The Czech Republic: The Country
The Czech Republic as it stands today is almost entirely surrounded by mountains, which form natural borders everywhere except to the south. What I personally find interesting about this is that despite these natural defences, The Czech Republic has over 2,000 castles and keeps – one of the highest densities in the world. Today we regard castles as quaint museums of the past, but when they were actively built they served a defensive purpose, and were designed to control important geographical areas and provide defence.
Some of this may be explained by the history of the region; The Czech Republic used to be composed of the two kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia, which were both client states of the Holy Roman Empire from 800 until 1806, when the Holy Roman Empire dissolved, and then under the rule of the Habsburgs until 1918. If any of that history seems placid and peaceful, I apologise, for it was anything but!
The Czech People
The population of The Czech Republic is very educated, with 90% of Czechs having at least a secondary education (high school, to my American friends). About 60% of Czechs identify as Agnostic or Atheist, and The Czech Republic suffers from one of the highest rates of cancer in the world. They also drink the most beer in the world – which is right up my alley!
The Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country when they were ruled by the Soviet Union, and the Czech and Slovak languages are mutually intelligible once you get past different pronunciations. Older folks who lived during the Soviet era have the easiest time understanding each other.
The Czech Culture
The Czech people value freedom and freedom of expression, perhaps as a reaction to their years of being dominated by the Soviet Union. In 2006, Reporters with Borders ranked the Czech Republic as the 5th-best country in the world for freedom of the press. The Czech Republic is a rich country, the second-richest in Eastern Europe, in fact, and the people there enjoy a high standard of living.
The two most famous Czechs most people are aware of are Franz Kafka, who wrote the brilliantly disturbing The Metamorphosis, and tennis champion Martina Navratilova.