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Glossary

A reference guide to important events and persons in Czech and Slovak history

A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H/I/J/K/L/M/N/O/P/Q/R/S/T/U/V/W/X/Y/Z


B

Beneš decrees: A series of laws implemented in Czechoslovakia by the government of President Edvard Beneš which came into effect at the end of WWII. The laws most notably provisioned for the expulsion of a large number of ethnic Germans and Hungarians.

Beneš Party/Czechoslovak National Socialist Party: A centre-left Czechoslovak political party founded in 1898 which, in the years leading up to the Communist coup in 1948, formed a coalition with the Communist Party. The Czechoslovak National Socialist Party was commonly referred to as the ‘Beneš Party’ because of its close association with President Edvard Beneš.

Bohemia: The historic region forming the Western part of the Czech Republic. The region, which includes the Czech capital Prague, was part of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from 1939-1945 under Nazi Germany rule.

Brigáda: Translated into English as 'work brigades' or even 'summer jobs,' students and young people in Czechoslovakia were required to participate in brigády (pl), which often entailed agricultural or construction work. For a romanticized view of what a brigáda consisted of, see the 1964 Czech film Starci na chmelu (Hop Pickers).


C

Charter 77: A manifesto calling on the Czechoslovak government to honor pledges it had made to uphold human rights. The document, devised in 1976, was motivated by the imprisonment of members of the underground rock band Plastic People of the Universe. The official government reaction to the document included the punishment of signatories and the creation of an “anti-charter.”

Civic Forum: An anti-authoritarian political movement which came into being in Czechoslovakia at the time of the Velvet Revolution in 1989. At its inception, the Civic Forum (Občanské fórum in Czech) was headed by the late Czechoslovak president Václav Havel. The grouping won more than 80 percent of the vote in the first elections following the Velvet Revolution in June 1990.

Czechoslovak coup d’etat/Communist putsch: The Communist putsch took place in February 1948 when Klement Gottwald’s Communist Party seized power bloodlessly in Czechoslovakia. The Communist Party were elected members of a governing coalition at the time, but their coalition partners resigned in protest over Communist attempts to transform the make-up of the police force and influence the country’s foreign policy.

Czechoslovak government-in-exile: The Czechoslovak government-in-exile came into being in Paris, France in October, 1939, headed by President Edvard Beneš, when the democratically-elected Czechoslovak government was dissolved following the Nazi invasion. It moved to London in 1940. They coordinated military resistance to the Nazi occupation and represented Czechoslovak interests to the Allied Powers. Many members of the government-in-exile returned to cabinet positions in Czechoslovakia following WWII, including President Edvard Beneš.

Czechoslovak Society of Arts & Sciences: An organization founded in Washington, D.C. in 1958. The main goal of the society (known in Czech as Společnost pro vědy a umění or SVU) was to provide a forum for the free development of Czechoslovak culture in exile. Today, the organization has chapters around the United States and back in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as elsewhere around the globe.

Czechoslovak Union of Youth: A youth organization during the Communist era in Czechoslovakia, the Československý svaz mládeže or ČSM was for those aged 15-25 years old. Once a child had grown too old to be a pioneer, he or she generally became a svazák (or member of the ČSM). In 1968, the group was renamed the Czechoslovak Socialist Union of Youth (Socialistický svaz mládeže or SSM).


D

Dubček, Alexander: Alexander Dubček was a Slovak politician who lead Czechoslovakia as First Secretary of the Communist Party from January 1968 – April 1969. His political platform of “socialism with a human face” ushered in the Prague Spring.


F

First of May: A symbolic date for two reasons in the former Czechoslovakia. May 1 is celebrated on the one hand for romantic reasons, with the tradition being that one should kiss one’s partner under a blossoming tree in deference to the poet Karel Hynek Mácha and his love poem Máj. Secondly, May 1 is notable for being International Workers’ Day and, during the Communist era, the date on which massive municipal parades were held.

First Slovak Republic:
The First Slovak Republic existed between 1939 and 1945. It was headed by President Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest. The First Slovak Republic was an ally of Nazi Germany. 


G
Gymnázium: A school which prepares students for entrance to university, gymnázium is something akin to junior and senior high school in the United States of America. Students who did not attend gymnázium in Czechoslovakia generally attended technical high schools instead.


H

Havel, Václav: Václav Havel was president of Czechoslovakia from December 1989 – July 1992 and of the Czech Republic from February 1993 – February 2003. A former dissident, Havel was one of the authors of the human-rights petition Charter 77 and spent many years in prison. A poet, playwright and essayist, Václav Havel enjoyed success in the United States with his plays The Memorandum and, in more recent years, Leaving. He died in December 2011.

Holúbky: A traditional eastern Slovakian food. Holúbky (literally meaning ‘pigeons’) are stuffed cabbage leaves, filled with a mixture of rice and meat.


K

Kachlíkárna: A colloquial means of referring to the former Czechoslovak Ministry of the Interior situated on Letná Plain in Prague. The name derives from the building‘s tiled façade (with the Czech word for tile being kachlík).

Kraslice:
Traditionally decorated Easter eggs. Kraslice can be painted or decorated with straw or thin knotted wire.


M

Masaryk, Jan: A Czech politician who was appointed Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia in London in 1940 and remained in the post until his death in 1948. He was the son of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.

Masaryk, Tomáš Garrigue: The first president of Czechoslovakia, who held office from 1918 to 1935. Through his work abroad publicizing the cause of an independent Czechoslovakia, particularly with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, he was instrumental in the founding of Czechoslovakia.

Moravia: The region forming the Eastern part of the Czech Republic. Its historic capital is Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. Moravia was part of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from 1939-1945 under Nazi Germany rule.

Munich Agreement: An agreement signed by Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy on September 30, 1938 permitting the Nazi annexation of the Czechoslovak Sudetenland. The Munich Agreement is sometimes referred to as the Munich Pact.


N

Normalization: A return to a form of hardline communism implemented by Czechoslovak President Gustav Husak following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Normalization can also refer to a period, spanning from 1969 to the late 1980s.


P

Pankrác prison: A prison constructed in Prague in the late 19th century and still in operation today. Pankrác prison gained notoriety during the 1950s in particular when a number of those condemned in show trials, such as Milada Horáková and Rudolf Slánský, were executed in the facility.

Partisans, Slovak:
Slovak partisans were groups of individuals who fought against Nazi forces in Slovakia during WWII. Slovak partisans were instrumental in the Slovak National Uprising, which took place in 1944.

Pioneers:
A youth organization during the Communist era in Czechoslovakia, the Pioneers (Pionýři in Czech, Pionieri in Slovak) was popular amongst children in elementary and middle school. The key piece of a pioneer uniform consisted of a red scarf, tied in a particular way around the neck. Pioneer activities could include singing patriotic songs and attending summer camp.

Prague Spring:
The Prague Spring refers a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia in 1967 - 1968. Under the leadership of Alexander Dubček, Czechoslovakia saw loosened restrictions on speech, media, and travel, and attempts at governmental and economic decentralization. The Prague Spring ended with the Warsaw Pact invasion on August 21, 1968.

Prague uprising: The Prague uprising (Pražské povstání in Czech) started on May 5, 1945. It was an attempt made by citizens of Prague to liberate the Czech capital from German occupation. The uprising, which lasted three days, resulted in hundreds of Czech and German fatalities, with particularly fierce battles being waged in the Prague district of Pankrác and around the Czech Radio building on Vinohradská Street.

Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia: A state under the control of Nazi Germany from 1939-1945 consisting of the regions of Bohemia and Moravia.


R

Rusyn: The Rusyn people are an ethnic minority group in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, traditionally coming from Carpathian Ruthenia, a region consisting of parts of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland.


S

Silesia/Czech Silesia: A historic region spanning northeastern Czech Republic and parts of Poland. The region has been subject to territorial disputes with Poland in the past. The biggest town in Czech Silesia is Ostrava, which is the Czech Republic’s third largest city.

Sokol: Sokol (meaning 'falcon‘ in a number of Slavic languages) is a patriotic sports movement founded in the 1860s in Prague. Traditionally, the Sokol organization placed great importance upon physical fitness, and gymnastics practice was a regular activity for hundreds of Sokol members.

Společnost pro vědy a umění (SVU)
: See Czechoslovak Society of Arts & Sciences.

Sudeten German: Ethnic Germans living in the Sudetenland. After WWII, many Sudeten Germans were collectively expelled from the area as a result of the Beneš decrees.

Sudetenland/Sudeten region: The border areas of the Czech Republic with parts of Germany, Austria, and Poland. Prior to their expulsion post-WWII, this area was inhabited predominately by ethnic Germans.

Svatý Mikuláš (cz)/ Svätý Mikuláš (sk): Held on December 6, Svatý Mikuláš (or St. Nicholas’ Day) celebrations are particularly oriented towards children. Somebody dressed up as St. Nicholas is normally accompanied by an angel and a devil, who ask children about their behavior over the course of the year before handing them small presents.


T

Tiso, Jozef: Jozef Tiso was a Catholic priest who was the president of the First Slovak Republic during its existence, from 1939-1945. Following WWII, Tiso was hanged for treason and Nazi collaboration.


V

Velvet Divorce: The term given to the split of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which took effect on January 1, 1993.

Velvet Revolution: The bloodless overthrow of the Communist government in Czechoslovakia in November 1989 sparked by student demonstrations and popular protests.

Vepřo-knedlo-zelo: The Czech for pork, dumplings and sauerkraut. A traditional Czech dish.

Vltava: The longest river in the Czech Republic, which runs through the center of the country's capital, Prague. The River Vltava is also sometimes known by its German name - the Moldau.


W

Warsaw Pact invasion: The Warsaw Pact invasion occurred on August 21, 1968 in response to the reforms of Alexander Dubček that marked the Prague Spring. The Soviet-led invasion (along with Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland) succeeded in quashing the reforms and instituting “normalization,” a return to a hard-line form of communism.

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