The prime minister Andrej Babiš was halfway through an interview last March when he was told somebody had officially changed the name of his country to Czechia.
“Who changed it? You changed it?”, Babiš said to his aides, swinging around in his chair.
One of the aides stepped forward and quietly explained that the U.N. had acceded to a proposal to recognize the Czech Republic under the new name.
“I didn’t know this. I don’t like it at all,” he said, in the interview with The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s because then you will confuse Czechia, Chechnya, I don’t know. I don’t like this. We are Czech Republic. We are Czechs. And I don’t know who came with such a stupid idea. Crazy.”
President Zeman prefers Czechia, a centuries-old name that he said sounds nicer, and more evocative.
“I am strongly against,” said Mr. Babiš, the prime minister, whose stationery retains the name Czech Republic. Mr. Babiš heads the government and constitutionally holds more power than President Zeman.
“The prime minister has a different opinion than the president. This is freedom and democracy. That is all,” said the president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček.
The United Nations officially calls the country Czechia, as does internet giant Google. In communities such as online guide Wikitravel, contributors are changing the name back and forth with increasing frequency. At the moment, the name appears as the “Czech Republic.”
“We rarely use the short name and personally I can’t remember the last time I have used it in my remarks,” U.S. Ambassador Stephen King said recently. “I know that in all official communications we use Czech Republic as do I believe most Czechs.”
In 2013, when Zeman won the presidency, convinced the government to send a notification to the U.N. to start using the new name in official documents and databases.
A U.N. information bulletin published at the time claimed that the first recorded use of the name Czechia was in 1634 in Latin, centuries before the country even existed. The U.N. hasn’t updated its social media accounts even though it has had four years to make the changes.