Czechs - Orientation

Identification. Czechs constitute 94.2 percent (1986) of the population of the Czech Republic ( Česká republica, hereafter CR), which is federated with the Slovak Republic (SR) in the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic ( Česká a Slovenská Federativní Republika, or CSFR).

Location. CR is bounded by Poland on the north, Germany on the north and west, Austria on the south, and the Slovak Republic on the east. The geographic location of CR is between 12°05′ and 18°51′ E and 51°03′ and 48°33′ N; the area is 78,864 square kilometers. Historically, CR consists of Bohemia, the largest province, in the west; Moravia, to the east of it; and the part of Silesia just below the northern Moravian border with Poland. Bohemia is ringed by low mountain ranges, with the highest peak (Sněžka) reaching an altitude of 1,602 meters. The southern half of Bohemia's interior is an elevated plateau; in the northern half, the distinguishing feature is the plain along the Labe (Elbe) River. The dominant feature of Moravia is the basin of the Morava River separating the Bohemian massif from the westernmost extension of the Carpathian Mountains in SR. The climate of CR is predominantly continental, with some influence of oceanic weather systems. Summers are warm, winters cold. The average temperature in Prague, the capital, varies from a high of 19.9° C in July to a low of —0.8° C in January, with an annual average of 9.7° C. The average precipitation is around 70 centimeters per year, with the summer months being the wettest. The higher elevations along the border receive more moisture than the interior. The main Bohemian river, the Labe, is joined by the Vltava (Moldau) about 32 kilometers north of Prague and empties into the North Sea north of Hamburg. The Morava, which flows from the north, marks the boundary in southern Moravia between CR and SR, and some 50 kilometers farther south it empties into the Danube.

Demography. Historically, CR has been a land of small towns (10,000 to 30,000 inhabitants), their distribution reflecting the pattern of medieval settlement and growth. The relatively early industrialization of the area has increased the concentration of population in cities at the expense of rural areas. While the rural exodus continues to the present day, the inhabitants of metropolitan areas, especially Prague, tend to buy or build summer cottages in the country and to spend much of their free time away from the city, especially during the summer. The years immediately following World War II were marked by high population mobility. The border regions, inhabited from the thirteenth century on by a high proportion of German-speaking people, were resettled by Czechs after World War II when more than 2.5 million Bohemian and Moravian Germans were transferred from the country or chose to leave. The population of CR is 10,365,000 (1989 estimate), with a population density of 131 per square kilometer (1988 estimate). Of this total, 94.2 percent are Czechs and 3.9 percent Slovaks, with the remainder divided among several ethnic minorities (0.7 percent Polish, 0.5 percent German, with several other groups represented). Prague is the largest city and capital, as well as the federal capital, with a population of 1,206,098 (as of the end of 1987). Brno, the second-largest city and unofficial capital of Moravia, has a population of about 400,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. As a West Slavic language, Czech is a member of the Indo-European Language Family. It is most closely related to Slovak, with which it is mutually intelligible. Spoken Czech is differentiated into regional dialects still to be heard in Moravia and several marginal areas of Bohemia, but interdialects—especially Common Czech—have been replacing local and regional dialects at an increasing rate. Literary Czech is the form of the language used in writing and formal communication. Czech makes use of the Latin (Roman) alphabet supplemented by several diacritical marks.

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