Prague is one of the grand capitals of Europe. It is painfully beautiful in these misty mornings, with the Castle catching the first sun rays while a hundred spires below remain dormant. With just over a million residents, it is a city big enough to offer an embarrassment of cultural, visual and gastronomic riches while remaining human in scale. It is eminently pleasing to the senses of a discerning visitor, without ever overwhelming them.
The same sense of comfortable, drama-free wellbeing applies to the Czech Republic as a whole. It is a decent, modestly prosperous country of ten million, right in the center of Central Europe, about the same size as an elongated Austria. Its countryside is pleasant but not breathtaking, in a distintcly mitteleuropäisch manner, in harmony with many centuries of human endeavor. Except for the capital city of Prague, nothing Czech is stunning and everything is agreeably pleasant.
The Czechs are pragmatic people not given to melodramatic heroics. Their attempts to bring the issue of the Czech state rights to the fore of the assembly in Vienna before 1914 often ended in the pathetic banging of pots and pans. Their uprising against the German occupiers—who marched into Prague in March 1939, with no resistance—started on May 5th, 1945, almost a week after Hitler’s suicide in the Berlin bunker. They still have an unrepentantly communist party in parliament, which keeps the current coalition in power.
The Czechs expelled over three million Germans from the Sudetenland and from Prague itself in 1945-48, thanks to the advance of the Red Army. This was no mean feat for a weak nation staking its exclusive right to a clearly demarcated territory in the heart of Europe against a much more powerful neighbor. The exodus of the Sudeten Germans was a crime against humanity par excellence, but it remains unknown. The Beneš laws still remain in force and Bohemia: no right of return, no compensation, no restitution, no excuse.
Even under the communist regime, well before the amicable 1993 Czech-Slovak split, public finances were kept in decent order and foreign debt was low (unlike that of the neighboring Poland to the north, or Hungary to the south). The reformist spirit of the Prague Spring was extinguished by force in August 1968, but over the ensuing two decades the people and the regime had reached a tacit agreement: the state would not invade the society, and the society would not rebel against the state.
The arrangement worked well enough to make the Velvet Revolution possible (November 17 – December 29, 1989). In reality there was no “revolution”: a bankrupt regime simply gave up, tired and almost grateful for the coup de grace, with no Ceausescu-like theatrics and ugly executions. The Czechs know better.
Today the Czech Republic is stable and prosperous, in marked contrast to its postcommunist near-neighbors. Its young and qualified people are not leaving the country in droves which is not the case in the Baltic Republics, Poland, and Romania. Its finances are sound. Above all, its streets are safe, which means they are Muslim-free. Like the other three countries of the Višegrad Four, Czechia is commendably determined not to self-destruct, as recommended by the Brussels nomenklatura.
[Image via Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0]