ending appetite. Prague citizens, and Bohemians as a whole, prefer the alcohol more typically associated with the Czech Republic: beer. Proud inhabitants of the region which gave birth to many world-famous types of beer, including Pilsner, their beer-loving habits usually go hand in hand with a hint of cultural chauvinism and an unconcealed contempt for the supposedly inferior Moravian beers.

Shifting identities

Which brings us to the far-ranging cultural phenomenon we could name “the civilization strife”. Prague is by far the biggest city of Czech Republic and the only one of real regional and European significance. It is the country’s political, business and cultural hub, metropolitan, lively, and full of opportunities.

Some of its inhabitants (including many foreigners), however, take it one step too far. Either half-jokingly or outright seriously, Praguers can perceive their city as a “beacon of civilization” within the republic, the only place really worthy of bearing the title of “city”.

Moravia, on the other hand, might be seen as a tribal backwater of closeted AA-members speaking an unintelligible language. Needless to say, we aren’t very fond of this otherwise humorous description of our home region.

Moravians enjoy safeguarding regional identities – some of which would seem obsolete to Praguers – all with their own dialects, traditions, and in more rural places celebrations, folk costumes, and music. Many believe this sets them apart from the “barbarians” of the capital, who have lost all semblance of collective identity in the beautiful hell and cosmopolitan labyrinth that is Prague.

All these stereotypes continue to survive in the minds of many, but only a small, petty minority of die-hard regionalists in both Bohemia and Moravia preach it as the gospel. Czechs might talk, think, drink, vote or behave differently, we largely, heartily, and happily regard ourselves as one nation living under the same roof. After all, life would be much duller without our joyful disagreements.

By Michal Miesler

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.