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“Český komplex”

CHRISTMAS, New Year, Easter, and the Hockey World Championships are the key events of the Slovak calendar.

CHRISTMAS, New Year, Easter, and the Hockey World Championships are the key events of the Slovak calendar.

In late April and early May the Slovak psyche chooses to ignore the fact that you can’t really have a ‘world’ championship in ice hockey since much of the globe has never seen ice, let alone a hockey stick, that the best players never come to compete because the NHL playoffs are still far from over, and that Slovakia is probably not going to win anyway.

Men and women, both ethnic Slovaks and ethnic Hungarians, young and old all hope the country will, at least in one sense, rule the world.

But the championships also usually remind Slovaks of their “český komplex” – the deeply rooted belief that Czechs are better at almost everything.

After the 0:8 beating the Slovak team suffered last weekend, one must admit that such a conviction is not completely delusional – at least as far as hockey goes.

Although Slovakia has defeated the Czechs before, and even won the entire tournament in 2002, the inferiority complex very often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – Slovaks know they are going to lose and so they do.

However, the Czech complex is in no way limited to hockey: Oscar-winning films, Pilsner and Budweiser (the real one), Kafka, Čapek and Dvořák, or Škoda cars are a matter of justified envy.

Lately, it seemed as though the tide could be turning – in the autumn Slovaks defeated the Czech football team in the world-cup qualifiers in Prague, the country joined the eurozone, and the Czechs suffered a huge humiliation when their government collapsed in the middle of its European presidency.

But the hockey massacre made clear once again that the Czech complex will live on.

Luckily, this relationship is free of any real hostility, the kind which can be found when it comes to the other neighbour that ruled for so long in Slovakia’s territory, has a richer history and is better known outside the region – Hungary. Being defeated by Jágr’s team hurts, but it is what we expected.

Had the Slovak national hockey team lost its shockingly close match with Hungary, which made it into the A-category championships for the first time just this year and is now leaving it again, public outrage and disillusion would have been much greater.

The relationship between Czechs and Slovaks is often accurately described as that of an older and younger brother.

And as anyone with a sibling knows, few other relationships are as beautiful – and as complex.

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