Saturday, 19 April 2008

Centre of Europe

One of the biggest faux-pas a Brit can make in the Czech Republic is to talk about the country being in Eastern Europe. This offends on at least three levels. Firstly it is a legacy of the Cold War and puts the Czechs in a bracket with the Russians, Bulgarians and other countries – company that the Czechs would rather not be in and indeed forget. Secondly it is geographically wrong – a look at the atlas reveals, as the Czechs never cease to tell you, that Prague is west of Vienna. Thirdly it offends against a deep-felt notion of themselves and born of history – that their little country is at the heart of Europe. In 1583 this was even politically true when the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (shown above) moved his court to Prague.

But more importantly it was culturally and intellectually true for centuries, until the bringing down of the Iron Curtain forced Czecho into the Eastern Bloc. Under Rudolf Prague was at the centre of philisophical thought and art. Since then the Czechs have been part of some of the major movements in art (a visit to the Czech National Gallery in Prague revealed to our surprise the early development of cubism here) and music - Mozart loved the city and felt that the citizens understood his work whilst it was rejected in Vienna. And this cultural heritage matters to the generally cultured and well-educated Czechs in a way that it wouldn't to the British, something I love about them.

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