Discursive Construction of the Czech National Identity

(This is a part of the paper that can be downloaded from the bottom of this page.)

1. Background

In 2009, the Czech Republic celebrated several significant anniversaries: 5 years since the EU accession on 1 May 2004, 20 years since the Velvet Revolution and the end of communism on 17 November 1989 and 70 years since the beginning of Nazi repressions in 1939. The truth is that the previous year, 2008, bore even more significance: 90 years since the “birth” of Czechoslovakia in 1918, 60 years since the communist putsch in February 1948, and 40 years since the “Prague Spring” and the beginning of Soviet occupation in 1968, to name just the main events. But I focused on the more recent past.

Jan Fischer is currently the prime minister of the Czech Republic. His interim government was appointed after the fall of Topolanek’s government in March 2009. He is an economist and statistician, and has been the head of the Czech Statistical Office since 2003.

Václav Havel was the first president of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic after the Velvet Revolution and then the president of the independent Czech Republic (1993-2003). Originally, he is a writer and playwright, and he played an important role in the fall of communism. As a president, he used to have conflicts with politicians because he places emphasis on civil society and humanitarian and moral values, and disgusts political quarrels and the priority of “national interests”.

Václav Klaus is the president of the Czech Republic. He is originally a liberal economist and was the first minister of finance after the fall of communism and later became the prime minister. In 2003, he was elected to be the president, and re-elected in 2008 to stay in the office. He is well-known for his open euroscepticism and controversial opinions about global warming.

2. Sources

For the analysis of the discursive construction of Czech national identity, I selected several documents – speeches of the top representatives of the Czech Republic:
  1. Speech of the prime minister Jan Fischer on the occasion of the fall of communism in Poland (Krakow, 11. 6. 2009)
  2. Speech of the former president Václav Havel on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution (Czech television, 14. 11. 2009)
  3. News report on the celebrations of 17 November (iHNed.cz, 17. 11. 2009)
  4. Three speeches of the Czech president Václav Klaus
    1. At the ceremonial assembly at the Prague Castle on 28 October 2009 (the day of the establishment of Czechoslovakia)
    2. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall (California, 6. 11. 2009)
    3. At a remembrance meeting hosted by Václav Havel on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in our country (A cultural centre in Prague, 14. 11. 2009)

3.Contents – Topics

In the analysed speeches, several recurring topics may be identified:

1. The Czech Republic and communism
Obviously, communism is the central topic of these speeches. All the speakers praise the freedom gained in 1989. However, freedom has a slightly different meaning for each of them. Fischer highlights the freedom to vote, Klaus speaks about “free selfrealization” (14. 11. 2009) and for Havel, freedom means basic rights and freedoms. Also, Klaus speaks of freedom (or rather lack of it) in association with the European Union. Especially in his speech in the USA, he openly states: “In November 1989, I thought that the world in 2009 would be freer than it is. To my great regrets, I experience more state interventions into my life and less individual freedom than I [...] expected then.” On the contrary, Fischer speaks of the EU as a “free family”.

Communism is something the Czech Republic fought against, something that had its victims, but something the CR has overcome to become a democratic country. Since 1989, it has been in a process of transition, undergoing many changes. The prevailing impression is that catching up has not been finished yet. The former prime minister Mirek Topolánek present at the celebrations of 17 November 2009 confirmed the notion that the CR still lags behind: “More than ever before during the 20 years, we feel that our country is still immature, that democracy is still not as anchored as we would wish.” Klaus points to the fact that the young Czech generation does not even remember communism anymore and freedom is a commonplace for them, not “a precious gift that we constantly have to nurture and fight for. That is what we, eyewitnesses, must never stop reminding them.” (14. 11. 2009) Obviously, communism is less and less a part of the national identity of the young generations.

2. The Czech Republic and other post-communist countries
The Czech Republic is compared with Poland, on the one hand, and Germany, on the other hand. While Fischer contrasts Poland (mentioning its strong ally during the communist era, Pope John Paul II.) with the “religiously much colder” Czech Republic, Klaus repeatedly refers to Germany. In the USA, he differentiates East Germany from the other communist countries, because “East Germans had their older brothers in West Germany”. At the more informal meeting in a Prague cultural centre, Klaus recollects his presence at the celebrations of the fall of the Berlin wall: “There, I became strongly aware that we are different and that also our 17 November 1989 was different than 9 November of that year in Germany. Therefore, it is good that we choose ways less pompous and choose events that to a greater extent and more directly concern that what happened 20 years ago, and those who were there. We do not have the need to invite contemporary politicians of great powers who have nothing to do with what happened back then.” Klaus seems to despise the ostentation of the German celebrations and praises the quiet “Czech way” of doing things: be it a revolution or its celebration. Germans (and Austrians) have historically played an important “other” in the construction of Czech national identity.

3. The Czech Republic and Europe
On the one hand, Fischer speaks of becoming “members of one free family of European nations”. On the other hand, I have mentioned that in 2009, the CR celebrated an anniversary of its EU accession: but in fact, there were no significant events on that occasion. The Czech Republic is rather sceptic and the EU is a distant and not entirely comprehensible concept.

Still, most Czechs are not as eurosceptic as their president Klaus, who insists: “Dangerous erosion of the state is taking place as a result of the accelerating European integration process. Also for that reason, some people cease to consider their state and its institutions to be the unit they can rely on, with which they can and should identify themselves, and whose development and strengthening they should strive.” (28. 10. 2009) European Union is conceived as “the other”, although opinions whether it provides or restricts freedom may differ.

4. The heritage of the “First Republic” (1918-1938)
Havel identifies two possible perceptions of Czech national identity: One is the tradition of democracy and humanity, and the other is narrow-mindedness and expediency (a legacy of communism, in his view). He says: “Two basic traditions can be observed in the Czech public and political life. A tradition of Masaryk’s followers, for which the Czech question is a human question and which affirms our shared responsibility for the world, and a tradition of selfishly narrow-minded Czechs who look at all foreigners with mistrust and constantly suspect them of the intention to hurt us. When it is allowed, the representatives of this tradition noisily shout something about our closer unspecified national interests, and when it is not allowed, then on the contrary, they cower and start to mind their own business and wait how everything will work out. ... I believe that in twenty years we will not be a subject of the international attention and thanks to a would-be strong struggle with big states for our importance, but thanks to the way of our existence in the world, our share of responsibility for the whole, thanks to our good ideas that we offer to all for common possession.” Klaus refers to a similar division of Czech society: “[...] our country was deeply divided during the long 40 years [of communism]. During this day [28 October], many of us used to recollect the ideas and ideals that our country had been founded and built on for 2 decades after WW1 ... We suffered from the fact that we had not managed to keep suverenity and independence ... Others ... were assuring themselves that exactly thanks to the February turnover [1948] we were living in the best of possible worlds." (28. 10. 2009)

4. Discursive Strategies

“We-group” of Czechs is constructed (constructive strategy) against the “other-groups” of Germans, Poles, Russia (Havel refers to it as “the big brother”) and the European Union. It is presented as a group of those who defeated communism – in a way different from Germans or Poles. Despite pointing to divisions in Czech society (young, not remembering – old eyewitnesses, pro-communist – anti-communist, moral – immoral), communism is presented as something impersonal and inflicted from the outside. The speakers do not overly blame the collaborators, which would create an undesirable divide. On the contrary, “we-group” is in some respects extended to all Central European post-communist countries, or even the European Union (Fischer).

It is especially Klaus who uses positive self-presentation and negative otherpresentation: of Germans (see above) and the EU. He has actually paralleled the EU with the communist regime in the past. On 6 November 2009, he warns against “other collectivist and dirigist “-isms””. It may refer to the EU, which he openly accuses of limiting the state sovereignty.

5. Linguistic Strategies

The use of “we” has been indicated above. It has also been noted that communism was presented by the speakers as something impersonal and inflicted. It is the case especially in Klaus’s speech. He states that “[a]t the end of the 1980s, communism was already so weak, soft, old”, and further on that “communism was not ready to voluntarily declare itself dead” (6. 11. 2009). By this personification, communism is constructed as an (outside) enemy of the Czech nation.

On the other hand, communism is also identified with the Soviet Union. Klaus fluently switches from communism to the USSR when he mentions “a successful strategy how to defeat communism and win the cold war” (6. 11. 2009). Fischer differentiates more precisely: he speaks of “communists”, “the communist empire” and then uses a metonymy “Moskva was afraid”. Havel, in comparison, is more subtle and ambivalent when using the metaphor “big brother” – big Slavic brother Russia or Orwell’s concept of monitoring (by secret police).

Regarding the current unity of the Czech nation, verb tense is also used by Klaus to point out that the division of Czech society during communism is not present anymore: he uses past tense when speaking about the “huge discrepancy” between the two groups of pro- and anti-communists. He confirms the thought by continuing: “I am convinced that nowadays, there is no reason for a formation of a new deep trench dividing our society in the same way as in the past.”

6. Conclusions

In my paper, I have attempted to analyse the language and phrases in several speeches of the top representatives of the Czech Republic, with the intention to find examples of the discursive construction of Czech national identity.

The most important “others” in the discursive construction of Czech national identity can be identified as: Germany, Russia (or former Soviet Union), and the European Union. Regarding the EU, two tendencies compete: one viewing the EU as a new enemy (e.g. Klaus) and one including the CR into the “European family” (e.g. Fischer).

Communism and gained freedom still play an important role in the national identification. On the one hand, the term “fall” is used when speaking about the end of communism in the Czech Republic. On the other hand, politicians speak of gradual changes and envision that the process will continue.

Havel indicated two perceptions of Czech national identity: a tradition (or rather an ideal) of high morals and humanism, and a self-perception of a “small” Czech person, who is narrow-minded, shrewd, not very brave, but boastful. Also Klaus referred to the tradition of high morals originating in the First Republic. Furthermore, he presented Czechs as quiet people, in contrast to ostentatious Germans. Another feature of Czech national identity was mentioned by Fischer: atheism.

I am aware that a deeper analysis and more detailed references and background studies should be applied, but I hope I have managed to pinpoint at least some aspects. Especially, deeper understanding of linguistics and CDA would improve the results of the analysis.


About that... (Superstitions and "Customs")

Re CzechingIn

The funny thing about "national cultures" is that they don't exist. They're just creations of discourse, just constructions made by the media or outsiders.

While we know that there we don't actually do all the stuff that is supposed to be OUR national customs, and that there are regional differences within our countries, and that if we meet another person of our nationality, it's more important what part of our country they come from, or what city/town/village they come from, when we meet a foreigner, we look through "national stereotype" glasses.

Christmas (Ex)Traditions

I'm not saying you should disregard customs and other stuff completely, but come on! How many Czechs actually cut an apple in half and believe the forecast it gives?! Anyway, there are also other forecasting traditions on the Christmas Day (that only few Czechs actually keep), such as pouring lead into water. And I don't know if you've ever heard about Karel Jaromír Erben, but he's a popular Czech writer who lived in the 19th century, collected fairytales and wrote a book of poems called "Kytice" (A Bouquet - a full version of in Czech). One of the poems there is called "Štědrý den" (The Christmas Day) and it's about two girls who wanted to know their future - so they went to dig a hole into a pond, and while one of them finds out she's going to get married in the following year, the other one learns she's going to die - and the point the author makes is that it's better not to know what future holds... (BTW, most of the poems from the book are as morbid and creepy as this one...)

You can watch the following video with English subtitles... (But the director seems to have chosen to interpret the death differently there.)

One ear and twenty what?

As to the idioms, I've always understood the expression "jsem jedno ucho" (I'm one ear) as being all one ear - so the entire being of mine becomes one ear and I'm all at the disposal of the person that wants to speak to me. :-)

And when you say "dám si dvacet" (I'll give myself twenty), nobody thinks about winking in Czech - as far as I'm concerned, "twenty" means "twenty minutes", but I believe there might have been originally a different meaning that I'm not aware of.


Czech Integration Policy

(This is a part of the paper that can be downloaded from the bottom of this page.)

The last census in the Czech Republic in 2001 showed that 90.4 per cent of its approximately 10.3 million citizens claim Czech ethnicity, 3.7 per cent Moravian and 0.1 per cent Silesian. The Czech Republic has only recently become an immigration country. During the communist era, nobody really wanted “in” as much as rather “out”. The only significant exceptions were Greek refugees escaping the civil war in 1946-49, ordered relocation of Slovak Romanies starting after World War II., and study migration of students, trainees and interns especially from Vietnam, but also from other friendly communist countries, with which Czechoslovakia signed special agreements (the first one with Vietnam was in 1974). After the split of the Czech and Slovak Republic in 1993, there were about 50 thousand foreigners in the Czech Republic, about 30 thousand of whom had a permanent residence. In October 2009, there were more than 430 thousand foreigners in the Czech Republic, almost 180 thousand of whom had a permanent residence. More than 25 per cent of the foreigners were of Ukrainian origin, 75 thousand Slovak and 61 thousand Vietnamese.

Three periods can be discerned in the development of migration policies: 
  1. 1990-1995 – a “laissez faire” period when basically anybody could enter the Czech territory – it was monitored, but not regulated. On the other hand, there was no legal way (except a marriage with a Czech person) to settle and naturalize. 
  2. 1996-1999 – a period of harmonisation with acquis communautaire – tightening of laws, but no national strategy for migration. Newly, permanent residence accessible after 10 years of long-term residence. 
  3. 1999-present – a period of conceptualising efforts – in 2003, Principles of migration policy adopted by the government, but a long-term strategy postponed until the result of negotiations in the EU. The length of long-term residence before naturalization halved.
Permanent residence may be obtained after 5 years of uninterrupted long-term residence in the Czech Republic, and starting 2009, applicants have to produce a certificate of a passed exam in Czech (level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). There are some exceptions to this rule, for example highly qualified workers can obtain it after 1.5 or 2.5 years and do not have to pass the language exam.

Also, since the 1990s, about a thousand Czech expatriates (or their descendants) have been remigrated to the Czech Republic (mostly from the countries of former Soviet Union) and their naturalization was simplified in comparison with other immigrants. However, selective criteria based on ethnicity were not acceptable in view of prohibited discrimination, so the Czech government could only assist expatriates if they were endangered in any way. (Nevertheless, endangered “Czech identity” was enough.)

The integration policy has undergone four phases since 1990: 
  1. 1990-1998 – in 1991, an aid programme for refugees adopted (including accommodation support and limited Czech classes). Beginnings of integration policy facilitated by the initiative of the Ministry of Interior and the Council of Europe, hampered by the need for clarification of immigration strategy and by lack of attention in the EU. 
  2. 1999-2003 – formulation of an integration strategy, support of research and data collection, reinforcement of cooperation with the non-governmental sector and immigrant associations, efforts to delegate the implementation of integration policy to lower levels of government. In 1999, Principles of the conception of integration of foreigners were adopted, resonating with the approach of the Council of Europe, i.e. a multicultural model of ethnic communities. (However, it was never really implemented.) In 2000, a Conception of the integration of foreigners and in 2003, an Analysis of the situation of status of foreigners were published, both accenting individual civic integration, which had been agreed on in the European Union. A shift from the multiculturalism of communities to liberal multiculturalism can be observed. 
  3. 2004-2006 – the area of integration moved to the Ministry of labour and social affairs. Continuing the EU trend of emphasising individual integration as an intentional and conscious process that can be understood as a contract between an immigrant and the host society. Further conceptualising effort, but lacking implementation and insufficient interconnection with the naturalization policy. 
  4. 2007-present – in 2007, an amendment of the immigration law adopted. Newly, knowledge of Czech language (documented by passing an exam) required as a condition for the acquisition of permanent residence and citizenship. Such a certificate required since 1 January 2009. Stricter rules for mixed marriages: the spouse of a Czech citizen does not automatically obtain a permanent residence anymore, a transitional period of 2 years introduced. In 2008, the domain of integration returned to the Ministry of Interior, and in 2009, six regional centres for the support of integration of foreigners were set up that should provide immigrants with information and various services (including language courses and legal advice), and monitor situation in regions. 
As has been mentioned above, there has been a discrepancy between the immigration (and integration) law and the law regulating naturalization. When the naturalization conditions set in 1993, they did not take immigration into account at all – and only a few year later was the law adjusted to include a possibility of an immigrant becoming a Czech citizen (without marrying a Czech person). Conditions for naturalization are: 5 years of permanent residence in the territory of the state, no criminal conviction in the past 5 years, proved knowledge of the Czech language and fulfilling of such duties, as paying taxes, insurance, etc. The law was revised in 2003, but that did not bring any major changes. The number of naturalizations in the Czech Republic is relatively low (the share of naturalized foreigners is similar to Germany). Dual citizenship is not allowed (with certain rare exceptions). Children born in the Czech Republic acquire the Czech citizenship if at least one of them is a Czech citizen, or both their parents are without a state citizenship. A recent change allows also children of foreigners to acquire the Czech citizenship, provided that at least one of them has a permanent residence in the Czech Republic.


The Czech Republic has been a relatively homogeneous country since the years following World War II. until the 1990s, when its borders opened and it began to attract thousands of immigrants, especially from the former Soviet Union. These immigrants form the largest group at the moment, with other significant nationalities being Slovaks and Vietnamese. If we apply the three categories of settler groups, while many Slovaks practically merge, the linguistically related Russian speaking group might form an ethnic community (presuming, the Czech Republic will be open enough), while Vietnamese, based on their phenotypical markers, might form an ethnic minority (or already has). On the other hand, if we consider that these categories are also associated with a social-economic status, the situation gets a little complicated. (Vietnamese are very hardworking and mostly independent small business people, while Ukrainians occupy low-paid manual jobs.)

What kind of integration policy is the Czech Republic following? The truth is that during the short period of its evolution, it has so far had not managed to acquire a solid form and comprehensive strategy. Mostly, it has been shaped by the directives and recommendations of the European Union, and adopted its model of “civic integration” (or liberal multiculturalism). Nevertheless, the implementation and effective coordination is still lagging behind: systems of the newly introduced language exams as well as integration centres are criticised, and changes in legislation also have opponents.

A favourable, and for some time already discussed, change would be one of the naturalization law. Just like other countries in central Europe, the Czech Republic has leaned towards ius sanguinis. It is probably time to stop looking in the past and learn how to embrace a multicultural future – not just in the Czech Republic, in the nation states as such.

(Bibliography can be found in the following paper.)


Early Czech Migration to the USA

(This part comes from a paper that can be downloaded at the bottom of this page, please refer to it for bibliography)

Numbers of Czechs in the US

The first historically recorded Czech to settle in the United States was Augustin Heřman (1605?-1686), first mentioned in 1633. (Dubovický, 2003). In 1920, there were 623 thousand Czechs (and 620 thousand Slovaks) in the USA. (Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993) In 2000, the share of Czechs (persons with at least one Czech parent) on the US population was 0.8%, with most of them in the Midwest region (Illinois, Ohio, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota). However, the biggest Czech population was in Texas. (Dubovický, 2003: 59)

Czech emigration to the USA in the 19th and early 20th century had several peaks: 1. 1853-7, 2. 1867-74, 3. 1891-4, 4. 1903-8 (renewed in 1911). Obviously, these periods correspond with the general trends in European overseas migration (see chapter “Atlantic Mass Migrations”), with the only exception of the third wave, which came a little late to the Czech lands. During the first thirty years, Czech migration represented
80 per cent of the whole Austrian migration. (Dubovický, 2003: 15)

Reasons for Czech Migration

The most important incentives for migration were the same as elsewhere: population growth, changes in agriculture, bad harvests, competition of cheap American wheat, starting industrialization, the revolution and abolition of serfdom. However, the situation was worsened by political uncertainty caused by the Crimean War in 1853-6 and the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. (Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993)

In the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century, emigration from the Austrian monarchy was forbidden and only rare exceptions were allowed. The patent issued by Joseph II. in 1784 for the first time described an emigrant as a person departing abroad “with the intention of not coming back”. In 1832, a new patent was issued by Francis I. which revoked the general prohibition of emigration. Only those eligible for military service were not allowed to emigrate freely. In any case, emigration was associated with a loss of Austrian state citizenship. (Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993)

Characteristics of Czech Emigrants

The first emigrants were middle classes of peasants that were relatively better off and could afford to pay for the travel. Among the poorer, only one family member would often leave to earn and save enough money for the rest of the family to join him. A significant number of (illegal) Czech emigrants were young men who wanted to avoid military service. (Dubovický, 2003: 15; Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993)

The character of the main source regions was the same as elsewhere in Europe: nonindustrial rural areas distant from industrial centres. In the Czech lands, it was the case of the south and south-west, which were the main emigrant regions from 1850s until World War II. Not only was any industrial production missing there, but conditions for intensive agriculture were also unfavourable, not to mention the division of land: among large landowners and insufficient smallholdings. When the railroads reached these areas, they did not bring development as much as they facilitated emigration. Later, many emigrants originated also from southern Moravia and some deindustrialized areas. (Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993)

Timing of Czech Migration

With a small delay, Czech migration went in the footsteps of western Europe, while the eastern parts of the Habsburg monarchy followed after a couple of decades. At the end of the 19th century, the trend began to change. The birth rate in the Czech lands (and most countries of western and central Europe) fell and so did the emigration rate. (Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993) Nugent (1995: 86-7) quotes numbers indicating the ethnic distribution of East European migrants between 1899 and 1924. It is clear from the overview that the share of Czechs was the lowest (together with Romanians): only 2.3 per cent, while the share of Slovaks or Hungarians was over 8 per cent, the highest percentages being 27.1 for “Hebrews” and 22.1 for Poles. He clarifies that Czech emigration was slight after 1900 because its peak had been in the 1870s and 1880s,
similarly to the German one.

In his comparison of German and Austro-Hungarian migration, Nugent also points out that Czech migration to the USA differed from the general trend in the Austro-Hungarian empire. “In most respects, language apart, they shared the characteristics of the south and south-west German landseeking, family migration that predominated in the 1850s to 1870s.” He explains that the Czechs were subject “to much the same pressures as south-western Germans – uncertain harvests, diminishing markets for home industry, gradually less competitive grain prices, and the prospect of smallholdings subdivided beyond the point at which their children would have acceptable life chances.” Family migration was characterized by an extremely balanced sex ratio (54 per cent male and 46 per cent female between 1820 and 19289) and a low return migration rate. (Nugent in Cohen, 1995: 107-108)

US Destinations of Czech Migration

As to the settlement in the USA, important destination of Czech migrants was the Midwest, but after 1852, a strong wave of predominantly Moravian migrants headed also for Texas. However, Dubovický points out that despite a relatively high share of land seekers among Czech migrants, most of them actually stayed in towns or cities, such as New York, Chicago, etc. For most of them, especially those in the industrial areas, coming to the US was a culture shock, but their adaptation was eased by expatriate associations. (Dubovický, 2003: 18-19)

When migrants arrived to America, they often had to change their occupation. Many of those who settled in farms had often come from small towns, while most of the Czech (and especially Slovak) labour migrants at the end of 19th century were originally from rural areas but headed for mines and steel mills. (Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993) Dubovický (2003: 22) notes that Czech migrants were literate above average (together with Jews and Scandinavians), and also Kořalka and Kořalková observe that most emigrants were hardworking, initiative and energetic. Emigration of such people annoyed the supporters of the Czech national movement (taking place in the same period as mass migrations), who tried to maintain relations with the emigrants in the USA and even pondered how to prevent their assimilation, but the latter was to no avail. The first generation of Czech immigrants already felt more like Americans, possibly American Czechs, as soon as they were naturalized. (Kořalka, Kořalková, 1993)

(The following part sums up Tim Prchal's "The Bohemian Paradox: "My Ántonia" and Popular Images of Czech Immigrants" (2004))

Stereotypical Images of Czech Immigrants in the US

Despite the fact that Czech migration to the USA actually coincided with "old" rather than with "new" European migrations to the United States (in its timing, form, duration, skills, and sex ratio), it was generally perceived as "new" in the United States, and grouped with migration of Slovaks, Poles and Hungarians, and other Eastern, but also Southern European nations (the "old" immigrants being the English, Dutch, Germans and Scandinavians). This is also one of the points Prchal is raising in his paper, which focuses mainly on how Czechs are captured in Willa Cather's novel "My Ántonia" (1918).

"New" migrants were generally perceived as "passive, inarticulate, and illiterate, agriculturalists by inheritance", who "differ fundamentally from the more intelligent and efficient Northern races [...] who, as we know, not only made their fortunes in our cities, but dared to become also the hardy and successful settlers of our distant Western plains." (Sergeant 1910: 232, cited by Prchal, p. 6) In the rhetorics of that era, Czechs and other "new" migrants were referred to as a different race. While "old" migrants were considered as "the same branch of the Aryan race", with "similar tastes, traits and characteristics", "new" migrants were viewed as threatening and "inassimilable", and generally inferior. (p. 7)

Nordic supremacy was backed with a pseudoscientific theory of Madison Grant, who used a "cephalic index" to differentiate between races based on the ratio between a skull's maximum width and its maximum length. Thus, there were three races: Mediterranean, Nordic, and Alpine, the first two characterised by a long skull and the third one, including Czechs and other Slavs and described as "subordinate and obscure", by a round skull. In fact, Eastern Europeans were even excluded from the concept of a "white race"! (p. 8-10)

A paradoxical image of Czech immigrants was created in general discourse. On the one hand, their "musical proficiency and their tenacity for retaining their original language" was appreciated, while on the other hand, "their dedication to Freethinking philosophy and its religious skepticism, their volatile and potentially violent natures, and their materialism" were generally disapproved of. (p. 11)

Willa Cather attempted to reshape this popular image of Czech immigrants, with whom she was familiar from her years spent in Nebraska, and whom she considered "people of a very superior type." (p. 7) She omitted some of the negative traits completely, while explaining or downplaying others. In her book, the Czech immigrants are Catholics, who might be warm-hearted, impulsive and materialistic - but there are individual differences or logical reasons for their behaviour; they love music and dancing, and they preserve their language and culture - to remember their roots, "but also to ensure greater family cohesion." (p. 19)

However, when you ask an average American what the stereotype of Czechs in the US is today, you will probably hear that none. The number of people with Czech ancestry is far too small. Feel free to disagree, though, I would love to read your comments!

My Ántonia (Oxford World's Classics)O Pioneers!Rekindled Fires (1918)Visions and Divisions: American Immigration Literature, 1870-1930 (Mela - Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the Americas)