5
National Consciousness and the
Common State (A Historical–
Ethnological Analysis)

JAN RYCHLÍK

The disintegration of Czechoslovakia was certainly a surprise for many people. Foreign observers in particular tried in vain to find an answer to the question as to how two nations so close from a linguistic, cultural and historical point of view could split up. Advocates of the common state – both in the two successor states and abroad – tended to emphasize the economic aspects of the problem, pointing at the material losses that would arise as a consequence of the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. In reality, however, the material factor played an inferior role.1 The reasons for the break-up of Czechoslovakia must be sought in the principles of the development of the modern nation, i.e. in the process of the formation of a separate national awareness of Czechs and Slovaks.

First we must consider the question as to what a nation is and in what conditions the permanent coexistence of various nations in one state is possible. We have to recognize the difference between a nation in a political sense and a nation in an ethnic sense. A political nation is understood as 'all citizens of one state' and it is mostly in this way that the word 'nation' is used in Western countries, e.g. in France, Great Britain or the USA. However, in Central and Eastern Europe the word 'nation' is treated more as a cultural-ethnic unit, as the consequence of different developments in this part of the continent. It is impossible to prove that the ethnic nation exists objectively, since the criteria cannot be determined according to which peoples would be classified as separate nations. In Central Europe it is mainly language which is understood as the criterion of allegiance to a particular nation, but this classification is often misleading. A literary language is always more or less a standardized fiction that nobody speaks:

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